Classical 91.5

Fascinatin' Rhythm

For 30 years (2019) listeners to public radio stations across the United States have enjoyed the blend of education and entertainment that host Michael Lasser has illustrated through songs from the Great American Songbook (1920-1950) as they anticipate popular music of today.  From Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim, each program features a theme - a particular kind of stage or movie musical, a single composer or lyricist, a distinctive performer or a defining image or idea.

How does music capture a culture, or a political moment, or a time of change? One of the great musical historians is a WXXI host and contributor, and his new book looks at what he calls “City Songs.”

We sit down with Michael Lasser to discuss how music shaped public perspectives as America developed, and we talk about how to recognize when a song goes from just a song to something more culturally powerful.

Episode # 1843

In a time where hope seemed unthinkable, Pollyanna brought it to life. Listen to Michael Lasser's 10/27 show to see what songs got the American people through the overwhelming sadness of the Depression. 

10/27    Depression Pollyanna Songs In the 1920s, we wanted pollyanna songs; in the 1930s, we needed them. Unlike the pollyanna songs of the carefree Jazz Age, these are songs about hope and anticipation when they were more precious than ever.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and Alan Jones took the one less traveled by.

As a Masters student at the Eastman School of Music, the singer and pianist was on the path to becoming a composer when his innovative work as a church musician caught the attention of professors.

Alan is a natural teacher, and he was persuaded to pursue a life as an educator.   

Lucky music students at Spencerport High School blossomed under his direction for thirty-two years.

Episode # 1841

Explore the heartbreaking history of the Great Depression by listening to the first album of iconic American folk-singer, Woody Guthrie. 

10/13    Dust Bowl Ballads Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads are among the defining songs of The Great Depression. They offered an alternative to the urban fare of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway as they stretched across the country, their music and lyrics helping to create the sound and feel of their time.

Episode # 1840:

Join host Michael Lasser as he uncovers an often overlooked aspect of children's author Shel Silverstein: his music. 

The Songs of Shel Silverstein Shel Silverstein was an author, an artist, and a songwriter. His songs were provocative and satiric, sometimes tender and loving. He moved effortlessly between sentiment and wit, and often combined them in a single song.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm: Mary, Ann, and Mary Anne, 08/25/18

Aug 19, 2018

Episode # 1834

8/25      Mary, Ann, and Mary Anne—The Mary’s are all over the place in popular song. The names represent sweetness and innocence in the early years of the century, but when they’re Irish they exhibit more than a little moxie. The songs range from the tender to the comic—from Mary (“Long before the fashions changed”) to “Marion, You’ll Soon Be Marryin’ Me.”

Fascinatin’ Rhythm: Jonah Man, 08/18/18

Aug 12, 2018

Episode # 1833 

8/18      Jonah Man—A Jonah Man was originally a vaudeville performer whose act was stalled. But the songs about a Jonah Man portrayed somebody who was perennially unlucky. Most of them were written and performed by African-Africans, most notably Bert Williams. It was more than a coincidence.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm: Opera, Country, and Pop, 08/11/18

Aug 5, 2018

Episode # 1832

8/11      Opera, Country, and Pop—Crossovers usually go from opera or country to pop, from The Met or Nashville to Broadway. But sometimes it goes the other way, sometimes the singers are compete, and sometimes each singer stakes out her territory. The results have been known to stop a show.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm: Roses, Babes, and Gals, 08/04/18

Jul 31, 2018

Episode # 1831 

8/4        Roses, Babes, and Gals—Most songwriters are men so most songs are about women—by name or nickname or term of affection. The terms of affection become honorifics in popular songs. A single word to express affection, desire, and happiness. A quick mention of baby or the girl you love named Rose, and the song is underway. For something as quick and brief a song lyric, a label does the trick.