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A Year to Remember: 1932 in Music

Folger Theatre is currently showing the witty Love’s Labor’s Lost, a romantic comedy perfect for spring. The production is set in roughly 1932—the year the Folger Shakespeare Library opened its doors to the public—and celebrates the Folger’s exquisite architecture, as well as the era’s glamorous post-flapper fashion. In its honor, we present a playlist of songs from or related to that auspicious year. Sit back, pour a glass of champagne, and take a little trip back in time…


We start with the popular songs of 1932, setting the mood for our musical exploration of the year that gave us the Folger.

  • It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing
    Duke Ellington
    Released in February 1932, this song introduced “swing” into the lexicon.
  • Dinah 
    Cab Calloway
  • All of Me 
    Louis Armstrong
  • Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?
    Rudy Vallee
    Also recorded by Bing Crosby, this song originally appeared in a musical called Americana that unceremoniously flopped in the same year. The song survived, however, becoming an anthem of the Great Depression.

If the lords and ladies of Love’s Labor’s Lost tired of listening to the phonograph in the library (or were tossed out for playing music while people were trying to study!), they could always catch a show. Movies and stage productions were also filled with toe-tapping tunes, as we can see from this selection of songs featured in pop culture staples of the day.

  • Night and Day (from the musical Gay Divorce)
    Fred Astaire
    A classic, ‘Night and Day’ was included in the 1934 film The Gay Divorcee, the second movie to pair Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers. That film was based on a very-similarly-named 1932 Cole Porter musical called Gay Divorce, which was Astaire’s final Broadway production.
  • I Got Rhythm (from Girl Crazy)
    Ethel Waters
  • Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee (from the musical Face the Music)
    This song debuted in a Broadway musical by Irving Berlin (music and lyrics) and Moss Hart (book), which playfully lampoons the efforts of a Broadway producer to stage a show during the Depression. Forty years later, Tatum O’Neal sang it as part of her Oscar-winning performance in Paper Moon.
  • Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (originally from Showboat, revived in 1932)
    Lena Horne 

1932 was also a big year for future music-makers to arrive on the scene, and especially important for country fans. Here’s a selection from artists who were born in that year and would go on to do great things.

  • Folsum Prison Blues
    Johnny Cash
    Born in Arkansas, Johnny Cash would become one of the best selling artists of all time, selling over 90 million records and eventually being inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.
  • S’posin
    Debbie Reynolds
    Mary Francis “Debbie” Reynolds played Kathy Seldon in the iconic 1952 musical ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ In addition to a long and successful career as an actor and singer, she was a dedicated advocate for film preservation. Her daughter, Carrie Fisher, became an actor and author (and leader of the intergalactic rebellion).

    Debbie Reynolds with Donald O’Connor (L) and Gene Kelly (L) in a poster from ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

     

  • Coal Miner’s Daughter
    Loretta Lynn
    Lynn was indeed a coal miner’s daughter, born in Kentucky. She is country music’s most awarded female recording artist, was the first female CMA “Entertainer of the Year,” and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
  • Walkin’ After Midnight
    Patsy Cline
    Hailing from nearby Winchester, Virginia, Cline was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone ranked her 46th in a list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
  • Good Golly Miss Molly
    Little Richard
    Richard Wayne Penniman helped revolutionize rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and destabilize segregation through the crossover appeal of his music. He was a member of the first class of inductees to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

Sadly, we also said goodbye to two notable composers. Raise a glass to these 1932 passings next time you hear one of their melodies.

Love's Labor's Lost production shot
Mote (Megan Graves) and Don Armado (Eric Hissom). Love’s Labor’s Lost, Folger Theatre, 2019. Photo: Brittany Diliberto.
  • The Washington Post March
    John Philip Sousa
    Sousa was known as “The American March King” for his knack in composing a patriotic tune. While “Stars and Stripes Forever” is country’s national march, we went for “The Washington Post March” to stay local. And speaking of local, did you know Sousa is buried at Historic Congressional Cemetery, just down the road from the Folger?
  • When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
    Bing Crosby
    Lyricist Chauncey Olcott was born in Buffalo, New York in 1858. Originally a performer, Olcott composed many Irish musicals between 1894 and 1920—’When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ was from the 1913 musical The Isle O’ Dreams. His life was turned into the 1947 movie My Wild Irish Rose, starring Dennis Morgan and Arlene Dahl, the title of which was another of Olcott’s hits.

Our final collection of songs touch on some of the events of 1932. 

  • I Can’t Tell A Lie
    Fred Astaire
    1932 marked the 200th anniversary of Washington’s Birthday, celebrated here in a tune from 1942’s Holiday Inn.
  • Dust Bowl Blues
    Woody Guthrie
  • Amelia Earhart
    Brown Bird
    On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart left Newfoundland on May 20 and landed in Northern Ireland 15 hours later, becoming the first woman (and only second person ever) to fly alone and non-stop across the Atlantic. Five years later, she and navigator Fred Noonan would attempt a circumnavigational flight, only to disappear somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart. Harris & Ewing, 1936.
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame
    The Baseball Project
    During a tied Game 3 of the 1932 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, Babe Ruth came up to bat for the Yankees at the top of the fifth inning. Heckled mercilessly, with two strikes called, Ruth seemed to point to the center field fence. He then blasted a home run to the exact location he had gestured to, creating one of baseball’s most mythic moments.

And there you have it! A little taste of 1932, to remember the era that both brought us the Folger and inspired our current production of Love’s Labor’s Lost, recently extended through June 16. We hope you enjoyed our musical trip down memory lane and hope to see you at the Folger soon!

Click here to visit the playlist on Spotify.


Stay tuned for more peeks at Folger Theatre’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, now extended through June 16. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.


Love’s Labor’s Lost
Folger Theatre
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Vivienne Benesch; scenic design by Lee Savage; costume design by Tracy Christensen; lighting design by Colin K. Bills; sound design and original music by Lindsay Jones.

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