Hollywood No. 1 – Roll Grane – 1938

Something about the Great Depression must have given folks World’s Fair fever, for at least five different expositions were held in the United States in the 1930s.  I can’t say I blame them either, a trip to a World’s Fair would probably do a lot to lift my spirits right now, and I’m not even experiencing economic ruin, severe drought, and another world war on the horizon, but I digress.  It seems that these fairs got people to singing, and some of them even had official records released in their honor, to be sold among the countless trinkets and souvenirs that could be brought home from one.  Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition commissioned two pieces, one a pop song by local bandleader Art Kassel, the other a march by the renowned John Philip Sousa—his last composition, in fact.  The 1939 New York World’s Fair got George and Ira Gershwin to pen a song in its honor prior to the former’s untimely demise.

The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 in San Francisco was not as grandiose an affair, but it still managed to attract the attention of songwriters.  One such individual was Mr. Roll Grane of Oakland, California.  A California native and member of the California Contented Club, which was evidently a heavy promoter of the San Francisco fair, in 1938 he composed a ditty titled “I’m Off to California in the Morning” to bring attention to the event, and to San Francisco’s bridges.  A competent guitarist and vaudevillian vocalist with an eccentric style, Grane himself performed his song for the radio, and copies of the sheet music were distributed around Oakland at conventions in the year preceding the Exposition.  Though the fair attracted significant crowds, Grane himself fell victim to obscurity, and details regarding his life and times are virtually non-existent.

Hollywood No. 1 (matrix number “H5”) was recorded on September 19, 1938, possibly in either Los Angeles or San Francisco, California, and was pressed by the Allied Phonograph and Record Mfg. Co.  It is a single sided record bearing a decorative etching on the reverse.  On it, Roll Grane sings and accompanies himself on guitar; his performance is announced at the beginning by an unknown individual.

Grane sings his own “I’m Off to California in the Morning”—”telling about our wonderful bridges… and exposition”—in a fashion sounding fresh off the vaudeville stage, and the song itself resembles a folksy take on the same sort of theme as the Century of Progress Exposition’s official song “In 1933”, advising listeners to head to California to visit the upcoming Golden Gate Exposition.  This song is Mr. Grane’s sole claim to any sort of lasting fame, and it is probably the only recording he ever made.

I’m Off to California in the Morning, recorded September 19, 1938 by Roll Grane.

Columbia 2745-D – Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air – 1933

A view of the Century of Progress Exposition, pictured on a contemporary travel brochure.

November 12 marks the eighty-second anniversary of the date that the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair was intended to close, though it proved so popular that it was continued through October 31, 1934.  It ran for more than seventeen months from its opening on May 27, 1933.  This beautiful Royal Blue Columbia record (pressed in blue shellac) was presumably sold as one of the enormous multitude of souvenirs available at the fair (which I also collect, in addition to all these phonograph records).

Columbia 2745-D was recorded on January 10, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, about four months before the World’s Fair opened to the public.  Art Kassel was a popular Chicago-based bandleader recording somewhat extensively, beginning in the 1920s and continuing until at least the 1940s.

The official song of the Century of Progress Exposition is fully titled “(Where Will You Be) In 1933”, though the label only lists the latter part of that.  This side is somewhat typical of the “cheer up” songs so prevalent in the first few years of the Great Depression, complete with Ted Lewis imitator.

In 1933,

In 1933, recorded January 10, 1933 by Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air.

John Philip Sousa’s “A Century of Progress March” bears the additional historical distinction of being the great march composer’s last composition before his death in 1932.

A Century of Progress March,

A Century of Progress March, recorded January 10, 1933 by Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air.

Updated on May 27, 2017, and with improved audio on June 6, 2018.