Thanks to my former student Tyler Watts for finding this great recording of Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers singing about the WPA.
Of course it’s all stimulus, right? Even if all you’re doing is leaning on your shovel.
WPA was not the first topical song on Government work relief. Decca had released Working for the PWA; Working on the Project; Lost My Job on the Project; Don’t Take Away My PWA [“Mr. President, listen to what I have to say; take away the whole alphabet, but don’t take away the PWA”]. Columbia had a WPA Rag, a Pink Slip Blues low-moaned by oldtime Ida Cox. But WPA was different. Last week it was banned.
To John Hammond, pinko, Negrophile, jazz-purist and talent scout for Columbia, WPA seemed insulting to workers, degrading to Negroes. “It’s inciting everything that’s lousy,” proclaimed Mr. Hammond, and took steps. He asked Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. to alter the offensive lyrics. They refused. Thereupon Mr. Hammond squashed a projected Columbia recording of the song, and called the cops—the New York local of the American Federation of Musicians (see col. 3).
Last week the musicians’ union condemned WPA. Decca, under threat that no union man would record for it, withdrew its WPA discs from sale. Victor suppressed a recording made by Glenn Miller, not yet released. The three major radio networks banned the song, NBC explaining that it was in “bad taste.” Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. alone stood its ground, although threatened with a union boycott of all its songs.