Fascist jazz

Between 1941 and 1943 Germany broadcast propaganda jazz music with altered lyrics into Britain.

Tube radio
electromechanic812291 / CC BY

The leaders of Nazi Germany were not fans of jazz music. Jazz, swing, and big band were all seen as products of African Americans and Jewish New Yorkers, both of whom were stated enemies of the Third Reich, so the German jazz scene had been pushed underground in the 1930s. Many teenagers in Germany loved jazz and swing and saw it as a clear path for rebellion against the fascist government – maybe I’ll touch on the “swing youth” (Swingjugend) some other time – but the Reich managed to find a use for jazz anyway: propaganda.

Sure, it’s hypocritical to decry an art form as corrupt and indecent and then turn around and use it for your own purposes… but moral consistency was not exactly a hallmark of the Nazi Party. Remember that radio station that broadcast propaganda into Britain during World War II? A couple of times each week it featured jazz music from the band Charlie and his Orchestra.

Charlie and his Orchestra were pulled together by the propaganda ministry from the German swing underground. They recorded swing / jazz staples such as Saint Louis Blues, You’re Driving Me Crazy, and Makin’ Whoopee. But they switched the lyrics, often in the second or third verse, to make fun of Winston Churchill, drop in some rancid anti-Semitism, and generally undermine confidence in the Allies’ war effort. Take Saint Louis Blues, for example. The original:

Oh, that St. Louis woman with her diamond rings
Pulls that man around by her apron strings
And if it wasn’t for powder and her store-bought hair
That man I love would have gone nowhere, nowhere

And the revised verse from Charlie and his Orchestra:

That Churchill badman, with his wars and things
Pulls pork round by his apron strings
One for Churchill and his bloody war
I wouldn’t feel as so doggone sore!


Apparently Churchill was a listener, and thought the altered lyrics were hilarious(ly bad). The band Charlie and his Orchestra did not survive the end of the war – obviously – and while recordings survive I won’t be linking to them here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s