News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station


Sounds Of The New Deal In Nevada


University of Illinois Press

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) was a federal program that provided work for Americans in many occupations

The arts were part of the WPA. Nevada had a visual art project, a writer’s project and a music project.

In his book, "Sounds of the New Deal: The Federal Music Project in the West," Peter Gough explores the impact of the project on music performance, education and employment in Nevada.

Gough told KNPR's State of Nevada that the editorial board at the Reno Gazette Journal seemed to have "a little antagonism" toward the music project. 

"They felt that these musicians should throw away their horns and drums and be more productive workers and pick up a hoe and shovel," Gough said. 

Many felt that in order to be "on the dole," Gough continued, one should be doing the manual labor jobs. 

Despite the opposition, the beat went on, and when gambling was legalized in 1931, Nevada had the perfect opportunity to be a mecca for new and emerging musicians. 

At the time, Reno was the hub of Nevada. According the the 1930 Census, the population of Reno sat around 19,000 while its southern neighbor Las Vegas had about 5,000. 

"There were a lot of nightclubs opening, Harrahs had opened and swing music and jazz music were just becoming the rage," Gough said. 

Support comes from

Although the federal administration was reluctant to fund jazz programs early on, they did so for Nevada, which set the precedent for other states as time went on. 

Many professional musicians had faced tough times even before the Great Depression with the invention of new recording technologies, live musicians weren't sought after as they once were. 

Federal aid from the New Deal breathed life back into the art, and Nevada, along with other western states, were the primary benefactors. 

As a result, music instruction, which had previously only been offered in private schools, became included in all the curriculum of all public schools in the state. 

"There was just such a growing interest in music that the decade had a profound impact on Nevada, and it was largely because of the influx of federal money," Gough said. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic president responsible for the implementation of the New Deal, received more than 70 percent of the popular vote in Nevada.


Peter Gough, author of "Sounds of the New Deal: The Federal Music Project in the West" (University of Illinois Press, 2015)



You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.