Charlie and his Orchestra

Throughout Nazi rule, Alfred Rosenberg and Joseph Goebbels constantly clashed over jazz. Rosenberg preferred its total banishment and advocated for this with local leaders (Gauleiter), leading to several local prohibitions. In his diary he repeatedly complained about the Propaganda Minister's policy, and in 1943 he wrote that Goebbels "plays Negro music like never before". Goebbels indeed intended to recover and divert the genre for propagandist purposes. At the start of the war, Goebbels embarked on a counter-propaganda radio campaign, aimed at the English-speaking public through a 20 minute show entitled "Germany Calling", hosted by William Joyce under the pseudonym "Lord Haw Haw", which mixed news, music and sketches. It was broadcast at various times of the day and was particularly popular in Britain, as Joyce regularly read letters from British prisoners held in German camps.

The musical interludes of the broadcast were played by a jazz band, Charlie and His Orchestra, created especially for the show in April 1940 by the Propaganda Ministry. Directed by Lutz Templin, this accomplished ensemble had between 16 and 30 musicians, including performers well known at the time such as Fritz Brocksieper and Primo Angeli. Rather than play original compositions, the band chose to play jazz standards that were popular with English listeners but with modified lyrics. This musical form of propaganda contributed to the spread of Nazi ideology and conveyed a defeatist message in the ranks of the Nazi enemy, British or American.

Almost all the songs performed and recorded by Charlie and His Orchestra were built on the same model: the original version is first introduced by the instruments, or sung with the actual lyrics, then there is an interruption by the singer "Charlie" (Karl Schwedler), most often under the primer "Here is Mr Churchill's new song". The standard was then sung with the new lyrics. The modifications, most often made by Schwedler himself, were subtle and kept a close relationship with the original version. Nevertheless, they reflected Nazi anti-Semitism and ridiculed the leaders of the allied countries against Germany, especially Winston Churchill first, represented as alcoholic and cowardly, then Franklin Delano Roosevelt, associated with "International Jewry" and "Bolsheviks" after the United States entered the war.

Original version - St Louis Blues Standard

I hate to see that evening sun go down
Oh, I hate to see that evening sun go down
Cause my baby, he's gone left this town

Feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
If I'm feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
I'll pack my truck and make my getaway

Oh, that St. Louis woman with her diamond rings
Pulls that man around by her apron strings
And if it wasn't for powder and her store-bought hair
That man I love would have gone nowhere, nowhere

I got the St. Louis blues, blues as I can be
That man's…

Modified version - Blackout Blues

I hate to see the evening sun go down
hate to see the evening sun go down
'cause the German he done bomb this town

feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
I pack my train and make my getaway

That Churchill badman, with his wars and things
Pulls pork round by his apron strings
One for Churchill and his bloody war
I wouldn't feel as so doggone sore!

Got the Blackout Blues, as blue as I can be
Dat man got a heart like a rock cast in the sea
He won't let folks live as they want to be.
Doggone it!

One anti-Bolshevik example is the version of "Bei Mir Bistu Shein" from Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda, popularized by the Andrews Sisters under the title "Bei mir bist du schön" in 1937. It then became, according to Schwedler's announcement at the beginning of the recording, "Anthem of the International Brotherhood of Bolsheviks".

Recordings of the sessions of Charlie and His Orchestra - nearly 300 titles in total - were copied and broadcast from German transmitters in the occupied countries. After the war, William Joyce was tried and sentenced to death, while the musicians of the orchestra continued their careers without interruption.

Élise Petit


Bergmeier, Horst J.P. and Lotz, Rainer E., Hitler’s Airwaves: The Inside Story of Nazi Radio Broadcasting and Propaganda Swing, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1997.

Kater, Michael H., Different Drummers. Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany, New York, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Petit, Élise, Musique et politique en Allemagne, du IIIe Reich à l’aube de la guerre froide, Paris, PUPS, 2018.

Petit, Élise and Giner, Bruno, “Entartete Musik”. Musiques interdites sous le IIIe Reich, Paris, Bleu Nuit, 2015.

Steinbiβ, Florian and Eisermann, David, « Wir haben damals die beste Musik gemacht », Der Spiegel, 18 April 1988, p. 228-236 :