Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two Examples Of The 1942 Song "Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised October 7, 2018

This post showcases examples of the 1942 song "Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)" by Paul White and Dorothy Dandridge (soundie)* and Kay Kyser & his Orchestra (sound file) with photographs. The Kay Kyser example is showcased on this blog in large part because of that examples' publisher summary which presents information about that song and zoot suit cultures.

Information about zoot suits and information about this song (and a link to a version of its lyrics) are also included in this post. A bonus video that showcases examples of zoot suits is also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composers, vocalists, and musicians featured in this post. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

*"Soundies were three-minute musical films, produced in New York City, Chicago, and Hollywood, between 1940 and 1946, often including short dance sequences, similar to later music videos. The completed Soundies were generally released within a few months of their filming; the last group was released in March 1947. The films were displayed on the Panoram, a coin-operated film jukebox or machine music, in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, factory lounges, and amusement centers."

"A zoot suit (occasionally spelled zuit suit) is a men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing became popular within the African American, Chicano and Italian American communities during the 1940s.[1][2] In Britain the bright-coloured suits with velvet lapels worn by Teddy Boys bore a slight resemblance to zoot suits in the length of the jacket.

The zoot suit was originally associated with black musicians and their sub-culture. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word zoot probably comes from a reduplication* of suit."
*Reduplication in linguistics is a ... process in which the root or stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change"

..." "A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)" was written by Wolfe Gilbert and Bob O'Brien. It received a lot of attention; it was one of the most popular tunes of its time. It was played on jukeboxes, in diners, bars, and juke joints everywhere. It seemed to say something valid and important about the music and spirit of the times...

A zoot suit (For My Sunday Gal) was an integral part of the Big Band era when it was cool to be cool in America, but only in certain circles. The vast majority of "circles" varied from conservative to ultra conservative. Most of America was square.

There were far more "not cool" people than cool people. Their differences rubbed some of them the wrong way, causing friction that gradually heated up until it boiled over into the streets of wartime Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and other cities. A succession of riots lead to some deaths and many arrests, rapidly bringing to a close this brief but colorful period in American history.

A zoot suit was not just a song, it was a style of dress and a symbol of a lifestyle that a group of people in search of their own identity used to distinguish themselves from others whom they believed to be "not cool."...

The mentality behind "A zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)" was an integral part of the zoot suit scene, which in turn was part of the Big Band era. Also part of the zoot suit scene was a now-famous series of riots that broke out in Los Angeles in 1943 between whites and Chicano zoot suiters. These riots became known as the Zoot Suit Riots."...
The lyrics to the Kay Kyser version of this song can be found on that page.

Click for information about the "Zoot Suit Riots". Here's an excerpt from that page:
"The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots in 1943 during World War II that broke out in Los Angeles, California, between Anglo American sailors and Marines stationed in the city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored. Mexican Americans and military servicemen were the main parties in the riots, and some African American and Filipino/Filipino American youths were involved as well".

Example #1: Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White - Zoot Suit soundie

horrormovieshows, Uploaded on Oct 19, 2008

Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White strut their stuff in A ZOOT SUIT, an engaging Soundie from 1942.
The sign at the beginning of this soundie reads
"Groove Clothiers
Our stitches are hep to the jive
for males and frails"
This sign, written in "jive talk" of the 1940s, announces that the tailors are "hep to the jive", meaning they are up to date with the latest Jazz talk, and by extension, the latest Black urban fashions for men and women.

"Frails" was a jive talk referent for "women".

Click for a listing of words and phrases from Cab Calloway's hepster dictionary.

Also, click for more information about 1940s Jive talk, a form of African American Vernacular English.

[Sentence revised October 7, 2018] Note that nowadays, particularly among African Americans, the word "jive" can also mean "something or someone that is worthless, or lame [not "hip”, not up to date with the latest fashions] OR something that is poorly made, cheap, or inauthentic

"Jive" is often given as "jive ass"

Example: He gave me a jive Mickey Mouse watch for my birthday. What a cheapskate!
"Mickey Mouse" further reinforces the definition of "cheap", no good, since watches and other products sold by Disney franchises including clothing with depictions of Mickey Mouse characters were considered to be poorly made, and un-hip. (as per some African Americans from at least 1980s to date)

Example #2: A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal) ~ Kay Kyser & his Orchestra 1942

MrRJDB1969, Uploaded on Jan 12, 2010

"A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal) ~ Sully Mason w/ vocal group ~ Kay Kyser & his Orchestra ~January 16, 1942 ~ Columbia Records. The vocal group consisted of Trudy Erwin, Dorothy Crawford, Jack Martin, & Max Williams. Composed by L. Wolfe Gilbert & Bob O'Brien.

The history of what is known as a "Zoot Suit" finds some it's origins in France, then leads it's way into the "French Quarter" (due to it's once large French population) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Also, there is a link between the suits worn by The Southern Gentlemen of the deep South, such as South Carolina, Mississppi, etc. etc., during the 1800's and the Zoot Suit, similar minus some of the bag. During the late 1930's until just after the very beginning of WWII, the "Zoot Suit" found some minor popularity, but as a whole, it never really caught on and as rationing increased and with the Zoot Suits need of so much extra fabric , the Zoot Suit was slowly phased out .

As was common practice in the 1920's - 1930's - 1940's - 1950's, A ZOOT SUIT (For My Sunday Gal) had multiple versions recorded of it by a variety of top recording stars of the day, including : The Andrews Sisters, Bob Crosby's Orchestra, Art Kassell's Orchestra, Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, Benny Goodman's Orchestra, Ray Herbeck's Orchestra, & Harry Roy's Orchestra.

Though criticized by 1970's & 1980's music critics and being dubbed "Covering" or "Stealing" by these same people, who obviously had no knowledge of the history of the music business, multiple versions of the top songs of the day was common practice. It continued on into the 1950's. There was NO "stealing" or nothing racially motivated about the practice. Simple competition between record companies and the performers who recorded for them.
This summary also stated that L. Wolfe Gilbert & Bob O'Brien, the composers of "A Zoot Suit (For My Sunday Gal)", were both white, as were most of those who recorded the song in 1942.
[Added October 7, 2018] This summary is one opinion of the origin of zoot suits. Most researchers indicate that zoot suits originated among African Americans in the east coast of the United States. There's a famous photograph of Cab Calloway wearing a zoot suit in 2929.

TricksterDa, a commenter on this sound file's viewer comment thread, wrote "That's Cab Calloway in his gold colored zoot suit, which he had become famous for wearing. It had a matching wide brimmed hat, as well."
The now famous photograph of African American Jazz singer, composer, and band leader Cab Calloway wearing a zoot suit first appears at .027 of that photographic collage.

BONUS VIDEO: 1940's Zoot Suit Fashion

Patricia Fleming·6 videos
I believe the music for this video is Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "Zoot Suit Riot"

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