Propaganda Swing: All that Jazz and the Nazis.

Posted on 5 September 2014

Our latest production, Propaganda Swing will feature familiar jazz hits such as Lili Marlene, It Ain’t Right and Makin’ Whoopee. However, as many of you know the Nazis, deemed jazz music degenerate and banned such songs, citing them as decadent and impure. The Nazis soon harnessed the power of jazz music to drive propaganda messages to the British through Lord Haw Haw’s radio broadcasts and changed the lyrics of popular tunes to contain anti-semitic jibes and to dampen spirits.

Propaganda Swing tells the gripping true story of Charly and his Orchestra, a group of passionate musicians forced to play music altered by the Nazis for Lord Haw Haw’s radio broadcasts.

Here are some more facts about the Charlie and his Orchestra as well as jazz during Nazi era:

  • The infamous Baldur von Blodheim, Reichsmusicfuhrer und Oberscharfuhrer SS, published a list of 10 rules on how musicians must perform jazz music. These rules forebode musicians from rising to one’s feet during a solo performance and making vocal improvisations (so-called scat).
  • The use of any type of saxophone in a swing band was prohibited because the Nazis believed it was an instrument of the devil as it was both a woodwind and brass instrument.
  • In the play, the character of LaLa is based is on the real life Lale Andersen, who originally recorded the popular World War II song Lili Marleen in 1939. The song was a hit with both sides during the war years.
  • Karl “Charlie” Schwedler, played by Jonny Bower, is also based on a real Propaganda Official from the era. An employee of the Nazi Foreign Ministry’s broadcasting department, he also became the singer and leader of Charlie and his Orchestra.
  • The songs recorded by Charlie and his Orchestra were jazz hits that were rewritten with Nazi ideology. For example You’re Driving Me Crazy was originally recorded in America in 1930s, but in Charlie and his Orchestra’s version, the lyrics were rewritten to be about Winston Churchill.
  • Music by George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, two notable composers of jazz music and contributors to The Great American Songbook was banned. In fact, music of any genre by a Jewish composer or performer that included music by classical composers such as Mendelsohn (who died around 90 years before the Nazis took power), was banned.

To find out more, visit our Pinterest board to check out images of the real life characters: Karl “Charly” Schwedler, Lale Andersen and Lutz Templin as well as videos of recordings of the real Charlie and His Orchestra.

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