I have no idea about the age demographic of our group, but in the off chance that we have some younger members, it bears noting that radio in the early 1940s was not just something you tuned into when you were driving or to catch the most recent weather report. It was a central focus of American culture, and a night without radio was probably an exception for many families, not the rule. In these pre-television days, the amount and variety of free radio entertainment is virtually unthinkable today. Live music of every kind; serial dramas, comedies, Western and suspense programs; live breaking news, sports, talk shows, quiz programs; educational broadcast: everything imaginable was there on the radio dial. 

Variety programs were a staple of 1940s radio, and out of Chicago came NBC’s National Barn Dance, a long running series that included music and skits largely aimed at Midwesterners, although the contents would have also appealed to many urban dwellers as well. The program featured music that was in the country-western/cowboy genre, but also included a fair amount of corn and even some jazz. Eddie Peabody and the Hoosier Hot Shots, National Barn Dance favorites, appear in Soundies, as do the Dinning Sisters.

Born in Kansas, raising in Oklahoma, Lou, Jean and Ginger Dinning learned three-part harmony in church and by 1939 were singing popular songs over Chicago radio. The three were influenced by the Andrews Sisters, without the vocal exaggerations often used by the latter group. Their popularity on radio was indeed nationwide, so much so that they were ultimately signed to appear in ten Soundies, produced in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.

“By the Light of the Silvery Moon” – lyrics by Eddie Madden, music by Gus Edwards – was written in 1909, and was a still a popular tune in the 1940s. The big surprise here is the jazz feel given to the song by the Dinning Sisters. We open up with eight bars of chordal guitar by George Barnes, then move into an easy, loping swing with the ladies supported by the studio combination led by Jack Facinato. The vocal arrangement plays with the melody line and meter, and is more jazz influence than much of the music heard on National Barn Dance. Still, that Oklahoma “twank” is still there in the background, making this one of the most appealing versions of this song that I know.