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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

Art and Entertainment in the 1930s and 1940s

Saturday Night Dance, 1940
Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941

Even during hard times and wartime, people need to be entertained. The American people in the 1930s and 1940s were no exception. They enjoyed many forms of entertainment, particularly if they could do so inexpensively.

With the addition of sound, movies became increasingly popular. Comedies, gangster movies, and musicals helped people forget their troubles. In the early 1940s, some of the great dramas of American film reached theaters. Radio was also wildly popular, offering many kinds of programs, from sermons to soap operas.

In the 1930s, big bands and swing music were popular, with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller popular bandleaders. In the 1940s, the bands started to break up, and band singers like Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan went out on their own. War songs became popular.

Among the unemployed in the Depression were artists and performers of many types. Government programs to assist these people resulted in production of plays and artworks for all to enjoy.

As you examine the documents in this section, compare arts and entertainment in the 1930s and 1940s with arts and entertainment as you know them today. What similarities do you see? What differences? How might you explain the continuity you see, as well as the change?

To find additional sources on this topic, use the names of specific forms of art or entertainment to search the collections; for example, you might use such words as musicdance, or theater in your search.