Classical 91.5

Fascinatin' Rhythm with Michael Lasser

Saturdays at 11:00am-12:00pm on WXXI-FM 91.5, WXXI-FM/HD 91.5-1 and online at wxxi

WXXI's Fascinatin' Rhythm presents of popular American music from Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim, in the context of their relationship to American history. Every week, host Michael Lasser offers a rich mix of singers, songwriters and songs to explore the history and themes of American popular music.  LISTEN to this past week's show below.

Playlists for Fascinatin' Rhythm are located here.

Episode #2048

11/28    In the Kitchen  Songs set in the living room? Sure. The bedroom? Definitely. But the kitchen, too? You bet. Attitudes toward women, sex, and marriage were changing, but the idea of domesticity persisted with the rise of the suburbs and the Flapper’s desire to settle down in the kitchen.

Episode #2047

11/21    Women on the Edge Most of these songs feature a woman speaking for herself. Sometimes she faces things and sometimes she faces things down. Sometimes she persists and sometimes endures. On the edge of a new world, that is, as standards of romantic behavior were changing. So much for the image of women as passive and polite.

Episode #2046

11/14    Early Cole Porter Cole Porter dropped out of Harvard Law School to write songs for Broadway musicals. He failed so utterly that he fled to Paris, where he spent much of the next decade. When he returned, he was ready for success. His first four shows after he returned were hits, and he was on his way to becoming what we think of when we hear his name.

Episode 2045

11/7      Charm Songs Talk about a ballad or a plot song or a character song or a production number, and people are with you. Say Charm Song and their eyes go funny and their nose crinkles—just a little. A Charm Song is hard to define beyond saying that it fill the middle ground between ballads and comic songs. Their name reflects the fact that they’re irresistible.

Episode #2044 

When rhythm songs were at their peak, we tell the story of the man who introduced the most famous of them. Cliff Edwards taught himself to play the ukulele to attract customers when he was a paperboy. After touring in vaudeville, he made his way to New York where he played the Palace, starred on Broadway, and made recordings. He also made early musicals in Hollywood before his star faded and he disappeared in the 1930s. And then came 1940.

Episode #2043

There’s ragtime and there are ragtime songs, the blues and blues songs, waltzes and waltz songs. And there are marches and march songs. A march song used the tempos and rhythms of a march. At least it starts with them. But then it adds lyrics to transform a march into a song, or it may revise its sound so it fits the popular styles of the day.


Episode #2042

It didn’t take long for Flaming Youth to find themselves on bread lines. Once the market crashed and the Depression spread, the flapper disappeared in no more time than it took her sheik to swallow a goldfish. By the end of 1929 into the 1930s, you still heard songs left over from the Twenties, but a new note of desperation begins to creep in.

Fascinatin' Rhythm Program #2041

There are two George Gershwins – the writer of percussive pop tunes early in his career and then the composer of lovely lyrical melodies later on. But it wasn’t that simple. The two styles mixed, merged, separated, and then mixed and merged again. Together, they create the Gershwin style.


Episode # 2040

10/3      Canaries Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, big bands dominated popular music, but the band singers became increasingly important. The “boy singers” handled the romantic ballads,” but the “girl singers,” otherwise known as “canaries,” saw to the rhythm tunes. Among the best of them were Martha Tilton, Helen Ward, Helen O’Connell, and Helen Forrest.


Program #2039 (repeat of #1728 )

 Yip Harburg wrote love songs but used his irreverent way of playing with words to avoid the obvious.