Thursday, September 28, 2023

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Fall Fashions, Zoot Suit Edition

A zoot suit with some Hi-De-Ho!

On this Throwback Thursday let's celebrate the zoot suit, a type of apparel that's inspired many musicians -- as well as sparking a bloody, racist 10-day riot in Los Angeles.

A 2016 article in Smithsonian Magazine described the suit and its significance,

With its super-sized shoulder pads, sprawling lapels and peg leg pants, the zoot suit grew out of the “drape” suits popular in Harlem dance halls in the mid-1930s. The flowing trousers were tapered at the ankles to prevent jitterbugging couples from getting tripped up while they twirled. By the ’40s, the suits were worn by minority men in working-class neighborhoods throughout the country. Though the zoot suit would be donned by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, it was “not a costume or uniform from the world of entertainment,” the Chicago big-band trumpeter and clothier Harold Fox once said. “It came right off the street and out of the ghetto.’’

Maybe the first song with "zoot suit" in the title was "A Zoot Suit (for my Sunday Girl)." It was recorded by all sorts of folks in the '40s including the Kay Kyser Orchestra (who did the original in early 1942), Benny Goodman, The Andrews Sisters and, later, even Dave Van Ronk. 

My favorite version is the one by Dorothy Danridge and Paul White:

Then there's these guys, whoever they are. (Seriously, does anyone know? Please tell me!)

WARNING: This video probably is illegal in Florida!

Skip ahead to the early 1960s and we'll find a little combo called The High Numbers. 

The who? 

That's right! It's the band later known as The Who. I don't think Pete and Roger and the boys actually ever wore an actual zoot suit though:

Known as the first Chicano play on Broadway, Luis Valdez's 1979 musical Zoot Suit (made into a movie starring Edward James Olmos in 1981) was based partly on the 1943 zoot suit "riots" in Los Angeles, in which U.S. Navy members stationed in southern California attacked zoot-attired Chicanos (and Filipinos. And Blacks) in East L.A., as the cops turned a blind eye. Because, you know, patriotism. (Just a few months ago, the Los Angeles City Council formally apologized for "effectively sanctioning the violence perpetuated eight decades ago.") 


The Cherry-Poppin' Daddies had a huge hit in 1997 with their own song about that ugly little stain on American history. 

Now those sailors know where their women went for love!



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