Hitler’s Hot Jazz Band (Transcreation II)


Although the Nazis claimed Jazz was “Negermusik” – devised by Jews to undermine Aryan culture – they did have a Hot Jazz band of their own, called Charlie and his Orchestra.

It was part of the weirdest propaganda effort of the war, devised by Joseph Goebbels and aimed at subverting the morale of Allied civilians and invading troops.

aaaaahitler and goebbels dancing to hot jazz

Charlie and his Orchestra featured a crooner, Karl Schwedler, who’d lived in the USA before the war and could warble his way through the latest hits with a tolerable, if decidedly Teutonic, accent.

Hitler's Crooner, Karl Schwedler

Hitler’s Crooner, Karl Schwedler

More to the point, he could twist the original lyrics to give them pro-Nazi slants – transcreation avant la lettre (or rather, seiner Zeit voraus)…

So Cole Porter’s You’re the Top‘s lyrics, which started out like this:
You’re the top! You’re a Waldorf salad/You’re the top! You’re a Berlin ballad. /You’re the boats that glide /On the sleepy Zuider Zee, /You’re an old Dutch master…

would become:

You”re The Tops, You”re A German Flyer/You”re The Tops, You”re Machine Gun Fire/ You”re A U-boat Chap With a Lot Of Pep/ You”re Grand, You”re A German Blitz, The Paris Ritz…

Many of the lyrics are battier even than this, with ludicrously sinister insults about Jews (I’m fightin’ for democracy/I’m fightin’ for the Jew, from I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams)  and “Negroes”:

“A negro from the London Docks,” Schwedler raps over the intro to the St Louis Blues, “sings the Blackout Blues.” Schwedler goes on to sing: I hate to see the evenin’ sun go down – cos da Germans, dey don bomb dis town! and blames “Churchill’s bloody war” for making him “feel so sore.”

More than a quarter of the British civilian population is estimated to have listened to the German broadcasts which played these recordings. Churchill is said to have found them hilarious.

In any case, this pioneering example of transcreation is a cautionary tale – transcreation can be used for evil, as well as good objectives. And, even under the direction of a Kommunikationsgenie, a Strategiemeister like Goebbels, it’s a weapon which can backfire badly – if you go for the wrong, badly-devised strategy, and sing from the wrong song sheet…