Andrew Berish is an Associate Professor in the Humanities and Cultural Studies Department at the University of South Florida. His book, Lonesome Roads and Streets of Dreams: Place, Mobility, and Race in Jazz of the 1930s and ’40s (University of Chicago Press, 2012), examines the ways swing-era jazz represented the geographic and demographic transformations of American life during the Great Depression and Second World War.
During the Second World War sentimentality reclaimed the mainstream of American popular music. Ballad recordings—slow, romantic love songs—increasingly pushed aside the hot jazz sounds of the era’s dance bands. The singers of these songs were an assortment of old and new faces—Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes, Vaughn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Their hit songs, recordings such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Together,” “My Devotion,” and “There Are Such Things,” exchanged cynicism and irony for optimistic expressions of love, faithfulness, and devotion. These popular ballads shared in a broader wave of sentimentality that suffused the era’s mass culture—Hollywood film, commercial popular music, and radio programming. 1940s sentimentality, although responding to new social conditions produced by the war, was modeled on and nourished by a historical tradition of sentimental culture stretching back into the mid-nineteenth century.