1938 Fifty Years Ago

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Carnegie Hall, New York City’s fabled concert hall, resounded to its first jazz concert when Benny Goodman and his orchestra performed there on January 16. “A publicity man dreamed it up,” recalled the King of Swing years later. “My first reaction was, ‘You must be out of your mind.’” But the concert was a hit, and the recording made of the event sold like hotcakes. Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Jess Stacy played, as well as soloists from the Duke Ellington and Count Basic bands. Today the concert is credited with introducing jazz to a wider audience and giving it a new, if unsought, legitimacy.

Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town opened February 4 at New York’s Henry Miller Theater. According to Life magazine, “First-night audiences were charmed with its simple sentimental story of life in a small New Hampshire community, took delight in the freedom and flexibility achieved by a few suggestive props.” The play won a Pulitzer Prize the next year.

In an attempt to solve the problem of farm surpluses, the second Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed on February 16. Under the act, farmers were paid to store surplus crops until they could be sold at a time of low production and profitable prices. Called the “ever-normal granary,” the system was intended to benefit not just farmers but consumers too, since seasonal fluctuations in food prices would be smoothed out. The act was not a complete success, but within a few years it didn’t much matter; America’s farmers couldn’t produce enough to feed a world at war.