Charlie and his Orchestra

 

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, part of their racial doctrine saw jazz and swing music (along with a whole host of other things) as degenerate forms of art. Thus, from what had once been a diverse and vibrant music scene in Germany after World War One, all forms of such music were effectively removed. It is therefore somewhat ironic that Joseph Goebbels should alight upon using the very same 'degenerate' music as a tool of propaganda. This was broadcast via short wave radio and directed primarily at the United States and the United Kingdom. Broadcasts to Britain took place around 9 pm on every Wednesday and Sunday and records were pressed and made available in POW camps as well as the occupied countries.



As with all prohibited items, there soon became a desire for such things and jazz and swing music was no exception. Berlin enjoyed an active underground jazz scene, despite it being officially outlawed in 1935 and labelled as Negermusik (black peoples' music). Band leader Lutz Templin was one of the main stars of this movement and his group managed to go largely unnoticed, by disguising their activities by pasting pro-German lyrics over sheet music, along with using instruments such as the harpsichord rather than a piano. The group comprised Fritz Brocksieper on drums, Kurt Abraham on clarinet, Willy Berking on trombone and Karl Schwedler as the vocalist who was also known as 'Charlie'.

To listen to an example of the banned music, please click here.

Goebbels, never one to miss the potential to twist the most innocent of activities into a weapon for the Nazis, quickly saw the propaganda potential for jazz and swing due to its popularity in the Allied countries; he enlisted Berlin's best jazz musicians and so in 1940, Charlie and his Orchestra was born.

The music was used to rally pro-Nazis and to highlight Allied losses. Usually the tunes covered would remain true to the original, followed by a monologue which would descend into a barrage of racial hatred, and a reworded section commenting on the current political and military state of affairs.



"All the King's Horses" was the German Propaganda Ministry's take on the events of Dunkirk and the Fall of France. Ironically, while there are actually some distressingly accurate facts mixed in with the fantasy, the image being projected ultimately became the one that the British adopted as part of the invention of the Dunkirk myth. Unusually, it contains little in the way of racial comment, but then to be be fair to the Germans, they were now the masters of mainland Europe.

To listen to All the King's Horses, click here.

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