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.

esl seven-eight

Episode # 1824

6/16      Depression Dreams During a dark time, large numbers of people looked for a way out, a way to escape if only for a few minutes at a time. The popular songs of the day were often dark and blues-tinged but they also offered respite in a vision of what might happen, what could come true. The decade of the Great Depression was overloaded with songs about dreaming.

From The Vaults

Episode # 1825

6/23      The Golden Age of Cabaret  Back in the 1950s, the spice of Manhattan night life wasn’t the Copa or the Latin Quarter, but an often short-lived batch of tiny clubs where those on the in gathered to hear singers of style and sophistication who brought songs alive by singing with intelligence and fidelity, and underlining the words with jazz-tinged piano playing. Here’s an hour with cabaret royalty—Mabel Mercer, Blossom Dearie, and Bobby Short.

Kritzerland Records

Episode # 1823

6/9       Follies and Stephen Sondheim’s Pastiche  A theater comes down and an era in American theatrical history ends with it. To tell his story and recreate the era in Follies, Stephen Sondheim writes a score in which nearly every song reflects a different style, time, or songwriter. In total, it becomes his homage to American song.

Episode # 1822

6/2       Modernity  Modernism largely ignored popular music but popular music paid close (if selective) attention to how Modernist values, attitudes, and behavior affected the lives of ordinary people. As assumptions broke down and a passion for the New roiled the culture, Modernity in music pulled it off with ease, thanks to the engaging sound of American syncopation. Hike up your skirts, learn to kiss (and more), and rag everything in sight.

Fairbanks Ballroom

Episode #1821

Cakewalk Your Lady—Beginning in the late 19th century, black music began its uninterrupted influence on American musical taste—ragtime, the blues, and jazz, and also a variety of dances, and everything based on syncopation. The cakewalk remains a living reference point for composers of every kind of music, from Broadway to the Alley to classical.


Episode #1820

Ever Heard of Bennie Benjamin?—Bennie Benjamin landed in New York from the Virgin Islands at the age of twenty. Mainly, he played guitar and banjo in a number of orchestras before he started to work for a music publisher who agreed to public his songs. He developed solid working relationships with several lyricists. The result was hit songs, from “When the Lights Go On Again” to “I Don’t Want To Set the World on Fire.”

Library of Congress

Episode # 1819   

Lou Hirsch and Gene Buck—Few people will recognize the name of Lou Hirsch.  That’s partly because he died so young—at the age of 37, but he was an innovative songwriter well on his way to fame on Broadway and in Tin Pan Alley. Most often, he worked with a solid professional lyricist named Gene Buck.

Dave's Music Database

Episode # 1818

The Story of a Song—“You Made Me Love You”—What started as a ragtime song by Ragtime Jimmy Monaco and Joe McCarthy soon became a slow romantic ballad. It survived as a standard, and then Judy Garland brought it back to life twenty-five years later when she sang it to Clark Gable on his birthday.

bottles, booze, and back stories

Episode # 1817

In the early years of the 20th century, the Sentimental Ballad gave way to something easier, less formal, certainly less impassioned. These songs were perfect for cuddling on front porch swings, especially with no other light than the moon. When Prohibition started a few years later, you swigged your moonshine under the shine of the moon.

Episode # 1816

Songwriter John Wallowitch grew up in Philadelphia but his heart always belonged to New York. He wrote many hundreds of songs—bittersweet love ballads, wacky comic numbers—but his deepest inspiration was New York, itself: the people he met, the clubs he sang in, the streets he walked at every time of day. He was tough enough to make it in Manhattan and sweet enough to be loved by everyone who knew him.