A Glossary of Historical References in The Wild Party

The Wild Party lives, breathes, and (especially) drinks The Roaring Twenties – but for anyone who isn’t a historian, these terms might fly by unnoticed. Here’s a list of the famous people, places, and things that inhabit the world of The Wild Party.

Al Jolson: At the peak of his career, he was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” In the 1930’s, he was America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer and is known today as the star of The Jazz Singer, the first “talking picture.” With his unique and dynamic style of singing black music, such as jazz and blues, he was later credited with single-handedly introducing African-American music to white audiences, which he often performed in blackface makeup. As early as 1911, he became known for fighting against black discrimination on Broadway.

Igor Stravinsky: Widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century, most famously for the ballet The Rite of Spring (1913). 

Modernism: Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, and activities of daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. 

Alice B. Toklas: An American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century, and romantic partner of writer Gertrude Stein.

Bathtub Gin: Refers to any style of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions. The term first appeared in 1920, in the prohibition-era United States, in reference to the poor-quality alcohol that was being made.

John (Roderigo) Dos Passos: A radical American novelist and artist active in the first half of the 20th century, know for for his critically praised U.S.A. Trilogy – the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). 

Gertrude Stein: An American writer and Modernist art collector, who famously held dinners for American expats in Paris in the 1920’s.

Martha Graham: An American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Pablo Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Igor Stravinsky had on music, and Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.

Ethel Waters: An African-American blues, jazz and gospel vocalist and actress known for the songs “Stormy Weather,” “Heat Wave” and “Am I Blue?” She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, although she began her career in the 1920’s singing blues.

Langston Hughes: An American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Bessie Smith: Nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues,” Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920’s and 1930’s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists.

Dorothy Parker: An American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles which she wrote in The New Yorker. She was a founding of member of the Algonquin Round Table, a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, and actors. 

Carl Van Vechten: An American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein.

Charles Lindbergh: Nicknamed Slim, Lucky Lindy, and The Lone Eagle, was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist. He was the first person in history to be in New York one day and Paris the next, and was awarded the Medal of Honor. 

The Shubert family: Responsible for the establishment of the Broadway district, in New York City, as the hub of the theatre industry in the United States. 

Salome: A play by Oscar Wilde which premiered in English in 1893, which tells in one act the Biblical story of Salome, stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her stepfather’s dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils. 

Lot’s wife: In the Bible, the wife of Lot is a figure first mentioned in Genesis 19. The Book of Genesis describes how she became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom. 

Sodom and Gomorrah: Two biblical cities that were destroyed by God’s judgment for the sin and excess of its citizens. Sodom and Gomorrah have been used as metaphors for vice and deviation from nature. The story has therefore given rise to words in several languages, including the English word sodomy, used in sodomy laws to describe a sexual “crime against nature.”

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