Classical 91.5

great american songbook

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.


Episode #1930

7/27      Music Makes Me How we make music, the most abstract of the arts, inseparable from the expression of emotion. Most songs start with the music and then adds the words. E.Y. Harburg said that music makes you feel an emotion and words make you think a thought, so a song makes you feel a thought.


Episode # 1929

7/20      As Time Goes By It didn’t win the Oscar for best song because it wasn’t new when it appeared in the movie Casablanca, courtesy of Dooley Wilson, who wasn’t a singer and couldn’t play the piano. But it rose quickly, a decade after Herman Hupfeld first wrote it for a Broadway revue, to become one of America’s iconic songs. Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

Episode # 1928

7/13      Marriage, Not Exactly Blessed Even in a make-believe world devoted to the necessity of eternal romantic love, here’s what happens, good and bad, once the honeymoon is over. It may not be what you predict you’ll find in popular songs, but at least some of the time, songwriters set out to tell the truth with a combination of sentiment and wit.


Episode # 1926

6/29      In Our United State  This show follows up on last week’s. It’s amazing what you can do with a patriotic slogan, catch phrase, or title. You can make it funny or satiric, or even turn it into a love song. Over the years, we’ve found dozens of ways to sing about America and to hear America singing.

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.

JW Pepper

Episode # 1925

6/22      Two Cheers  A musical but jaundiced view of American life and American democracy. Freedom may be precious but it can also get you in a pickle. You may stop long to celebrate the land and the nation, but mostly you keep on the move, preferably on the off-beat.

Episode # 1924

6/15      One Damn Thing  Of course most songs are about love, but romance in today’s songs is generally incidental. These are mostly list songs—tributes to a lyricist’s inventiveness when it comes to laying out a catalogue of our endlessly messy lives.

Episode #1923

6/8       An Elegiac Strain  More often than not, popular songs trade in youthfulness and hope. But in these songs, you may also detect something different—an elegaic strain that carries you emotionally farther and deeper than mere happiness. The melancholy of loss deepens. We may depart but we always remember, especially in song.

Wikimedia Commons

Episode 1922

6/1       Telling Stories  Every good song is dramatic. Right now, there’s a reason for this person to be singing these words. When songs tell stories, they tie themselves to an age-old tradition of narrative—told before they were written, chanted and sung before there was writing. Even in Tin Pan Alley and on Broadway, the tradition continued. Confession’s good for the soul—and the love affair.