Popaganda: Charlie and His Orchestra

In 1930s Germany Swing Jazz was outlawed due to it’s African influences. Hitler felt it contrary to his ultimate goal. He called it ‘degenerate art’ and pejoratively labelled it as Negermusik (‘negro music’). However, it was undeniable that Swing and Big-Band Jazz was very popular and high demand both in Germany and across the Allied countries. Goebbles, recognising the potential of mixing political messages with accessible and populist art/entertainment, decided to scout talented musicians whom he could direct.

The result is Charlie and His Orchestra, a technically proficient and musically appealing big-band playing many of the day’s jazz standards but featuring altered lyrics. The lyrics were written in the Propagandaministerium or Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The first couple of verses stick to the original lyrics and then that shifty trickster Goebbles sneaked some Weird-Al style parody lyrics explicitly saying how great Germany was doing in the war and how all the Allies were getting their collective asses handed to them. I am familiar with many of the songs that are being covered and the blatant shift into pro-German rhetoric is so jarring that when I first heard these recordings many ‘Heimlich’-ed a hearty chuckle out of me.

With their freshly revised lyrics Goebbles used shortwave radio broadcasts to America and specifically Britain on Wednesdays and Saturdays at around 9pm from 1941 to 1943. The Propagandaministerium also distributed Charlie’s music on records to POW camps and occupied countries. A British survey revealed that over 25% of all Brits had been exposed to the broadcasts during its run. It’s been said that Winston Churchill thought the broadcasts were hilarious. I’d tend to agree, but when we take a look at the Popagnda from the Allies (in a few weeks time, when I get around to it) we’ll see that their lyrics aren’t much subtler or less didactic.

This is a jazz standard sung by many of the greats such as Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Below the video I will post some links I recommend you follow, especially the link for a great youtube channel that details the lyrical changes more in-depth than I have.

Further Reading: