My maternal grandfather William Henry Waller (also known to us grandkids, variously, as “Unk,” “Hank,” or “Chief,” was born in 1909, in Angola, Indiana. He was the only son of three children and grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist family.
At some point after his graduation from college, he completely and utterly rejected the conservative ideology and religion of his youth. That probably happened during the Depression of the 1930s, when he had finished college and was navigating his way through young adulthood. Although I cannot, of course, be completely sure of this, I feel pretty confident that after college he likely never set foot in a church again and he hard harsh words for religion of any sort.
Moreover, Unk evolved into a fierce critique of capitalism and corporate hegemony. He adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt and considered him a hero, although Unk’s family of origin apparently considered FDR the devil incarnate.
He never called himself a socialist, although he sounded an awful lot like one to me. Unk believed in the marketplace, he frequently reminded me, just thought it had to be tightly regulated, and he was knowledgeable and devastating in his critique of regressive tax policies.
After college, he studied neuroanatomy at Cornell University and then graduated from medical school at the University of Georgia. He eventually became a psychiatrist, which remained his profession until retirement.
My grandfather wasn’t an affectionate or demonstrative person. Most of the time, I found it difficult to talk to him at all, never mind share anything personal or to have discussions about music, poetry or other kinds of art. But I knew he loved me.
I’ve tried to learn what I can about the music he listened to or might have listened to. My own memories are limited: I remember he and my grandmother Irene Andrews Waller dancing every New Year’s to Guy Lombardo’s “Auld Lang Syne.” And he was fond of FDR’s now-classic campaign tune “Happy Days Are Here Again,” even forty or fifty years after FDR had been elected.
My mother has provided some additional clues: songs that she heard him singing in the shower, an incident when he went without my grandmother to hear Frankie Laine at a nightclub in Boston (which apparently caused some friction between them) and songs that he often requested that my mother or grandmother play on the piano after my mother’s voice practice sessions (usually involving classical music, ie Handel, Mozart, etc) were done.
Patching all that together, and learning what I could about which artists were recording what during the relevant time period, I’ve assembled this playlist!