The Federal Music Project: Intro

FMP2One of the salient differences between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008 and counting, never mind the official pronouncements that it’s over, is that during the four years the Federal Music Project thrived, America not only enjoyed by what today’s standards would be the radical-left politics of FDR, but the country supported a viable Communist Party whose Popular Front movement lived up to its name. Socialism at that time, as incredible as it may seem in 21st century Tea Party America, when states with reactionary electorates are unironically called red, attracted the interest of perhaps more than a quarter of the nation. Though it may be largely coincidental, the FMP and the Popular Front run concurrently, 1935-39. Not only was the FMP created in 1935, that year also marked the official arrival of the swing era, heralded by Benny Goodman’s Palomar Ballroom concert in Los Angeles, but this too is largely coincidental—the FMP was not dedicated to swing or to any other brand of popular music; it was primarily an instrument of European-derived classical music, led for the better part of its life by the founding conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

One of a fantastic four of arts projects under the Works Progress Administration banner—projects likely never to be seen again in what passes for federal cultural policy in America—the somewhat staid FMP was also generally considered to be the least left-wing of these storied organizations. As a supplement to Ka-ching, which also includes consideration of several jazz-related Federal Theatre Project productions, this section of the site will look at 1930s jazz/cultural policy issues and civil rights battles that illuminate the grand scope of the comparatively glorious WPA and FDR years.