Black-oriented swing and jazz (1942 - 1953)
Lena Horne - one of many
performers on Jubilee
Jim Crow was a fact of life in America at the beginning of the Second World War. Racism and segregation reached into all aspects of life in the Southern States; attitudes and conditions were not much better in the rest of the nation.
The experience of WWII would eventually bring and end to segregation in the Military, and by extension, the Nation as a whole.
The Army began experiencing Manpower shortages from the beginning of the war. Jim Crow segregation policies meant that 15% of the Army's personnel were unavailable for combat assignment. Most black soldiers were assigned to rear echelon units, usually as truck drivers and stevedores, or Engineering units where the provided grunt labor. With few notable exceptions, these units were badly equipped and led, and suffered from low morale. (Drivers of the "Red Ball Express" were praised by Gen George Patton as being the only supply corps to keep up with his rapidly advancing Third Army.)
There were isolated Black Combat Units, but again they were often led by incompetent officers and supplied with inferior or even condemned equipment. This, along with the prejudice of higher command caused a distinct lack of combat success, further reinforcing prejudice and harming morale. Again there were heroic exceptions, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, the 333rd and the 969the Field Artillery Battalions, and the 561st Tank Battalion. (The 561st was assigned to Patton's Third Army over his objections; he was sure that black soldiers were incapable of "thinking fast enough" to fight in tanks. The unit's valor and bravery led him to declare in 1944 "I have nothing but the best in my army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut son's-a-bitches.")
Combat casualties were incredibly high in the European theater during the winter of 1944. General Eisenhower took the radical step of allowing black soldiers to volunteer for combat replacements. Response was overwhelming; many soldiers accepted reduction in rank in order to take up a rifle and fight. Often these repacements made up for their lack of experience with almost reckless bravery.
On July 26, 1948, President Truman ordered the desegregation of the Armed Forces. However it took the Korean War and integration of troops actually in combat together before before the Army announced their formal Desegregation plans in 1951, three years to the day of the Executive Order.
Relatively early in the career of the Armed Forces Radio Service the Jubilee show began being recorded. Jubilee was directed at Black Troops, but the content was high quality jazz that would have been enjoyed by servicemen of any race. The program stated that it was for the Fighting Men of the United Nations. American Troops were getting to know the people and lands where they were serving, Jubilee saw itself as a chance for these people to get to know America.
Early episodes were M.C.'d by Dooley Wilson, (Rick's piano player from Casablanca) but most episodes were hosted by Ernie Whitman, who appeared on the Beulah radio program. Musical guests included Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Scatman Carruthers and His Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, the Teddie Wilson Sextet, the Mills Brothers, Fats Waller, Bing Crosby, Kay Starr, Stan Kenton, and Les Paul.
For more intresting reading, See also: article on the history of Minstrel Shows and Old Time Radio. For radio shows covering African-American civil rights, see also: Roi Ottley's A New Worlds A-Coming.
For more radio jazz series, see also: Charlie and His Orchestra (Nazi Propganda), Eddie Condon Jazz Concert, Esquire Jazz Concert, Jubilee, Music Depreciation, Navy Swings, Live from Birdland, and New Orleans Jazz Band.