Out of Step: Tin Pan Alley Tries to Get the Blues

The success of the mainstream music industry depends partly on recognising opportunities to introduce consumers to a new music style, then commercializing it for mainstream audiences, and ultimately exploiting the trend until it is no longer popular or profitable. Throughout the history of popular music in America, this model has been successful countless times throughout the decades, whether Minstrel songs of the nineteenth century, ragtime tunes, swing music, and even New Wave and grunge. Perhaps the most famous and infamous example of this marketing model came during the mid-1970s with the arrival of disco. It was an era when the opportunity for fun novelty dance music could not have come at a better time. The early 1970s was an age of bombast played out on rock albums à la Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd and T. Rex. At the same time, singer/songwriters and adult contemporary “soft rock” took over AM radio. It is easy to understand why a genre characteristic of big beats, lavish production and frivolity became popular. Put much simpler by Disco promoter Wanda Ramos, “disco is happy music. It has a basic rhythm that everyone can understand.”[1] Disco was tremendously successful, Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman note that a number of additional factors contributed to the appeal of disco, including a mainstream popularity of soul and funk, as well as fresh technologies like synthesizers, synchronized turntables and drum machines along with a revitalization in America’s interest in social dancing.[2] Disco eventually became a profitable commodity to exploit; by 1977, “95% of all record companies have released albums with at least one disco-formatted song” according to the Journal of Marketing.[3] The crash in the market for disco music came in 1979; some rock purists rose up in protest. Famously, seventy thousand people crowded into Chicago’s Comisky Park for Disco Demolition Night, an event where disco records were smashed, set ablaze and a rioting melee ensued. While Disco Demolition Night was not the cause of disco’s decline, it was an indication of an overheated market; the music industry consequently moved on and left the disco craze behind. The music industry does not always get it right in the way it did with disco, though. While recording artists during the early 1920s brought the new style of blues to record, the publishers and composers of Tin Pan Alley attempted to bring the blues to sheet music as well.

During the late 1910s and early 1920s, at the same time that jazz had brought a new nomenclature to the music industry, “blues” was also entering the lexicon of popular music. A rural folk music sung for decades in Jim Crow era South, what would eventually become known as blues music had spread across the South by the end of the nineteenth century. With a highly adaptable chord progression and verse structure, the blues was a style that could be embellished with flatted “blue notes” and lyrics which expressed the minutia of everyday life, creating an immeasurable number of songs. In the early 1910s, composer WC Handy, who had been interested in the artistry and potential profitability of the music, published two commercially successful songs that would give the blues national attention. Following the First World War, with jazz on the minds of many music publishers, record companies and music consumers, blues became another buzzword throughout Tin Pan Alley with dozens of songs taking the blues name. Many of these tunes were not truly indicative of blues music and there are plenty of examples in which the blues name had been exploited, with comical characters in compromising situations and a rash of racial stereotypes that had been en vogue for decades. However, once the publishing craze died down, the blues emerged from the 1920s as its own genre of music with its distinct catalogue of musicians, who eventually went on to influence generations of rock and roll musicians throughout the twentieth century.

Long before the blues constituted its own genre of music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the term blues had already been widely used in songs during the nineteenth century. “The blues” had been used in songs to refer to depression, malaise and lassitude as early as the nineteenth century, in such titles as “I Have Got the Blues To Day!” by Gustave Blesser and Sarah Graham from 1850 in which the main character feels depressed since his sweetheart Fannie has gone away:

But more, oh! More than all I sigh,

That Fannie ever pleased my eyes;

Or that the charmer went away.

To leave me in the blues to day;[4]

This connotation of feeling blue continued in the twentieth century with songs like “That’s Why I’m Lonesome and Blue” from 1909, and even upbeat numbers like “Blame It on the Blues (Very Blue)” from 1913, a ragtime instrumental in tempo di ragioso with the sheet music cover illustrated with a happy couple dancing.[5] The blues had another, more conspicuous usage during the nineteenth century, in which the Blues, capital B, referred to police officers, soldiers, and subsequently, political candidates who supported Union veterans of the Civil War. There were numerous examples in which military units and personnel were honoured with songs and marches. “The Blues Quick Step” by John Holloway from 1836 is dedicated to the “light infantry company Winslow Blues,”[6] while the “Washington Blues March” by F. Watson published in 1843 is “dedicated to the officers and members of the Louisville Washington Blues.”[7] “Republican Blues March” from 1860 had been “composed and respectfully dedicated to the officers and members of the Republican Blues of Savannah Geo.”[8] Specific individuals were also honoured with their own marches. “The City Blues Quick Step” from 1851 is “dedicated to Capt. Johnson of the City Blues.”[9] This practice became even more common following the Civil War as an abbreviation for the “the boys in blue” referring to Union veterans; consequently, various presidential campaign songs, particularly for candidates of the Republican Party, extolled their candidates support of “the Blue.”   There are many instances of linking candidate with the Blues including “Rally for the Leader” for the 1868 campaign of General Ulysses S. Grant “Who led the ‘Boys in blue.’”[10] “The Boys in Blue with See It Through,” a campaign song for Rutherford B. Hayes and William Wheeler in 1876, shows confidence that “Gen’ral Rutherford B. Hayes We have an honest man/And Wheeler has such upright way, We’re bound to lead the van.”[11] “The Veteran’s Vote,” a campaign song from the election of 1880, candidate James Garfield and his running mate Chester A. Arthur are promoted as being staunchly “in line” with the boys in blue.[12] Long before the blues constituted its own separate genre of music, using the blues in music had an already established tradition in American music during the nineteenth century.

While no one is exactly clear how or where the blues tradition developed, it is generally known that the musical style came of age in the South, was sung by former slaves and by the late 1900s, had diffused across the South, in urban and rural areas alike. According to writer LeRoi Jones, blues music “could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives.”[13] The blues moniker did not exist yet; it was social music that developed in the late nineteenth century far away from publishing offices, desks of composers and bandstands of smartly suited brass band musicians. Apparently, there had not been enthusiastic interest in studying the music and its social history at the time of its development. For many white people throughout the region, it was just “Nigger music,” a sentiment shared by erudite African Americans in the north who viewed the style as vulgar.[14] “With a couple of exceptions, ethnomusicologists didn’t become interested in the blues until later, thus missing prime opportunities to document the origins of the music and to record its pioneers,”[15] notes music historian Robert Santelli. After the Boys in Blue left the South following Reconstruction during the late 1870s, segregation laws had been passed in state legislatures throughout the South, leaving recently freed African Americans to face a new legislated social reality that they must “remain subordinate or be exterminated,”[16] according to South Carolina senator Benjamin Tillman in 1900. Blues singing in the Jim Crow South illustrated life in an era of segregation, lynching, tenant farming, poverty and backbreaking labour. Kevin Phinney notes that “the blues was not just a style of music, but a way of being, and its practitioners passed the hat for food and shelter alongside the folk who gathered at honky tonks, cheap eateries, and street corners to listen for a while.”[17] Most of the blues music during this era in the South was likely performed by solo artists, sometimes duos,[18] untrained musicians playing on second-hand or crudely made instruments of any variety. Yet, in spite of the Jim Crow cultural context, there was entertainment value in the music and the opportunity to make a buck during this time. Eventually, it became a form of folk entertainment and “most [blues] musicians likely interspersed into the collection of songs…spirituals, folk standards pop favourites, just about anything that would make a crowd of people take note.”[19] By the early twentieth century, what would eventually become blues music had spread to nearly every corner of the South. Folklorist Howard Odum noted that, during a trip reaching from the Mississippi Delta to Georgia between 1905 and 1908, “more than half the songs he documented were blues.”[20] Although there had not been any study of the roots of blues music during its development, the rural, pastoral music style had spread across the South by the early 1900s.

Typically, blues songs have a rigid system of construction, but one to which each individual performer can add his or her own individual personality to the songs, creating a multitude of song variety. The most ubiquitous elements of blues music depend on the constructions of the verse and the combination of a few simple chords that give the blues its distinct timbre. A distinguishing feature of blues music is the construction of the stanzas, put together in segments of twelve measures, or bars; an unusual structure, since many of the songs coming from the major publishers of the day were nearly always in sixteen bars.[21] Another recognisable characteristic of blues music is the tonal arrangement of the chord progressions. The harmonic structures are simple in form, only three chords are typically used in a fixed order, the “tonic, subdominant and the chord of the dominant seventh…then back to the tonic chord.”[22] But blues music also has a flair for personality including the ways in which singers and musicians add unexpected notes and the lyrical topics which give insight into everyday life of a performer. Flatted notes frequently pepper the music almost at the singer’s whim, the so-called “blue notes” from which blues music gets its name. More specifically, “the flattened third and seventh notes which give the Blues its sound; not unsurprisingly, these have become known as ‘blue notes’.”[23] While the standard twelve-bar verse constructions and the chord progressions give blues songs their structure, the topics and the words of these songs gave the blues the individual flavour and expressed the experiences of each individual singer. “Southern Negroes sang about everything. Trains, steamboats, steam whistles, sledge hammers, fast women, mean bosses, stubborn mules”[24] composer WC Handy remembered from a music trip to the South in 1903. No one is quite sure how blues received its name. In fact “no definite association between the word ‘blue’ and the music known as ‘the blues’ can be established before the 1910s,”[25] including the blues notes, according to jazz historian Frank Tirro. Feeling blue is a common feature, but the blues music does not always rely on complaining about troubles in one’s life, in fact music historian Gilbert Chase observes that while “most blues have the burden of lament associated with the expression ‘feeling blue,’ they have an undertone of humour.”[26] Blues music has a distinctive style in lyrical format, song structure and melodic chord progressions, and yet there are countless permutations to create songs.

The blues remained an underground folk music stretching from Texas to Georgia and from Louisiana to Kentucky until two songs published during the early 1910s brought the style and the moniker into the mainstream consciousness, this was partly due to artistic interest in composing the music and partly due to capitalist intentions to bring a new style to consumers’ attention. Composer and musician William Christopher Handy had travelled across the South during the early 1900s and the rural, pastoral music with its unique phrasing, chord progressions and blue notes had a profound effect on him. In describing his first encounter hearing the music, Handy remarked that “The effect was unforgettable… the weirdest music I have ever heard.”[27] Although he found the style rather primitive, he saw the beauty in it and Handy recalled, “They had the stuff people wanted. It touched the spot.”[28] Handy knew that there was also potential to capitalise on this unusual style of music, as evident from the way that audiences were throwing money at buskers. Handy remembered that “dollars, quarters, halves—the shower [of coins] grew heavier and continued so long I strained my neck to get a better look….There before the boys lay more money than my nine musicians were being paid for an entire engagement.”[29] Financial motives were certainly part of the decision to write down blues music and Handy understood that “their music wanted polishing….People would pay money for it.”[30] In 1912, Handy published “The Memphis Blues,” a reworked “Southern Rag”[31] melody he originally published in 1909 for the election campaign for Memphis mayoral candidate E.H. Crump. It was an immediate hit; within three days, his initial run of 1000 copies sold out.[32] After the success of “The Memphis Blues,” two years later, Handy published “The Saint Louis Blues,” which brought Handy and the blues national attention and fame. Both titles have the virtues of being different both sonically and rhythmically from other popular songs of the early 1910s, however, both tunes have commercial elements which appealed to consumers of mass-produced pop songs. “Like most of Handy’s ‘blues’, those two compositions had much more in common with popular ragtime tunes of the day,”[33] comments Peter Bekker. “The Memphis Blues” after all had been labelled in the way that many ragtime tunes of the day had been labelled, as a cakewalk,[34] while “The Saint Louis Blues” was labelled as a “widely known ragtime composition.”[35] Lyrically, “The Saint Louis Blues” fits within the sort of torch songs popular in the early 1910s and is fairly commonplace; in the song, a woman pines for a man who is leaving, a topic which had been published dozens of times during this time period, “He’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea/Or else he would not go so far from me”[36] read some of the rather poetic lyrics. Keeping in touch with the pop music trends of the day is what often leads to commercial success after all, selling a product that people already know and will purchase even for a foreign sounding music, and this was Handy’s method. For all of the commercial success that both songs had over a relatively short period of time, W.C. Handy was modest in his role in the development of blues music, never having claimed that he invented the genre, likening himself as a person whose role in the “history was to introduce this, the ‘blues’ form, to the general public,”[37] although his publishing firm Pace & Handy Music Company in Memphis had been referred to as The “Home of the Blues.”[38] By 1914, the blues music that had been prevalent folk music found its place within the pop music scene after the publication of “The Memphis Blues” and “The Saint Louis Blues.”

It would not take long before major music publishers and famous songwriters took notice and produced their own blues songs throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s and attempted to ride the wave of popularity of the song style, or at least its name. The rhythmic, lyrical and sonic characteristics of blues music were slowly creeping into the music market of the early 1910s. “Nigger Blues,” published in 1913, has all the elements of blues music including its twelve-bar verse patterns, blue notes, characteristic chord progression and the lyrical style of twice-repeated lines:

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

When a woman gets blue, She hangs her little head and cries.[39]

Vaudeville star Sophie Tucker saw the value of adding blues music to her act as early as 1915; after all, adding fresh, new song styles would garner further interest in her performances and perhaps increase attendance of her shows. “The Broadway Blues” was in the blues style, about her having the blues in the midst of Broadway glamour; drinking seems to be the best method of defeating her blues:

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

It’s an awful thing when gloom keeps hanging ‘round

With the Broadway blues those Broadway blues.[40]

But the blues trend never really accelerated in popularity during the mid 1910s; Tin Pan Alley composers were busy cashing in on two consecutive music crazes, the first, for Hawaiian songs between 1915 and 1916 and a second craze over wartime music during the Great War. By 1919, two converging trends would push Tin Pan Alley composers and lyricists to write a number of songs about having the blues. Around 1919, after Jazz music had found its way into the lexicon of American music, songs about the South became immensely popular. Two songs by Milton Ager from 1919 affirm this trend, that “Everything is Peaches Down in Georgia” and that “Anything is Nice if It Comes From Dixieland.” During these years, composer Walter Donaldson made a career of writing songs about life in the South, even though he was born and raised in Brooklyn.[41] It was an era when Al Jolson interpolated George Gershwin’s song “Swanee” for his musical vehicle Sinbad and managed to make it a hit, along with two other Southern songs, “My Mammy,” sung in blackface, and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”[42] During this time, blues songs and singers were making their way on record and becoming increasingly popular with both black and white audiences. With Southern music en vogue on stage and in sheet music and the Southern style of blues music coming of age on record, unsurprisingly, a rash of various “Blues” titles came out of Tin Pan Alley and featured on stages up and down Broadway. The Louis Hirsch comedy The Rainbow Girl (1918) included “The Alimony Blues,” the Rudolph Friml comedy Tumble In (1919) included “The Wedding Blues,” Jerome Kern “topped the score” with “Left All Lone Again Blues” in The Night Boat (1920),[43] Kern also wrote “The Blue Danube Blues” for Good Morning Dearie (1921). Titles of this time also included “Singing the Blues Until My Daddy Comes Home” and “Home Again Blues” from 1920, “High Brown Blues” and “The Wood Alcohol Blues” from 1921. By 1922 and 1923, Tin Pan Alley songs about various sorts of blues included titles like “Lovesick Blues,” “The Blue Kitten Blues” “Yankee Doodle Blues,” “Cinderella Blues,” “Golfing Blues,” “Out Where the Blues Began,” “Blue Hoosier Blues.” During the late 1910s and early 1920s, Tin Pan Alley composers pumped out blues tunes with ferocity, with hopes that they would earn a big blues hit.

Within the lyrics of these sheet music Tin Pan Alley blues songs, there is a pattern which emerges regularly; the blues songs as imagined by composers and lyricists involve certainly that a character in the song has the blues about some aspect of his or her life. Topics of money, work, and, of course, love come up regularly with characters lamenting about their personal situations. Topical fears of losing family members in the war connected music consumers to “Those Draftin’ Blues” from 1918, in which persons are instructed in the refrain that “When Uncle Sam calls out your man/Don’t sigh, And cry…You know it’s gonna break your heart/To let you honey go away,” all the while performers are instructed to “observe grace notes with moaning effect”[44] to mimic the style of blues singing. In Albert Von Tilzer’s “I’ve Got the Travelling ‘Choo-Choo’ Blues,” the main character, a homeless “roamin’ Romeo” complains about his “home that runs on wheels Where they don’t serve homemade meals.”[45] Work is lamented in “Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues)” from 1921, in which a tip collector “get[s] nothing but abuse” from demanding passengers:

It’s “Pullman Porter What town are we at?”

It’s “Pullman Porter Brush off my hat”

“Now look here porter someone stole my booze,”

I got the Pullman Porter Blues.[46]

Money, or more exactly, the lack of money, is the source of a person’s blues in Irving Berlin and Henry Akst’s “Home Again Blues” from 1920 in which a “rolling stone for many years” decides to return home without a cent to his name:

When I left my home I didn’t have a cent

I wasn’t broke but I was badly bent

I didn’t have a single dine to count

And now I’m going home with the same amount[47]

The main character of “I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues” from 1922 asserts that the audience has “heard of all kinds of blues” and then expresses grief about his money woes, but is at least hopeful about his future:

Better days are sure to come,

That’s plain to see

Uncle Sam will surely send it

And I know just how I will spend it[48]

Such sentiment about people in dire situations having the blues continues when love and relationships are involved. Humour is threaded throughout the stanzas of “Cry Baby Blues” form 1921, a song in which a man cannot get any loving from his “baby,” “You’re the baby I’ve been callin’ my own/Oh! Me, Oh! My, You’re about the meanest baby I’ve known/And here’s just why, When I wanna kiss you answer no.”[49] This sort of song topic is reminiscent of the 1890s, when sad sentiment had been shamelessly pedalled to evoke emotion; the sadder the song, the bigger the profit.[50] The blues streak of the late 1910s and early 1920s was about hearing how other people had felt sad and dejected by love, money and work.

There is something fundamentally at odds with the bucolic nature of blues music and what it became during a publishing fad, that the blues had become exploited by composers trying to bring the song’s style to sheet music. Traditional blues music was not composed; instead, it was played on rudimentary instruments and sung by black people in the Jim Crow South observing life around them. It was music that had context within its environment. According to Ted Gioia, blues music “sings of small, everyday details of individual lives.”[51] The composers and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley, on the other hand, were professionals, most often white folk since African Americans were routinely barred from ASCAP.[52] They wrote commercial music that they thought consumers would purchase. According to music historian Frank Tirro, the “two most successful songwriters composing blues were Irving Berlin and Gus Kahn”[53] during this time. Bluesman Clarence Williams asserts that “I’d never have written the blues if I had been white. You don’t study to write blues, you feel them.”[54] African American musicians and composers Porter Grainger and Bob Ricketts in 1926 instructed people that “to render a ‘blues’ song effectively, it is necessary to possess a fair knowledge of the spirit and circumstance” of the music.[55] Obviously, there are major discrepancies and sometimes silliness to some of these blues numbers coming from the major publishing houses. When Prohibition came into effect, titles like “The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues)” and “I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze)” came into existence, neither of which were in the blues twelve-bar style or embellished with blue notes; the songs contained such maladroit lyrics as “I’ve got the blues, I’ve got the Blues Since they amputated my booze”[56] and “I’ve got the prohibition blues/In memory of beer I’ll shed a tear.”[57] The blues meme was not restricted to the topicality of prohibition, pop culture came into the sphere of blues influence including the self-referential “Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout the Doggone Blues But I’m Happy”[58] and “I’ve got the ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ Blues,” which expresses annoyance of constantly hearing the popular nonsense song that became a “national scourge”[59] in 1923. A slew of comical yet racially insensitive stereotypes that had been Tin Pan Alley fodder for at least two decades also came through in various blues songs. The piano-playing talent of “A darkey known as Hosanna Clay,”[60] was commemorated in “Bluin’ the Blues,” which became a major instrumental hit for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919. Asians were also included as in Philip Braham and Douglas Furber’s “Limehouse Blues” from Charlot’s Revue of 1924, in which “yellow chinkies love to play…those blues all day.”[61] An orthodox Jewish jazz band is caricatured on the cover of “The House of David Blues” from 1923 and their long whiskers are mentioned since “they play the Barber Shop Chord but they never shave.”[62] An immigrant has the blues for mother Russia in “Russian Blues” from Englishman Noel Coward:

Maybe I’ll return some day

It may be hysteria, but even if it means Siberia,

Start your locomotive,

Rock your little boat, I shall feel so happy when I know that I’m afloat.[63]

It seems as though the songwriters of the major publishing houses were missing the point and the soul of blues music, using it as a commodity in some silly ways.

The craze for blues numbers came and went on Tin Pan Alley and, although making occasional appearances on sheet music, the fad fizzled within a few years. However, blues remained tremendously popular and is one of the few fads in American music history to undergo a profound change from music fad into its own genre which continues to influence generations of musicians. While many of the songs mentioned in this essay had no lasting implication on song history, their recorded counterparts, the “classic blues” of the likes of Charley Patton, “Ma” Rainey, Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith enjoyed so much success that an entire industry of “race records” flourished during the 1920s, a term later replaced by “rhythm and blues,” “a term invented by a white Billboard writer, Jerry Wexler…to replace the derogatory trade name ‘race music,’” notes John Seabrook.[64] Blues has also enjoyed international appreciation when bluesman Spencer Williams published many Delta Blues songs and even popularised the music in Europe with successful tours in France in 1925 and in England 1932.[65] In 1924, blue notes became part of the American classical music canon in the writing of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of the most famous compositions in American music, a piece which manages to blend together pop, jazz, blues and even elements of klezmer music into orchestral instrumentation.[66] Blues musicians became musical celebrities like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Sarah Vaughn, etc. Blues music and its musicians consequently influenced an entire generation of musicians coming of age during the early Rock and Rock Era like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and even the Beatles. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones remark that “For the rest of [the 1960s], the blues was one of the key ingredients of rock music, leaving its unmistakable mark on international superstars as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Bob Dylan.”[67] Although the publishing craze of the early 1920s came and went, the blues influence continued to have an impact on the music industry for decades and continues to enjoy success as its own genre of music.


Bekker, Peter O.E. The Story of the Blues. New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. 1997.

Bordman, Gilbert. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992.

Burton, Jack. The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: A Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music. Watkins Glen, NY: Century House. 1951.

Chase, Gilbert. America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1966.

Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People from Charley Patton to Robert Cray. New York: Hyperion. 1995.

Deats, Randy. Dancing Disco. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks. 1979.

Gates, Jr, Henry Louis. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2011.

Gioia, Ted. Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who revolutionized American Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2008.

Hine, Darlene Clark, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold. African Americans: A Concise History. 4th Ed. New York: Pearson. 2012.

Johnson, Lonnell.  “Sep. 28: WC Handy Published Memphis Blues in 1912.” Examiner.com. 26 September 2013.

King, Stephen A. I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2011.

Komara, Edward. Encyclopedia of the Blues. New York: Routledge. 2006.

Morgan, Thomas L and William Barlow. From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930. Washington, DC: Elliot & Clark Publishing. 1992.

Phinney, Kevin. Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture. New York: Billboard Music. 2005.

“Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Life Magazine. Volume 15, number 11. 11 October 1943. Reproduced in Gentry, Linnell. A History and Encyclopaedia of Country, Western and Gospel Music. St Clare Shore, MI: Scholarly Press. 1972. 55-56.

“Rhapsody in Blue.” Jewish Currents. JEDAYO (blog). 11 February 2014. http://jewishcurrents.org/february-12-rhapsody-blue-24271.

Santelli, Robert. A Century of the Blues. Contained in Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues. Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, et al, ed. New York: Amistad. 2003. 12-59.

Seabrook, John. The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2015.

Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: The Rock Years. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press. 2005.

Stibal, Mary E. “Disco—Birth of a New Marketing System.” Journal of Marketing 14, No 4 (1977): 82-88.

Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2012.

Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1977.

Wyman, Bill with Richard Havers. Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music’s Heart and Soul. New York: DK Publishing. 2001.

Songs Cited

Berlin, Irving and Harry Akst. Home Again Blues. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Blessner, Gustave (music) and Sarah Graham (lyrics). I Have Got the Blue To Day! New York: Firth Pond & Co. 1850.

Braham, Phillip (music) and Douglas Furber (lyrics). Limehouse Blues. New York: T.B. Harms. 1922.

Coward, Noel. Russian Blues. New York: Harms Inc. 1923.

Downing, David. City Blues Quickstep. New York: William Hall & Son. 1851.

Frangkiser, C.M. (music) and Lew Hatton (lyrics). I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues. Fort Dodge, IA: King House Music. 1922.

Goedeler, R. The Boys in Blue Will See It Through. New York: S.Y. Gordon & Son. 1876.

Handy, W.C. Beale Street Blues. Memphis, TN: Pace & Handy Music Co. 1916.

——-. The Memphis Blues. Memphis, TN: Joe Morris Music Co. 1912.

——-. The Saint Louis Blues. Memphis, TN: Pace & Handy Music Co. 1914.

Herrick, George D (music) and D. McNaughton. Rally for the Leader! Chicago, IL: Root and Cady. 1868.

Holloway, John. The Blues Quick Step. Boston, MA: John Aston & Co. 1836.

Keene, Bessie L (music) and W.C. Keene (lyrics). That’s Why I’m Lonesome and Blue. Baltimore, MD: W.C. Keene Music Publishing Co. 1909.

Kunkle, Charles (music) and I.D. Foulon (lyrics). The Veteran’s Vote. St. Louis, MO: Kunkle Brothers. 1880.

Louis, L. Republican Blues March. New York: Firth Pond & Co. 1860.

Meyer, George W. (music) and Joe Yong and Sam Lewis (lyrics). Cry-Baby Blues. New York: Irving Berlin Inc. 1921.

Pickard, Maceo. Those Draftin’ Blues. New York: Jos. Stern & Co. 1918.

Ragas, H.W. (music) and Sidney D. Mitchell (lyrics). Bluin’ the Blues. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1919.

Schoebel, Elmer, Billy Meyers and Irving Mills. The House of David Blues. New York: Jack Mills Inc. 1923.

Sherman, Terry (music) and J. Brandon Walsh (lyrics). Sophie Tucker’s Broadway Blues. Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter. 1915.

Ulrich, Clifford and Burton Hamilton. Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1921.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics). The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1919.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics). I’ve Got the Travelling “Choo-Choo Blues.” New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1921.

Watson, Lieutenant F. The Washington Blues’ March. New York: J.J. Hewitt & Co. 1843.

White, Leroy “Lasses.” Nigger Blues. Dallas, TX: Bush & Gerts. 1909.

Zerse, Carl. I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze). St. Louis, MO: Carl Zerse. 1919.

[1] Wanda Ramos qtd in Randy Deats, Dancing Disco, (New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1979), 125.

[2] Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: The Rock Years. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 223.

[3] Mary E. Stibal, “Disco—Birth of a New Marketing System,” Journal of Marketing 41, No 4 (1977): 83.

[4] Gustave Blessner (music) and Sarah M. Graham (lyrics), I Have Got the Blues To Day!, (New York: Firth Pond & Co, 1850).

[5] Charles L. Cooke, Blame It on the Blues, (New York: Jerome H Remick & co, 1913).

[6] John Holloway, The Blues Quick Step, (Boston MA: John Ashton & Co, 1836).

[7] Lieutenant F. Watson, Washington Blues’ March, (New York: J.J. Hewitt & Co, 1843).

[8] L. Louis, Republican Blues March, (New York: Firth Pond & Co, 1860).

[9] David Downing, City Blues Quick Step, (New York: William Hall & Son, 1851).

[10] George D. Herrick (music) and D. McNaughton, Rally for the Leader!, (Chicago, IL: Root and Cady, 1868).

[11] R. Goerdeler, The Boys in Blue Will See It Through, (New York: S.R. Gordon & Son, 1876).

[12] Charles Kunkle (music) and I.D. Foulon (lyrics), The Veteran’s Vote, (St Louis, MO: Kunkle Brothers, 1880).

[13] LeRoi Jones qtd in Harry Louis Gates, Jr, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 351.

[14] Stephen A. King, I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta, (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 136.

[15] Robert Santelli, “A Century of the Blue,” contained in Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey, edited by Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, et al, (New York: Amistad, 2003), 14.

[16] Benjamin Tillman qtd in Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi, America: A Narrative History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012), 717.

[17] Kevin Phinney, Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture, (New York: Billboard Books, 2005), 93.

[18] Santelli, “A Century of the Blues,” 18.

[19] Ibid, 17.

[20] Bill Wyman with Richard Havers, Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music’s Heart and Soul, (New York: DK Publishing, 2001), 69.

[21] Gilbert Chase, America’s Music: From Pilgrims to the Present, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966), 450.

[22] ibid.

[23] Wyman with Havers, 15.

[24] W.C. Handy qtd in Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold, African Americans: A Concise History, 4th Ed, (New York: Pearson, 2012), 358.

[25] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977), 53.

[26] Chase, 449.

[27] W.C. Handy qtd in Wyman and Havers, 68.

[28] W.C. Handy qtd in Hine, Hine and Harrold.

[29] W.C. Handy qtd in Francis Davis, The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People from Charley Patton to Robert Cray, (New York: Hyperion, 1995), 26.

[30] W.C. Handy qtd in Hine, Hine and Harrold.

[31] W.C. Handy, The Memphis Blues, or Mister Crump, (Memphis, TN: W.C. Handy, 1912).

[32] Lonnell Johnson, “Sep. 28: WC Handy publishes Memphis Blues in 1912,” Examiner.com, 26 September 2013, http://www.examiner.com/article/sep-28-1912-wc-handy-publishes-memphis-blues.

[33] Bekker,15.

[34] W.C. Handy, The Memphis Blues.

[35] W.C. Handy, The St Louis Blues (Memphis, TN: Pace and Handy Music Co, 1914).

[36] Ibid.

[37] W.C. Handy qtd in Thomas L. Morgan and William Barlow, From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930, (Washington, DC: Elliot & Clark Publishing, 1992), 92.

[38] W.C. Handy, Beale Street Blues, (Pace & Handy Music Co, 1916).

[39] Leroy “Lasses” White, Nigger Blues, (Dallas, TX: Bush & Gerts, 1913).

[40] Terry Sherman (music) and J. Brandon Walsh (lyrics), Sophie Tucker’s Broadway Blues, (Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter, 1915).

[41] Jack Burton, The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: A Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music, (Watkins Glen, NY: Century House, 1951), 165-166.

[42] Gilbert Bordman, American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 2nd ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 331.

[43] Bordman, 347.

[44] Maceo Pinkard, Those Draftin’ Blues, (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co, 1918).

[45] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics), I’ve Got the Travelling “Choo-Choo Blues,” (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1921).

[46] Clifford Ulrich and Burton Hamilton, Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1921).

[47] Irving Berlin and Harry Akst, Home Again Blues, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1920).

[48] C.M. Frangkiser (music) and Lew Hatton (lyrics), I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues, (Fort Dodge, IA: K.L. King Music House, 1922).

[49] George W. Meyer (music) and Joe Young and Sam Lewis (lyrics), Cry-Baby Blues, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1921).

[50] For a look at how sad songs had been pop gold see Morgan Howland, “1890s Pop Trend: The Sentimental Ballad,” 13 February 2014, Pop Song History (blog), https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/1890s-pop-trend-the-sentimental-ballad-3/.

[51] Ted Gioia, Delta Blues: The Lies and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), 13.

[52] Morgan and Barlow, 49.

[53] Tirro, 61.

[54] Clarence Williams qtd in Morgan and Barlow, 91.

[55] Porter Grainger and Bob Rickets qtd in Edward Komara, Encyclopedia of the Blues, (New York: Routledge, 2006). 438.

[56] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics), The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1919).

[57] Carl Zerse, I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze), (St Louis, MO: Carl Zerse, 1919).

[58] Marion Harris, Everybody’s Crazy Bout the Doggone Blues, But I’m Happy, (Victory 18443) 1917, http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/6462/

[59] “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” Life Magazine, Vol 15, No 11, October 11, 1943 found in Linnell Gentry, A History and Encyclopedia of Country, Western and Gospel Music, (St. Clare Shores, MI: Scholarly Press, 1972), 55.

[60] H.W. Ragas (music) and Sidney D. Mitchell (lyrics), Bluin’ the Blues, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[61] Philip Braham (music) and Douglas Furber (lyrics), Limehouse Blues, (New York: T.B. Harms, 1922).

[62] Elmer Schoebel, Billy Meyers and Irving Mills, The House of David Blues, New York: Jack Mills Inc, 1923).

[63] Noel Coward, Russian Blues, (New York: Harms Inc, 1923).

[64] John Seabrook, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015), 53.

[65] Jack Burton, The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: a Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music, (Watkins Glen, NY: Century House, 1951), 248.

[66] To see a clip from of Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra performing Rhapsody in Blues, please visit “Rhapsody in Blues,” JEWDAYO (blog), Jewish Currents, 11 February 2014, http://jewishcurrents.org/february-12-rhapsody-blue-24271.

[67] Wyman and Havers, 15.

Series Preview: The Club Banger Era

Pop Song History is making a comeback. Recent career changes are allowing me to once again research and write about the history of mainstream pop music in America and the intellectual history offered by some of the most popular and commercially successful songs. But this next series of Pop Song History will be a departure from the earlier series investigating the popular songs of the early twentieth century, where Pop Song History left off. Sorry to disappoint, but the previous series about the Jazz Era in America will not be concluded or continued. Instead, I will be focusing on the current era of pop music, beginning at around 1989, which I have been calling the Club Banger Era. There are two major reasons why such a drastic and peculiar shift is occurring. First, I found pop songs from the Jazz Era of the 1920s, 30s and 40s boring to listen to and even more dull to write about. It may be considered an era full of “songs that remain an essential part of the repertoire of today’s jazz musicians and pop singers,”[1] but the whole period lacked fun and amusement, in my opinion. Second, there are many similarities shared between the music culture of the first two decades of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century that is seems natural for this transition. Just as the nature of music in the 1890s or the 1910s existed for almost the purpose of promoting “unique rhythms, curious groupings of words and melodies that gave zest and unexpectedness,”[2] according to composer William Marion Cook, the overall cultural context of songs in the Club Banger Era is to encourage fun, dancing and generally having a good time. This new series of Pop Song History, hopefully, will be a nice companion to previous essays.

There are some considerable pop culture and historical moments and events which set the current era apart form the previous Rock ‘n Roll Era, roughly beginning in the mid 1950s up until the late 1980s. Historically, Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation fizzled out as the Iron Curtain separating Western and Eastern Europe fell during the autumn of 1989 and the Soviet Union crumbled during the early 1990s. In its place, America’s foreign affairs obsession has been a nearly nonstop fixation with Iraq since 1990. Fear for abstract nouns has changed during the Club Banger Era, the fear of terrorism has replaced the twentieth century’s fear of Communism. Pop culture in America in general since 1989 has gotten louder, brasher and more bombastic. Now, serious discourse on social or political substance has bee replaced by spectacle while loud personalities on both right and left persuasion shout at each other from separate media outlets, rarely with discourse concluded. It is much more important that individual media personalities the likes of Morton Downey Jr, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, for example, to have camera time and earn ratings with each one’s specifically targeted demographic. Regular Americans in Club Banger America are more than willing to air their dirty laundry on a variety of daytime talk shows of Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, or Ricki Lake, a tradition which continues with plenty of people sharing, tweeting, liking and commenting on everybody else’s personal drama via social media. Tens of millions of viewers tune into Judge Judy[3] or other similarly formatted shows per week to watch small claims disputes between plaintiffs. Entertainment in the Club Banger Era is not just ubiquitous, but over-the-top and yet, temporary and quixotically only briefly remembered. During the 1990s, television viewers were commanded from NBC that Thursday night was “Must See TV.”[4] At the movies, the tradition of the camera has turned into a delivery device of image to computer, to which increasingly realistic CGI effects are added for sensational blockbuster appeal for moviegoers. This is within this general cultural context of that the Club Banger Era is and has been happening.

A foundation of the ideas behind the Pop Song History blog has been that song lyrics of the most popular, successful songs can be some of the best gauge of American social intellectual history; however, from a lyrical perspective, admittedly, the Club Banger era is shallow. One of the reasons for this change, and part of the milieu of the Club Banger Era, is that there is increased detail in the production of music and songs rather than traditional bones of song craft of words and music. Music has also followed the themes of overall bombast and showiness; as a result, commercial music has fallen back into its comfortable archetype of fun escapism. Current music consumers have a taste for novelty and escapism, dancing and drinking, ego and materialism, sex and temporary relationships; yet, sentimentality can be as big a part of music culture if a specific song hits a nerve with audiences. As well, social awareness often comes into the pop song conscience through the art of hip-hop. This series will look at each of these topics by gathering a number of similarly themed songs and examine their lyrics to see what they have to say, how they converge or diverge in intent and meaning. Love has existed in commercial pop music in America for over century, but this topic has radically changed in the Club Banger Era, songs commonly feature sex and frequently celebrate breakups, which is a first in the long history of commercial song in America. A less surprising aspect of the Club Banger Era is the return of the drinking song to American pop song after a lengthy hiatus from the commercial mass market. Drinking songs have had folk popularity in America since colonial times,[5] but in the Club Banger Era, songs encouraging partying and intoxication, in some years, are the more popular and successful tunes. The Pop Song History blog will be taking many of the topics into consideration when looking at the intellectual content of the songs from this era.

Naturally, there are music trends to write about as well. But since much of this era is focused on dance music and what music sounds like, this raises the impossibility of writing about what sounds sound like. The Pop Song History blog will circumvent this question by not writing about how music sounds during this series unfortunately. Instead, it will focus on how various trends proliferate through music and pop culture and what it means for consumers and the music business. There are some rather large topics to write about during this time period. Two ingredients, hip hop and dance beats, are integral to the Club Banger Era and will be explored. The status of rock will also be explored, notably the rise of modern rock and how alternative has become the mainstream rock format since the early 1990s at a time when “audiences were beginning to look for music that was seen as real, authentic and not fabricated,”[6] according to historian Thomas Harrison. Collaboration and features are also essential part of the Club Banger Era and will be researched, including the commercialisation of the urban folk traditions of hip hop, “the ultimate commercial product because its main formats have often been borrow from other tried-and-true products,”[7] according to author M. Elizabeth Blair. Hip-hop quickly found success with audiences “to such a position that one can say it was becoming one of the most important genres as the 1990s began”[8] and its history as a commercial product is integral to the development of popular song. There are other topics which may be too esoteric to warrant a full essay like European dance tracks of the early 1990s, boy bands of turn of the millennium, Reggaeton of 2005, Autotune of 2008/2009, dubstep of 2012/2013 or Trap over the past couple of years. All of these trends will make their appearance over the next few essays for the Pop Song History blog.

Central to the content of the Pop Song History blog is the reality that, while entertaining, music is a business, a multibillion-dollar industry which exists in order to sell a product to a consumer. During the Club Banger Era, there have been sweeping changes in the ways in which consumers get their pop songs, requiring a transition from a business model dependent on the sale of whole albums to a culture in which consumers demand interaction with music products and do not necessarily need a hard copy of music. This series will look at various ways that music consumers get their product and how this aspect has changed over the past quarter of a century, from the market-saturated CD album boom of the 1990s fuelled by retail outlets and mail order music clubs hawking “10 CDs for a penny”[9] to a time when online programmes like Napster launched a demand for digital music in the and early 2000s. In the 2010s, there are even more avenues in which music is a part of everyday life that technology is vital to delivery of music to consumers including satellite radio, digital download services like iTunes or Amazon, YouTube and Vimeo for streaming music videos that can reach up into the hundreds of millions of views, and subscription streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, iHeartRadio and AppleMusic which provide a musical service rather than an actual physical product. These methods of getting pop songs will also be featured as part this series into the Club Banger Era.

There has been discord in the music business while all of these changes have been happening. Demand for the music market has never been higher and yet, industry is not really in control of the business anymore. The music industry needs to sell a product to a consumer, after all, that is how songs become popular, and consequently make money to make more music for audiences always eager to get fresh products. The business is so pervasive that television commercials using popular songs can be used as an advertisement for the music and as an advertisement for the product shown. In the past, music labels and retailers controlled the market for music, but this aspect has changed and there is disconnect between consumer demand and selling products. The Pop Song History blog will explore how business has had to adjust to these changes in consumer sentiment, or sometimes when it fails to forecast consumer trends. The series on the Club Banger Era will also explore the ways in which the music industry responds to a popular culture where the consumer commands more control of the music market than the media companies. Also important are the numerous ways in which the legal system is involved and how copyright and intellectual property rights figure into a constantly changing technological environment that moves faster than legislation about intellectual property law. It has been a tumultuous time for recording industry and the retail of selling music and the Pop Song History will be there to explore what happened and how it affects pop music and the music consumer who demands it.

So these are the topics which Pop Song History will feature over the coming months. With this renewed vigour, there is great enthusiasm behind studying music from this era; it will be an interesting time, since there does not seem to be much research into intellectual history of contemporary popular music. The next essay will be a discussion on what a Club Banger is, why it merits its own separate era of music history and what separates this era from the previous one in music history. There will also be an explanation on why I do not believe that it is accurate to call it the Hip-Hop Era, even though there has been substantial influence of hip hop and African American music and musicians on the overall pop song culture in America. Thanks for reading, I hope for a prolific series.


Barker, Cory. “The End of an Era: A Eulogy for NBC’s Thursday Night ‘Must See TV’ Comedy Block. TV.com. 6 February 2015. Found at http://www.tv.com/news/nbc-comedy-block-is-dead-remembering-the-legacy-142290362410/.

Blair, M. Elizabeth. “Commercialism of the Rap Music Youth Subculture.” Contained in That’s the Joint!: The Hip Hop Studies Reader. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, editors. New York: Routledge. 2004. 497-504.

Hamilton, Jack. “Columbia House Offered Eight CDs for a Penny, but Its Life Lessons Were Priceless.” Slate.com. 12 August 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/08/12/columbia_house_bankrupt_mail_order_cd_club_s_owner_finally_going_out_of.html.

Harrison, Thomas. American History through Music: Music of the 1980s. Denver, CO: Greenwood. 2011.

Kondolojy, Amanda. “Syndicated TV Ratings: ‘Judge Judy’ Tops Households & Viewers; ‘Live with Kelly & Michael’ Leads Talkers for Week Ending August 16, 2015.” TVByTheNumbers.com. 25 August 2015. Found at http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/08/25/syndicated-tv-ratings-judge-judy-tops-households-live-with-kelly-michael-leads-talkers-for-week-ending-august-16-2015/453256/.

Lewis, Cary B. “William Marion Cook.” Contained in From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music. Kip Lornell, ed. Toronto, ON: Prentice Hall. 2010. 80-84.

Randall, Jessy. “Drinking Songs (United States).” Contained in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: A Global Encyclopaedia. Jack S. Blocker Jr, David M. Fahey and Ian R. Tyrrell, editors. Santa Barbara, Ca: ABC-CLIO. 2003. 208-210.

Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to Mp3. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

[1] Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to Mp3, 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

[2] William Marion Cook, qtd in Cary B. Lewis, “William Marion Cook,” contained in From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music,” Kip Lornell, ed, (Toronto, ON: Prentice Hall, 2010), 82.

[3] Amanda Kondolojy, “Syndicated TV Ratings: ‘Judge Judy’ Tops Households & Viewers; ‘Live with Kelly & Michael’ Leads Talkers for Week Ending August 16, 2015,” TVByTheNumbers.com, 25 August 2015, found at http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/08/25/syndicated-tv-ratings-judge-judy-tops-households-live-with-kelly-michael-leads-talkers-for-week-ending-august-16-2015/453256/.

[4] Cory Barker, “The End of an Era: A Eulogy for NBC’s Thursday Night ‘Must See TV’ Comedy Block, TV.com, 6 February 2015, found at http://www.tv.com/news/nbc-comedy-block-is-dead-remembering-the-legacy-142290362410/.

[5] Jessy Randall, “Drinking Songs (United States),” contained in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: A Global Encyclopedia, Jack S. Blocker Jr, David M. Fahey and Ian R. Tyrrell, eds, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 208.

[6] Harrison, 62.

[7] M. Elizabeth Blair, “Commercialization of the Rap Music Youth Subculture,” contained in That’s the Joint!: The Hip Hop Studies Reader, Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, ed, (New York: Routledge, 2004), 498.

[8] Thomas Harrison, American History through Music: Music of the 1980s, (Denver, CO: Greenwood, 2011), 23.

[9] Jack Hamilton, “Columbia House Offered Eight CDs for a Penny, but Its Life Lessons Were Priceless,” Slate.com, 12 August 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/08/12/columbia_house_bankrupt_mail_order_cd_club_s_owner_finally_going_out_of.html.

Dry Times: Songs and the Start of Prohibition

Alcohol and commercial songs have a long and symbiotic relationship in the history of American pop culture. During the 1890s, the saloon had been an incubator for many pop song moments; one can imagine rowdy drunken saloon patrons heartily breaking into verses of F.J. Adam’s “There Is a Tavern in the Town” (1891), Fred Gilbert’s “The Man That Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo” (1892), Harry S. Miller’s “The Cat Came Back “ (1893), Theodore Metz’s “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” (1897), or George Giefer’s “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder” (1898). Composer Harry Von Tilzer earned a hit in 1902 with an advertisement for beer with “Down Where the Wurtzburger Flows,” a song which advertises the beverage as much as it celebrates the saloon where patrons consume it. Throughout the years, there have been numerous references to drinking in pop songs like The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” (1945), Will Glahe’s “Beer Barrel Polka” (1939) or The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “Moonlight Cocktail’ (1942) just to name a few. A rather lengthy hiatus for drinking songs from the pop song market commenced during the Rock and Roll era beginning in the mid 1950s, but in recent years, drinking has had a tremendous revival in pop songs. In the hedonistic and narcissistic world of the Club Banger Era, where sex, ego and temporary relationships are the ingredients for commercial success, going out, getting crazy and drunk and are not just acceptable, but encouraged. A number of iconic songs from the past decade are evidence of this like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” (2003), Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” (2008), The Black Eyed Pea’s “I Gotta a Feeling” (2009), Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” (2010), LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” (2011) and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” (2011). The dance floor stream-of-consciousness of Beyonce’s “7/11” epitomises the drunk club experience while getting crazy on the dance floor:

Hold that cup like alcohol, hold that cup like alcohol
Hold that cup like alcohol
Don’t you drop that alcohol
Never drop that alcohol, never drop that alcohol
I know you thinkin’ bout alcohol
I know I’m thinkin’ bout that alcohol[1]

In this era, it is difficult or inconceivable to imagine a time when getting some drinks was punishable under federal law, but that is what happened in 1920 when enforcement of Prohibition took effect. For thirteen years, the United States would be sober by constitutional diktat.

Various social movements had been encouraging temperance and abstinence from alcohol throughout the nineteenth century, with the hopes that prayer and education would reform Americans’ desire for drink. When each wave of reform failed, the social cause would turn political and throughout the 1900s and early 1910s, total prohibition became the goal. Composers and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley, some of who were certain that outlawing alcohol would damage the music industry, turned Prohibition into a topical fad during the years that two different laws had come into effect in 1919 and 1920. Consequently, songwriters churned out songs centralising on individual characters that gave up the drink and were adjusting to life in a newly dry America. Sentimental songs of sadness about everyday life without alcohol and nostalgia for celebratory times became fashionable, as did a few comical numbers of characters so angry, they were intent on abandoning the United States. Some songs even embrace positive aspects of Prohibition with male characters becoming better domestic partners through sobriety. But Prohibition caused a split between favour and opposition in American pop culture, and songwriters wrote tunes which favoured opposition. Questions of Prohibition’s constraints on liberty and freedom came through pop songs, as did characters that expressed derision at or the foolishness of drinking non-alcoholic beverages. As the law came into effect, songs which featured characters getting a drink, consequently breaking the law, came onto a pop market that was about to absorb a bevy of “defiant rebellious youths determined to go their own way in music.”[2] Prohibition would not just be about an American society benefitting from national sobriety, as supporters of Prohibition had hoped; it would define a tumultuous decade of the Jazz Era when urban Americans drank heavily at illegally operated speakeasies, a new social space which encapsulated the spirit of the Jazz Age.

Alcohol has always been a staple in American life since colonial times and in the nineteenth century, Americans drank substantially more than they do in contemporary times. In many households in the 1800s, hard cider had been consumed casually at each meal, including breakfast. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming per capita thirty-five gallons of cider per annum.[3] But during the rise of American Evangelism during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, a time when “churches were more vital and powerful than the state,”[4] more Evangelical Americans found a problem with the thirst for alcohol. For social activists, alcohol could lead to inebriation, which could then lead to social problems of unemployment, poverty or domestic violence. Long before the modern notions that alcoholism should be treated as a disease of an individual, requiring treatment, recovery time and support, in the mid-nineteenth century, drunkenness was considered by many as a problem requiring reform across American society as a whole. Various church-based temperance movements came into existence willing to take up the cause and urge men in particular, to voluntarily limit or give up drinking. In 1873, the “Women’s Crusade” became a pop culture phenomenon when women blocked entrances of Ohio saloons by kneeling and praying. But in 1879, a new organisation, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, led by Frances Willard, took a much more organised and populist approach, using almost bureaucratic organisation tactics to encourage people to refrain from drinking and encourage more people to join the cause of temperance. The organization churned out volumes of anti-alcohol propaganda in the process, and upwards of twenty two million schoolchildren sat through “Scientific Temperance Instruction” in the 1880s, learning about “the nature of these substances and the peril beginning to use them at all.”[5] However, American demographics and drinking habits started to change during the Gilded Age. When more and more European immigrants with different sets of drinking customs settled in urban centres, the saloon and its chief product, beer, continued to grow and the beer brewing industry flourished despite these efforts of temperance workers. For the crusades for an inebriation-free American society to be more effective, a much more politically focused movement would be necessary.

In 1893, the Anti-Saloon League, a well-organised lobbying group lead by Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, turned society’s problem with drunkenness into a political goal of prohibition and, namely, the elimination of the saloon. The saloon was much more than a place to drink in Gilded Age America; it was the hub of the male social network. In a saloon, one could find employment opportunities, cash a pay cheque in financially unstable times, socialise, get away from back-breaking manual labour, find respite from crowded, unsanitary tenement housing, and engage oneself in political discussions. New immigrants could connect with fellow countrymen, learn colloquial English and even locate recently settled family members before the age of mass communication. The urban saloon was also viewed by rural Americans, most of whom may never have even patronised a saloon, as places of vice and the chief source of social ills, where already poor, non-English speaking immigrants emptied their pockets for the bartender, consequently impoverishing their families. In 1905, there were “more saloons in the United States than there were schools, libraries, hospitals, theatres or parks, and more certainly than churches.”[6] Anti-saloon sentiment was passionate; “saloon smashing” became a radical method of protest against illegal yet openly operating saloons across Kansas and its chief terrorist, Carry Nation became a national celebrity.[7] The Anti-Saloon League, “a union of all temperance forces,”[8] earned an enthusiastic and vociferous following and to achieve their goals of prohibition, the organisation needed “dry” politicians for their cause to legislate alcohol out of American drinking habits. Setting up in every state, the Anti Saloon League initially targeted local politicians and candidates with tremendous success in the first two decades of the twentieth century. By 1916, with Anti-Saloon League efforts through local option laws, twenty-three states and a number of local jurisdictions had been voted dry. But for the ultimate goal of national Prohibition, a Constitutional amendment would be needed. In 1917, both houses of Congress passed the 18th amendment to eradicate the “manufacture, sale or transpiration of intoxicating liquors.”[9] The amendment was consequently sent to the states for ratification. In the interim, Prohibition would be prematurely imposed in 1919. With the First World War consuming American raw materials, Congress passed the Wartime Prohibition Act, attaching it to an agricultural appropriations bill in 1918[10] which regulated grain’s use in manufacturing alcohol, including beer. The law came into effect after armistice, actually making it completely worthless for wartime. The states eventually ratified the amendment in 1919, and the law which enforced it, the Volstead Act, would take effect in January of the following year.

For the music business interests of Tin Pan Alley, always eager to capitalise on a topical song trend, Prohibition became the inspiration for songs of all varieties; about how the law would affect individuals by incorporating characters into songs that people could relate to, no matter what the music consumer’s opinion may have been about “going dry.” It seems as though songwriters published any kind of outlook about the law that could sell copies of songs where not drinking was the main idea. However certain music industry executives in the decidedly wet city of New York viewed Prohibition with foreboding. Predicting the “poisonous effects of [the Volstead Act],” music publisher Joe Stern retired from the business “almost as soon as the Amendment went into effect.”[11] Regardless of personal opinion, the music business needed to make money, after all, and appeal to the largest number of music purchasing consumers, which required a wide variety of songs that offered varying viewpoints about the Prohibition law. Support for Prohibition had been reinforced with lyrics that extolled the law and showed how domestic life would be improved by the lack of alcohol. In John Stark’s “John Barleycorn Good-Bye” the positive effects included an end to alcohol-induced domestic violence, that alcohol “change[d] good Doctor Jeckel to the villain Mister Hyde/You’ve separated man and wife, raised many a family storm.”[12] A number of songs predict characters who will change their habits favouring domestic duty over entertainments and drinking. In Harry Ruby’s “What’ll We Do On a Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry)” an idyllic domestic life will emerge “With no place to spend our money we’ll get off cheap/We’ll sit at home and rock the baby to sleep.”[13] Likewise, in the lyrics of Albert Von Tilzer and Lew Brown’s “I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife,” a man has previously neglected his wife for the saloon, but he becomes helpful around the home when forced into sobriety, “He’d run out to the store, help her scrub the floor/He’d hug her and he’d love her like he never did before.”[14] William Jerome and Jack Mahoney’s “Every Day Will Be Sunday hen the Town Goes Dry” predicts that drinking will simply become “out of date”[15] in modern sober America. But with such songwriter focus on the lack of drink, the law’s eventual start prompted songwriters to write material to encourage people to drink up while supplies last. In Al Sweet’s “Prohibition Blues,” the main character Mose Brown and his friend Sam’l Birch, after hearing about the new Prohibition laws, go on a humorous daylong bender, one character informs the other:

“Dat dry times comin’ and dere goin’ to can de booze,

Come on to the corner, dere’s no time to lose.”

So we just started in drinkin’ gainst dat day[16]

Likewise, a whole town is eager to have one last big party right up to the start of Prohibition in Abner Silver and Alex Gerber’s “At the Prohibition Ball”:

We’ll be at the Prohibition Ball,
There we’ll mix with Mister Alcohol;
Folks will pay their last respects
to Highballs and to Horse’s Necks*[17]

Also predicted, along with domestic peace, quite prophetically, were Prohibition’s eventual short lifespan and the law’s ineffectiveness at curbing people’s thirst for drinking. An expatriate soldier in Joseph McCarthy and James Monaco’s “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town” says that he’ll come back to America when the law gets repealed,[18] and in “America Never Took Water and America Never Will” by J. Kiern Brennan, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham, the law is characterised as leading to the destruction of the United States.[19] The main character, a preacher in Will Skidmore and Marshall Walker’s “Save a Little Dram for Me,” does not believe that the government will be able to regulate anyone’s thirst for drinking, even though he supports the law; all the while, hypocritically imploring his parishioners to give him a nip of gin.”[20] From the outset, songwriters wrote material which any audience would find agreeable regardless of personal views of the law.

Songs had also been written about how depressed characters were dealing with force sobriety and a large number of songs feature languished sentiments and nostalgia about drinking. Music publisher Edward Marks notes that entertainment sector had been taken into consideration when Prohibition was being debated, that people would have more money to buy sheet music and spend time entertaining at home, however, “depressed, hypocritical people do not sing”[21] remarks Edward Marks, “the only worthwhile product of prohibition…was a crop of clever songs.”[22] Pop culture had survived Wartime Prohibition with weak beer; the “Thirsty First” of July when the Wartime Prohibition law came into effect “was mighty tough but we could get enough/And if we knew the barman we could get the reg’lar stuff,” according to the main character of Harry von Tilzer and Andrew Sterling’s “Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July.” The character continues that alcoholic beverages were still available:

That first of July they said we’d go dry
And ev’ryone thought there’d be nothing to buy
but you got yours and I got mine[23]

But the total prohibition in of alcohol in 1920 provoked songs which expressed that the mood of society had been deflated by a lack of alcohol. Titles like “Prohibition Blues” and “Alcoholic Blues” feature lyrics in which drinks are likened to deceased friends, and literally characters grieve over their lost booze, “‘Scuse me while I shed a tear/For good old whiskey, gin and beer.”[24] Songs also reflected people’s memories of drinking and the elevating effects that alcohol has on emotion, “No more beer my heart to cheer; Good bye whiskey, you used to make me frisky.”[25] A scene of social emotional collapse over a lack of alcohol is found in Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan’s “Oh! Doctor:”

Most ev’rybody you meet now a days
Seems to be feeling so blue
They say it is an imposition
To enforce this prohibition[26]

Emotional response to economic changes brought about with the of closing saloon, breweries and distilleries is depicted in Robert Hood Bowers and Frances Dewitt’s “The Moon Shines of the Moonshine,” where a portrait of industrial depression is illustrated, “Now the bar is ‘on the hummer,’/and “For Rent” is on the door…How sad and still tonight, by the old distillery!/And how the cob-webs cob, in its old machinery.”[27] A character in “I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife” is depressed and boredom sets in where “Jones began to cry/With no cafes or cabarets, I know I’m going to die.”[28] With sadness such a noticeable theme in these songs, it is not surprising that nostalgia for more celebratory times are often paired with these instances of melancholy. Happy memories of socialising at the local saloon are given in “Every Day Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry” in which, cosy memories are paired with the absence of socialising, “No more saying: ‘Fill the pail’/No more feet upon the rail.”[29] In Irving Berlin’s tune “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” the nostalgia for alcoholic drinks is soothed through alcoholic tourism, “Have you been longing for the ‘smile’/That you haven’t had for quite a while” because going to Cuba and drinking will alleviate one’s sadness.[30] Although there had been general feeling that the Prohibition laws would hurt the music industry, composers and lyricists published songs which could help to reassure consumer sentiment of depression over the newly imposed sobriety and nostalgia for drinking.

Throughout the trend in Prohibition songs around 1920, anger, whether comical or humourless, is also directed at the law and what it meant for American life. Prohibition forbade Americans to do something at the federal level through the Constitution, a document which consistently expanded American rights. There had been numerous songs in which patriotic Americans would rather abandon their liberty-loving country for settling on foreign soil. In “How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn Town Goes Dry),” the main character is willing to abandon America, “We took this country from the Indians/They can have it back again.”[31] In “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry),” the main character is so upset about the wartime Prohibition laws that he “must sail with the last day of June”[32] and move to London before the Wartime Prohibition law took effect. In Brennan, Edwards and Cunningham’s “America Never Took Water and America Never Will” a returning doughboy learns about Prohibition after returning from the western front, and expresses opinions that the trenches are more appealing than a dry America. The dialogue is rather humorous:

One fighting Yank said, “If such is the case,
This is no place then for me!
I’m going back again, back o’er the sea”[33]

While these examples are humorous and hyperbolic in tone, there were justifiable concerns about just how far the government can go in regulating Americans’ lives. It was the era of political Progressivism, a time when government had achieved a breathtaking amount of reform in everything from labour laws to women’s suffrage to the national parks system to food and drug regulations to a graduated income tax. Prohibition was forward-thinking legislation, a way for government to make citizens’ lives better. Opposing sides viewed the passage of Prohibition as a blatant overextension of what the American government could do. Songs referenced this argument against Prohibition as well. In “Alcoholic Blues” the main character stoically lists the rations and government restrictions of the Great War that had been tolerated, then laments about the lack of alcohol, “I cut my sugar, I cut my coal, But now they dug deep in my soul.”[34] McCarthy and Monaco’s “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town” where the United States is characterised as a place where “everything is free,” the main character is “sorry” to relocate to a foreign land over the lack of personal liberty.[35] For some, the idea that the federal government was regulating products that people willingly and freely consumed was ludicrous like in Martin Ballman, Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman’s “No Beer, No Work” where like-minded music consumers are encouraged to take political revenge at the ballot box:

The war is past and over, And peace now rules the land,

The people of this country Have another fight on hand,

For liberty of home, now calls defenders to the fore;

With ballots let us now defeat the drys’ forever more.[36]

The phrase “No Beer, No Work” became national news as a slogan “calculated to thrill the most sluggish soul, to rouse the slumbering spirit of liberty in every breast”[37] as industrial workers threatened to strike and bring the American industrial economy to a halt if they did not get their beer:

Don’t you think that they will be sore

If we don’t show up no more?

Let us now united agree

No beer, no work no beer, no work for me.[38]

Along with songs which featured listless and depressed characters, there were songs which also exude anger, whether humorous or passionate, directed at the prohibition laws and what they meant for American lives and American liberty.

With a plethora of sad or excitable song characters not getting their drinks, there were alternatives to drinking alcohol and Tin Pan Alley composers presented either glowing endorsements for or characters’ total derision to soft drinks as effective replacements to alcoholic beverages. Naturally, there were instances in which Tin Pan Alley would gladly write any kind of musical endorsement for a product if the price were right. The superstar duo Van and Schenk along with Vaudeville superstar Eddie Cantor collaborated to write music for Green River soda in 1920, so popular, according to the lyrics that everyone likes it including “that rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief/doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.”[39] Harry Von Tilzer composed a jingle for Clysmic Water that same year. However, the soft drink alternatives to alcoholic beverages were not for everybody and there are instances where music audiences are invited to imagine how soft drinks are silly and completely inappropriate for certain situations and certain populations of society. The audience of Jerome and Mahoney’s “Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry” is invited to “picture some big husky with a pick and spade/When it’s ninety in the shade, drinking warm, red lemonade?”[40] Likewise, the picture of a couple enjoying a sober dinner is comically depicted in “What’ll We Do on a Saturday Night?” where the audience is invited to “imagine a fellow with a cute little queen/Trying to win her on a plate of ice cream.”[41] “How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle When the Whole Darn Town Goes Dry” by Francis Byrne, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich predicts a more saccharine addiction:

And ev’ryone will be a candy fiend
If they pack the soda fountains to the doors,
And turn the bars all into dry goods stores.[42]

There are other instances in which non-alcoholic alternatives are derided pointedly without any kind of favour with drinkers, particularly, the non-alcoholic “near beer” brand Bevo. Examples are plentiful with the lack of enthusiasm for the brand, as in “Alcoholic Blues,” “Just if my daily thirst they only let me quench/And not with Bevo and Ginger Ale.”[43] The burly worker in Sammy Edwards’s “No Beer, No Work” “never could like lemonade or Bevo.”[44] Harry Von Tilzer’s “Whoa January” declares that “Mister Bevo never made a hit with me”[45] and in “Everyday Wil Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry,” “Ev’ry little Broadway daughter will be sipping Clysmic water… You can bet that we will grieve, oh, when we gargle Bevo.”[46] When the consumer market in beverages had changed, so did the lyrical focus of songs where the alternatives to drinking alcohol had been written about positively for commercial gains, or derided to reflect audience tastes.

Even though the lack of alcohol had been the focus of Prohibition tunes, alcohol would continue to exist in the songs at the start of Prohibition, in clever and droll ways. Alcohol was still legally dispensed from “physicians holding a permit to prescribe liquor”[47] and “rabbi minister or priest” who can manufacture wine for religious purposes. Obtaining legal alcohol from a doctor or a chemist was the goal in Joyce and Cowan’s “Oh! Doctor;” the lyrics describe a scene of “the drug stores on the corners are filled with liquor mourners”[48] all going through the time, effort and expense of getting liquor prescriptions filled. Alcohol would be a fashionable accessory once it became illegal, which is the main idea of “It’s the Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls),” on the cover, a man surrounded by a gaggle of flirtatious girls winks playfully as though everybody knows what the secret to his romantic success is:

You may live in a palace, but Annette and Alice
Will pass up the Dukes and the Earls;
For some guy in a shanty, with lots of Chianti,
He’s getting the beautiful girls[49]

In other songs, there is mention of holding illegal parties despite the legal status of alcoholic beverages. In Edward Rose, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack’s “Everybody Wants a key to My Cellar,” where the central character has been “having parties ev’ry night,”[50] his cellar, i.e. his illegal stash of alcohol, is the admiration of everybody else in town who desires a peek or a nip. The main character in Berlin’s “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” is disappointed by the environment of illegal drinking, that “Drinking in a cellar isn’t nice”[51] and so decides to go to Cuba for alcoholic tourism. In “The Moon Shines on the Moonshine” it seems as though the only place to be happy at a time when breweries and saloon going out of business, is next to a campfire and an illegal still, “Oh! how the moon shines on the moonshine, so merrily!”[52] In another more forceful scene in “Save a Little Dram for Me” a preacher gets a whiff of someone’s gin in church and demands a nip, threatening his parishioners that they will all go to hell if he does not get a drink. He demands, “I’ve shared your joy and I’ve shared your sin/And believe me brothers I’m gwine to share your gin.”[53] Even though the start of Prohibition produced a bevy of songs which had been written solely about the lack of alcohol, there would still continue to be references to the fashionable aspect of illegal drinking and references to the availability of illegal booze in secret stashes and basement parties.

Even though a constitutional amendment had been ratified by the states and went into effect in January 1920, it would not curtail people’s thirst for alcohol. Prohibition did not eliminate alcohol from American life; it had just made it illegal. As soon as licensed, regulated and taxed saloons went out of business, the market for drinking had simply adjusted to illegal products and establishments including bootleg alcohol and urban speakeasies, with millionaire criminals profiting from all of it. The fines for speakeasies were relatively low compared to the income of their operators, “What was even a $10,000 fine to millionaire [bootleggers] such as George Remus and Willie Haar?”[54] Even president Harding, faced with the mounting difficulties of enforcing Prohibition, imbibed during White House cards games where, according to his wife, “trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey”[55] were plentiful. Weirdly, eliminating alcohol managed to modernise drinking culture in America. People of all sorts were partying with each other, since the law made everyone a criminal. Saloons of the Gilded Age were male centric, but the Jazz Era speakeasy was where women partook in drinking, in fact “some male drinkers were initially shocked to see women revelling in the alcoholic excesses of the era, matching men drink for drink.”[56] The modern-day cocktail was also a product of Prohibition, in which various concoctions made with fruit juices and sugar syrups were added to mask the unpleasant taste of bootlegged liquor for customer palates.[57] There are numerous reasons why the speakeasy became such an iconic, yet illegal, symbol of Jazz Era America. Politically, in wet urban areas, it was not fashionable to close speakeasies since “it was immensely profitable to the politicians to let the speakeasies flourish: politicians never lack for poll workers on Election Day,”[58] notes journalist Mabel Willebrandt. Getting wasted at an unlicensed speakeasy was the main objective since drunkenness was the ultimate method for disobeying and protesting the law. Jazz would be linked to Prohibition, getting drunk, and youth as Frank Tirro notes, “While women were campaigning for prohibition and the vote, jazz was extolling fun, excitement and the pleasures of youth.”[59] Jazz’s critics during the 1920s blamed the music for everything, but during Prohibition times in the 1920, jazz music underwent increasing scrutiny because it became “a symbol of crime, feeble-mindedness, insanity, and sex.”[60] Musicians naturally adapted to the change in entertainment, “The clubs of Chicago and New York…became entertainment centres rival the halcyon days of Storyville,”[61] according to Tirro. As the 1920s progressed and Prohibition continued, Jazz would compliment the pop culture of urban America.

Prohibition would leave an indelible mark on American culture, as a good cause that did good for certain portions of Americans and as a stupid law which required Americans getting drunk for the purpose of protest. Naturally, when such a topical subject comes up in American culture, there were songwriters and lyricists wiling to profit from it and they did so by covering as many angles as possible while the topic is fresh in music consumers’ minds. Songs had been written about the positive aspects of going sober of domestic life improved through the lack of alcohol. Songs had been written about the emotions of characters in songs which music consumers could sympathise with through sadness of a lack of drink, of nostalgia of more celebratory time or even through anger with the restrictions on liberty that the law had been forced upon citizens. All the while, America would continue to drink, particularly in urban areas in which enforcement was difficult with corrupt or novice Prohibition agents who could be paid off or bribed, or in smaller jurisdictions, where turning against the speakeasy and the bootlegger would have caused backlash. Prohibition would define the first decade of the Jazz Era and Jazz music would be the soundtrack for a defiant generation willing to risk jail time, fines and one’s health for the sake of getting a drink.


“An Inspiring Slogan.” The Bankers Magazine. Volume XCVIII, No. 4 (April 1919). 415-416.

Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. New York: Arcade Publishing. 2011.

Cherrington, Ernest Hurst. History of the Anti-Saloon League. Westerville, OH: The American Issue Publishing Company. 1913.

Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011.

Hunt, Mary H. A History of the First Decade of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Boston, MA: Washington Press. 1892.

Lehault, Chris. “The Cider Press: A Brief History.” Seriouseats.com, 2 February 2015. http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/the-cider-press-the-lost-american-beverage.html

Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2007.

Madison, Arnold. Carry Nation. New York: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1977.

Marks, Edward. They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée. New York: The Viking Press. 1934.

Sibley, Katherine A. First Lady Florence Harding: Behind the Tragedy and Controversy. Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas. 2009.

Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1977.

Traub, James. The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square. New York: Random House. 2004.

Wills, Garry. Head and Heart: American Christianities. New York: The Penguin Press. 2007.

Song List

Ager, Milton (music) and Grant Clarke (lyrics). It’s the Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1920.

Ballman, Martin (music) and Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman (lyrics). No Beer, No Work. Chicago, IL: Martin Ballman. 1919.

Berlin, Irving. I’ll See You In C-U-B-A. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Bowers, Robert Hood (music) and Francis DeWitt (lyrics). The Moon Shines on the Moonshine. New York: Shapiro and Bernstein Music Publishers. 1920.

Brennan, J. Keirn, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham. America Never Took Water and America Never Will. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1919.

Byrne, Francis, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich. How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry? New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1919.

Edwards, Sammy. No Beer, No Work. Philadelphia, PA: Emmett J. Welch. 1919.

Jerome, William and Jack Mahoney. Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry. New York: Leo Feist Co. Inc. 1918.

Joyce, Billy and Rubey Cowan. Oh! Doctor. New York: Stark & Cowan Inc. 1920.

McCarthy, Joseph (music) and James V. Monaco. I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry Dry). New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Rose, Edward, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack. Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar. New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Ruby, Harry. What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1919.

Silver, Abner (music) and Alex Gerber (music). At The Prohibition Ball. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1919.

Skidmore, Will E. and Marshall Walker. Save a Little Dram for Me. New York: Skidmore Music Co. 1920.

Stark, John. John Barleycorn Good-Bye. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co. 1919.

Sweet, Al. Prohibition Blues. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1917.

Van and Schenk (music) and Eddie Cantor (lyrics). Green River. Chicago, IL: Van & Schenk Publishers. 1920.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Andrew B. Sterling (lyrics). Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse Than July). New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publisher. 1919.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics). I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife (Until The Town Went Dry). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1919.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics). The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1919.


Beyonce. “7/11.” Beyonce: Platinum Edition. Columbia Records. CD. 2014.

[1] Beyonce, “7/11,” Beyonce: Platinum Edition, Columbia Records, CD, 2014.

[2] Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 73.

[3] Chris Lehault, “The Cider Press: A Brief Cider History,” seriouseats.com, 2 February 2011, http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/the-cider-press-the-lost-american-beverage.html.

[4] Garry Wills, Head and Heart: American Christianities, (New York: The Penguin Press, 2007), 297.

[5] Mary Hunt, Preface to A History of the First Decade of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, (Boston, MA: Washington Press, 1892), vi.

[6] Wills, 491.

[7] Arnold Madison, Carry Nation, (New York: New York: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1977), 120.

[8] Ernest Hurst Cherrington, History of the Anti-Saloon League, (Westerville, OH: The American Issue Publishing Company, 1913).

[9] The United States Constitution, amend. 18, sec 1, cl 1.

[10] Michael A. Lerner, Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 44.

[11] Edward Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 200.

[12] John Stark, John Barleycorn Good-Bye, (St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co, 1919).

[13] Harry Ruby, What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry)?, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1919).

[14] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics), I Never Knew I Had A Wonderful Wife (Until the Town Went Dry), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1919).

[15] William Jerome and Jack Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry, (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1918).

[16] Al Sweet, Prohibition Blues, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1917).

* A Horse’s Neck is a cocktail of brandy, ginger ale and a lemon peel garnish served on the rocks.

[17] Abner Silver (music) and Alex Gerber (lyrics), At the Prohibition Ball, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1919).

[18] Joseph McCarthy (music) and James Monaco (lyrics), I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry), (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[19] J. Kiern Brennan, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham, America Never Took Water and America Never Will, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1919).

[20] Will E. Skidmore (music) and Marshal Walker (lyrics), Save a Little Dram for Me, (New York: skidmore Music Co. 1920).

[21] Marks, 199.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Andrew B. Sterling (lyrics), Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July), (New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publisher, 1919).

[24] Sweet, Prohibition Blues.

[25] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics), The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1919).

[26] Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan, Oh! Doctor, (New York: Stark & Cowan Inc, 1920).

[27] Robert Hood Bowers (music) and Francis DeWitt (lyrics), The Moon Shines on the Moonshine, (New York: Shapiro and Bernstein Music Publishers, 1920).

[28] Von Tilzer and Brown, I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife (until the Town Went Dry).

[29] Jerome and Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[30] Irving Berlin, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A, (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1920).

[31] Francis Byrne, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich, How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[32] McCarthy and Monaco, I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry).

[33] Brennan, Edwards and Cunningham, America Never Took Water and America Never Will.

[34] Von Tilzer and Laska, The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues).

[35] McCarthy and Monaco, I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry Dry).

[36] Martin Ballman (music) and Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman (lyrics), No Beer, No Work, (Chicago, IL: Martin Ballman, 1919).

[37] “An Inspiring Slogan,” The Bankers Magazine, volume XCVIII, no. 4 (April 1919), 416.

[38] Ballman, Phillip and Ballman, No Beer, No Work.

[39] Van and Schenk (music) and Eddie Cantor (lyrics), Green River, (Chicago Il: Van & Schenk Publishers, 1920).

[40] Jerome and Mahoney, Everybody Will Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[41] Ruby, What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry?).

[42] Byrne, McIntyre and Wenrich, How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?).

[43] Von Tilzer and Laska, The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues).

[44] Sammy Edwards, No Beer, No Work, (Philadelphia, PA: Emmett J. Welch, 1919).

[45] Von Tilzer and Sterling, Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July).

[46] Jerome and Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[47] The United States Congress, “The Volstead Act of 1919,” Section 6, accessed 10 June 2015, located at The National Archives, Document 299827, found at https://research.archives.gov/id/299827.

[48] Joyce and Cowan, Oh! Doctor.

[49] Milton Ager (music) and Grant Clarke (lyrics), It’s The Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1920).

[50] Edward Rose, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack, Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar, (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[51] Berlin, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A.

[52] Bowers and DeWitt, The Moon Shines on the Moonshine.

[53] Skidmore and Walker, Save a Little Dram for Me.

[54] Edward Behr, Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America, (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011), 167.

[55] Florence Harding qtd in Katherine A.S. Sibley, First Lady Florence Harding: Behind the Tragedy and controversy, (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 185.

[56] Lerner, 177.

[57] Behr, 87.

[58] Mabel Willebrandt qtd in Behr, 165.

[59] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977), 158.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid, 178.

Till We Meet Again, Maybe: Going Defunct

The Pop Song History blog is going defunct. It has been a fun journey through the history of popular songs in America throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I have learned a great deal and have been acquainted of some great yet forgotten songs from this exciting time in American culture. But there are more important things that will occupy my time shortly, namely, graduate school. At any rate, the essays already on my site will continue to be available (actually, viewership of the Pop Song History blog has doubled since March and tripled since October, so I guess the essays have had some usefulness). There is another essay in production about songs and the start of Prohibition, but I have not made up my mind whether I want to finish it or not. Thank you to my very few dedicated readers around the world for your continued interest; that’s right, internationally, y’all.  If there are any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

–Morgan Howland

Exotic Numbers: Tin Pan Alley Daydreams about the Orient

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, robust development in the musical business and its assortment of technologies had turned every aspect of the American pop song industry on its head. At the turn of the twentieth century, rags, cakewalks and coon songs had captured the attention of the music business, but after twenty years, the entire vocabulary of music industry had morphed into jazz, blues, and fox trots. Male barbershop quartets which had a considerable presence on record for the entire Ragtime Era, relented their popularity while instrumental jazz orchestras and their celebrity bandleaders became the preferred musical fashion for the 1920s and 1930s. The entire Ragtime Era brought changes in musical culture from domestic piano culture to passive entertainments of mechanical music reproduction of player pianos and talking machines. Consequently, the recording industry had become a multimillion-dollar business which “shoved the piano down a sharply steeped slope.”[1] The voices that consumers were hearing on record had undergone dramatic demographic change as well between these two decades. Instead of white singers performing coon songs in black dialect, a style that had been in vogue circa 1900, two decades later, African-American singers and musicians like “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Louis Armstrong found mainstream success, so much so that niche labels like Okeh, Ajax and Paramount came into business releasing so-called “race records” with the increasing demand for African-American musicians who had “greater influence upon American culture.”[2] The recording industry would undergo further dramatic changes just a few years later when electronics put an end to turn-of-the-century acoustic methods of recording and transmitted music directly into the home via radio. With all of this change and sheet music in a slowly declining state, a new song trend about foreign and exotic lands would make a stylish impact on sheet music in the early Jazz Era.

At the beginning of the Jazz Era in the late 1910s and early 1920s, popular culture’s interest in Asian and Middle Eastern things had been renewed and riding the trend were the composers and lyricists of Tin Pan alley; a song trend featuring exotic and oriental lands had come to the market. The trend was noticeable with illustrations of oriental themes on sheet music and lyrics which describe exotic people and their mannerisms. The trend also had its own distinctive sound with a specific beat and Jazz-styled chords and intervals in melodies. The word oriental was a convenient word for lyricists to use since it adds an element of novelty without being terribly specific and it was used to describe everything to environment to personal appearance. However, looking more deeply at the trend in exotic songs, the oriental trend featured song-writing techniques which had been in use by Tin Pan Alley for years. With geography and distance between people inherent parts of the trend in oriental songs, sentimental torch songs of unrequited love, make up a sizeable majority of these songs. There were cases in which the oriental trend had brought about funny people engaged in funny situations in the Orient, including the sex appeal of the harem and curious encounters with Sultans. However, within the trend in oriental songs, there were ways in which oriental elements of these songs had been used beyond the scope of the exotic trend. Songs with dated formats, song-writing buzzwords used for non-oriental purposes and caricatures of Chinese people had been influenced by the trend in oriental songs. By 1924, the trend had subsided, but with so much activity in the pop song market, had been a noticeable trend than a prevailing fad.

Oriental influence on pop culture was nothing new to Americans in the 1920s, in fact popular culture had been impacted by interest in the East for decades. After Japan and China had been opened up for western trade in the nineteenth century, Asian styles of decorative arts became fashionable in American and Europe homes and Western companies found great success with their lines of Chinoiserie or Japonisme designed domestic arts. Decorative plants like azaleas and rhododendrons became an increasingly popular choice in Western gardens after their export from China during the nineteenth century.[3] Noel Fahden Briceno notes that expositions in Philadelphia in 1876, Chicago in 1893 and Buffalo in 1900 brought Asian arts to the attention of even more American consumers and successive waves in availability for Chinoiserie items followed each exposition.[4] Middle Eastern, particularly Egyptian motifs also found their place in the Western decorative market including obelisks, sphinxes, and pyramids and images of Cleopatra. The trend was so pervasive throughout the history of decorative arts that the term Egyptomania is used to describe the phenomenon.[5] Exotic places and people were nothing new to the pop song market either by 1920; numerous songs during the Ragtime era feature distant lands including titles like “Egypt” (1903), “Turkish Trophies” (1909), “Under the Oriental Moon” (1909), and “an Indian isle,”[6] the setting of the popular “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers” from 1909. By 1919 following the conclusion to the First World War, a renewed interest in all things Asian, Middle Eastern and Egyptian had come into fashion. Advertising brought exotic portrayals of girls in Egyptian wardrobe hawking everything from Cusenier Cognac to Egyptian Luxury Cigarettes to Palmolive Shampoo.[7] By 1919, popular movies often depicted oriental themes including The Fall of Babylon, Harakiri, Broken Blossoms and Auction of Souls became some of the most popular films of that year.[8] Egyptomania would be reignited in America in 1922, followed the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.[9] The pop song market would also reflect this renewed interest with the East and stylish sheet music featuring Middle Eastern landscapes, fashion accessories on beautiful exotic women and lyrics which reflected the distant nature of the Orient. When exotic and oriental songs came onto the pop song market in the late 1910s, pop culture had already experienced various waves of oriental influence and was enjoying a resurgent spike in interest in oriental and exotic themes.

With renewed interest in the Orient, the subsequent pop song trend prominently offered music consumers foreign settings; geography consequently plays a central role in oriental songs. Naturally, the most effective way to introduce a song’s distant and exotic setting is to style the sheet music covers as much as possible. Cover art is musical advertisement; it is the first thing that music consumers see when shopping for music and the decorative nature of the oriental trend was colourfully displayed conspicuously, and Middle Eastern elements had been the prevalent theme on these illustrations. Byron Gay’s “Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose)” features an illustrated scene of camels, caravans and the golden light of sun setting against a desert.[10] The cover art for “Egyptian Moonlight” features illustrations of all things Egyptomania including palm trees and a couple resting beside a slumbering camel.[11] In other songs, the artwork is more specific in detail including a girl wearing fashionable Egyptian-styled clothing and jewellery with towering minarets of a mosque in the background in Olson, Thompson and O’Neill’s “Kharmine.”[12] The cover art of “The Sheik (Of Araby)” features a scene of a sheik clad in a turban and robes embracing his adoring maiden.[13] The description of these far off lands is even more baroque and stylised within the lyrics of the song with geography illustrated in dreamy detail for the sake of the song’s setting. In “Egyptian Moonlight,” the action of the song happens in relief to the Egyptian landscape illustrated rather attractively as “Down where the old dreamy Nile is flowing.”[14] A similar graceful and stylish scene of Egypt can be found in “There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes”

There’s Egypt in your dreamy eyes

A bit of Cairo in your style

The shades of night are in your hair

While fragrant incense seems to the fill the air.[15]

In “Hindustan” the exotic nature of the geography is the most memorable experience for the main character in the song, the landscape is so important that the lyric “where I met her and the world began”[16] emphasises the impact of Hindustan’s geography. “The Sheik (of Araby)” features lyrics which combine descriptions of arid land and robust action, “Over the desert wild and free/Rides the bold Sheik of Araby,”[17] the imagery is amplified by the romantic embrace illustrated on the cover. When the exotic and oriental nature of the songs had come onto the pop song scene, the imagery of the setting both on cover art and within the lyrics became an important addition to define the style of song content.

The protrusion of oriental songs onto the American song market had not just been about the dreamy style of the songs’ locations and decorative nature of sheet music; it had briefly formed its own musical genre with its own distinct sound suited for the tonal sensibilities of the Jazz Era including heavy distinctive beats and interesting combinations of chords. There had developed a distinctive beat to oriental songs, of heavy march-like “four on the floor” beat with the second beat of a measure composed of two accented eighth notes. This beat is a common marker of a new genre of “Oriental Fox Trots” which had come onto the market of sheet music and disc recordings. “The Vamp,” specifically labelled as a “novelty Oriental Fox Trot” according to the title page,[18] incessantly has this rhythm from beginning to end, which is amplified on record between the sparse lines in the verses and refrain.[19] This distinct oriental rhythmic pattern is also found in the accompaniment to Byron Gay’s “Sand Dunes,”[20] Olson, Thompson and O’Neal’s “Kharmine,”[21] and the heavily accented chord accompaniment to Oliver Wallace and Harold Weeks’s “Hindustan.”[22] However, with the sonic changes that Jazz had brought to the music market at the time, the melodies and chord progressions had been stylised with chromatic runs, exotic chords and intervals to add more distinctive musical elements to Tin Pan Alley songs. The song Richard Whiting and Raymond Egan tune “The Japanese Sandman” opens with a descending flourish of syncopated chromatic chords.[23] The melodic lines of “Dardanella” ascend and descend a chromatic scale seemingly without any key at all,[24] the song’s sound was tremendously popular that recordings by Ben Selvin and his Orchestra sold one million records.[25] The chorus of “Hindustan” features some very jazzy blue notes of minor thirds and flatted ninths.[26] The verses of “The Sheik (Of Araby)” prominently feature the Middle Eastern-sounding interval between minor third and raised fourth.[27] For the oriental song trend, songs did not just look pretty with exotic locations on the covers, but also sounded exotic with a distinct rhythmic accompaniment and foreign sounding intervals and chromatic runs.

However, besides the style of the images and the sound of the music, there is another feature to these oriental songs, that their exotic people and places are characteristically described as vaguely as possible with the qualifier oriental. Presumably, the word could mean anything Middle Eastern or Asian and its inclusion is a convenient way for lyricists to describe something exotic without getting bogged down with details. Giving a new song an oriental name representative of a new genre had been a noticeable feature, for example, “Egyptian Moonlight” is specifically labelled as an “Oriental Love Song.” The rhythms of the accompaniments to exotic songs had given way to a new genre of Oriental Fox Trots; a popular recording by Paul Whiteman Orchestra was generically titled “Oriental Fox Trot.[28]” A further examination of the word oriental in reference to song lyrics reveals that there are instances when it is both semantically vacuous, while also at least adding intrigue to the song’s content. In the song “Dardanella” the setting where the title girl resides is described “Beside the Dardanella Bay/Where Oriental breezes play”[29] although oriental does not really mean anything. The oriental geography also becomes part of personal characteristics of people in songs, which adds mystery without much specificity. For example, in “There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes,” a girls is described as having “All the Orient in your smile/Mysterious as River Nile.”[30] The Irving Berlin song “The Syncopated Vamp” links the vocabulary of jazz trends with new with the interest in Egyptomania by describing the main character, a dancing girl, as a “Jazzy Cleopatra.”[31] The title character of the song “Kharmine” is addressed as “Kharmine, my gypsy Kharmine, So Oriental” in the refrain, a statement which is descriptive but as generic as the word oriental. In the song “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong)” the main character of the song Little Allee Ho Chong is described as “played all day in an oriental way,”[32] but that does not actually describe what he is doing. Beyond the dreamy descriptions of geography and the sounds of Jazzy oriental songs, there is also a self-referential quality to these songs which is more semantically vacuous while curiously adding depth in detail.

Among the dreamy landscapes, exotic locations and driving jungle beats rampant during the exotic trend, there is admittedly nothing truly distinctive about the overall lyrical content of exotic songs. Similar to the ways in which love is represented during World War I love songs where couple had been separated by the conflict or the Hawaiian fad of 1915 and 1916 where one half of the couple is in Hawaii and the other is on the mainland, love during the exotic trend is similarly expressed by means of geographic separation. Consequently, most of the trend’s love songs have the lonesome sentiment of torch songs that had been on trend with musical fashion of the late 1910s. Much of the actual lyrical content apart from exotic geography rests upon the content of sentimental torch songs, maudlin feelings set against the backdrop of exotic locations deserts, nights and sand. In “Hindustan,” the main character in the lyrics pines over his love emotionally, “Soft my heart is crying for my love afar.”[33] In “Kharmine,” the title character languishes, “I’m so lonely I want only you…Kharmine, My heart’s aflame/And dearie, I know I’ll be content With you in the orient.”[34] A female perspective in “Burnin’ Sands” addresses love in the same manner, this time, in the middle of a desert suggested by the title. “Across the Burning Sands, There waits my Arab man,”[35] read the lyrics. The title girl in “Dardanella” stands next to the sea waiting for her man to come back to her,

There lives a lonesome maid, Armenian

By Dardanelles with glowing eyes.

She looks across the seas and sighs.”[36]

The main speaker in “Sand Dunes” envisions an idyllic life in the oriental desert, “No clouds of show’rs in the lands of repose, A world of True love is ours, Sweetheart in our little Sand Dunes home” while longing for “my sweet desert rose.”[37] In Irving Berlin’s “Tell Me, Pretty Gypsy,” the speaker in the song consults with a Gypsy fortune-teller to tell him some good news about his future and his love life.[38] While this sentimental torch song element represents a large variety of exotic numbers, not all oriental songs have this sort of sentiment. In “The Sheik (of Araby),” inspired by the imagery of a popular film The Sheik starring Rudolph Valentino,[39] a sheik finds not just a bride, but also a queen, “You’ll rule this land with me; the Sheik of Araby.”[40] The lyrics of “Dardanella” are more about the celebration of the title girl rather than an emphasis on her distance from the speaker in the song.[41] Even though the new fashions of songs with foreign locations had come onto the market, their lyrical content of love, and the consequences of distance of oriental locations resulted in sentimental torch songs.

Of course, whenever the music industry finds a new song trend, there are other facets to consider and not all songs during the exotic wave were about teary proclamations of unattainable love. Humour was also a tremendously important entertaining component to music and during the trend in oriental numbers, songwriters included humour by using out of context Americans in the orient, with awkward encounters with Sultans and visits to their various harems. The easiest method to include funny situations and characters was, of course, to compose a story song which would be equally humorous and also salacious and during the trend in oriental themes, this was accomplished by mentioning harems filled with Sultan’s many wives. These sorts of songs frequently pair men and Sultans in funny exchanges for the sake of getting into the Sultan’s harem to see what goes on inside. The actual description of situations can be humorous as in Irving Berlin’s “Harem Life” in which a Sultan, “a poor old man with young ideas,” has so many wives and yet “each day a wife arrives Fresh from Bagdad.”[42] But funny stories are more about out of context characters, for example in “Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key,” the sultan loses his horse and comical Irishman Pat McCann “who happened to be there” is rewarded with a trip to the harem after saving the Sultan’s life.[43] The comical nature of the harem is more than just a funny story to play out in song lyrics, it also adds sex appeal and intrigue about such an exotic concept as a many-wived harem in an exotic land. In “I’m the Guy who Guards the Harem,” extramarital shenanigans are assumed when the Sultan of Turkey “goes out for a spree,” and the title guy guarding the harem finds that “it keeps the wheels a-working in my knob/If Sultan ever saw the way I guard his harem/He would go out and engage someone to guard over me.”[44] The curious nature of the harem excites one character in “Lock Me in Your harem and Throw Away the Key” who has his own physical curiosities for the women inside, his eagerness for departure lacking: “Down in you harem there’s Rosie, Josie, Posie and I know that you spare ‘em/So won’t you let me stay, Locked in the harem with the keys thrown away.”[45] But such comically represented examples of harems are not the only ways in which Sultans and harems are described. In “Dardanella,” the title maiden’s virtue is protected from a frisky Sultan who “said ‘I’ll buy her for my Harem” and her suitor “just told the Sultan to be nice/She can’t be bought for any price.”[46] The use of harem within song lyrics of the Orient add both humour and sex appeal which could get consumer’s attention by being funny and provocative.

With any song trend that come into fashion on the American market, there are ways in which songwriters and lyricists take full advantage of its vocabulary and imagery and during the rash of oriental songs in the late 1910s and early 1920s, there were songs which feature oriental-like words, but have nothing to do with the trend’s most salient feature, the geography of the Middle East. For example, “The Vamp,” specifically labelled as a “Novelty Oriental Fox-trot with words” on the sheet music, has nothing to do with the milieu of the Orient at all, in fact, the song is about a new dance step, the lyrics instruct “ev’rybody do the Vamp/Vamp until you get a cramp.”[47] The song “The Love a Gipsy Knows” lacks all of the characteristic oriental beats, sounds and lush geographical description; instead it is a waltz ballad with lachrymose lyrics reminiscent of pop songs of the 1890s.[48] “Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’)” is a warning about a man in Alabama, i.e. “the sheik,” who can “vamp” a girl better than anyone and steal her away for his own, resulting in an odd combination of oriental vocabulary and Southern Ragtime song.[49] The spike in oriental songs had caused Tin Pan Alley arrangers and lyricists to modify Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Song of India” from the opera Sadko to suit the trend, consequently, various English lyric versions styled for the American pop market became tremendous popularity during the first part of the 1920s, including “Play that ‘Song of India’ Again” from 1921, which uses Rimsky-Korsakoff’s music while the lyrics are referential to the oriental currents in the pop market, “There’s a melody I know that’s always haunting me/Just a melody who strain is always taunting me.”[50] Chinese caricatures had also come onto the pop market during the flurry of exotic songs, but they were about the funny features of Chinese characters living in the United States, instead of exotic locations and these songs focus on a humorous caricature of Chinese people in the lyrics in rather racially insensitive ways. In “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong)” the main character’s musical talents are the main feature of the song’s lyrics, and not the place where he lives; “I betcha he teachee his China girl how to dance, like in a trance/Teachee Preachee Melican song;”[51] the song does not venture into the oriental trend’s characteristic portrayal of foreign places. Another Chinese song, “Ching Chong,” also does not fit the exotica trend, instead, the lyric tells about a Chinese shop owner and his popular café in San Francisco; presumably, an opium den:

The when the time is ripe,

He’ll fill your little pipe,

And then a light he’ll bring,

Gently you’ll float away

Far out on slumber Bay

And softly you will sing,[52]

Such stereotypes and caricatures were not just limited to the lyrics of these songs, but also in their recordings. In a 1919 Premier Quartet recording of “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong),” for example, the sounds of the Chinese language are mimicked for comical effect.[53] While the trend in exotic locations had been going on, there were ways in which the trend’s superficial elements were used in rather non-exotic ways including use of vocabulary and inclusion of caricatures of oriental people.

By 1923, the exotic trend had subsided and its historical legacy within the context of pop song history became a noticeable, but not a pervasive trend. Considering the amount of activity in the pop song market of the early Jazz Era, it is not surprising that consumer attention could not have fixated on single fad. Even though exotic songs charted well, recording artists and the new sounds of orchestras were more popular than these songs, after all. But left behind are songs from a time when new and novel locations became part of popular culture once again and scenes of deserts and foreign places became popular in description and illustration. The music suited the times when Jazz brought new rhythms and sounds to the American market. But the song trend, in retrospect, had lyrical content which had a familiar presence on the American market including pining torch songs of loves left in distant lands. While humour and sex appeal were brought to the attention of consumers through the use of a foreign concept of the harem, which had been used as something novel and funny. But there were other ways in which the trend in Oriental songs had produced music, which had nothing to do with the oriental song trend, in fact the vocabulary was used in ways which lacked the exotic trend’s focus on geography including racial stereotypes of Chinese people, for humorous effect. By the middle of the 1920s, the exotic nature in pop had had gone and left in its wake was a pop market which had increasingly focused on American themes and pop trends rather then looking internationally for musical inspiration.


Brentschneider, E. History of European Botanical Discoveries in China. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company. 1898.

Briceno, Noel Fahden. The Chinoiserie Revival in Early Twentieth-Century American Interiors.

Brier, Bob.   Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. 2013.

“Ching Chong form 1917 – Original Roll.” Youtube.com. Posted on 5 November 2010 by John A. Tuttle. Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyEJjxInCo0.

Peerless Quartet’s recordings of Ching Chong.

“Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder 3769 – Chong (He Came from Hong Kong) by Premier Quartet.” Found on YouTube.com. Posted on 12 October 2014 by bigtradermicks.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf0ST2KcP_4.

Green, Adam. Selling Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 2007.

Hischak, Thomas. The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopaedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2002.

Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women and Piano: A Social History. New York: Dover Publications. 1990.

Monserat, Dominic. Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt. New York: Rutledge. 2001.

Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1919. Internet Movie Database. Imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/search/title?year=1919,1919&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc.

“Palmolive: Re-Incarnation of Beauty.” (poster). The Advertising Archives.co.uk. Accessed 5 May 2015. http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/detail/87518348/1/Magazine-Advert/Palmolive/1920s.

Songs Cited

Ager, Milton (music) and Jack Yelen (lyrics). Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’). New York: Ager, Yellen & Bornstein Inc. 1922.

Berlin, Irving. Harem Life (Outside of That Every Little Thing’s All Right). New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1919.

——-. I’m the Guy Who Guards the Harems (And My Heart’s In My Work). New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1919.

——-. Lock Me In Your Harem and Throw Away the Key. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1914.

——-. The Syncopated Vamp. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

——-. Tell Me, Pretty Gypsy. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Bernard, Felix and Johnny S. Black (music) and Fred Fisher (lyrics). Dardanella. New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Fancho and Marco. The Love A Gipsy Knows. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1920.

Gay, Byron. Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose). New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

——-. The Vamp. New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

Olson, Elmer, Moe Thompson and Dannie O’Neill. Kharmine. New York: Harrison Music Co. Inc. 1921.

Onivas, D. (music) and Jack Meskill (lyrics). Burnin’ Sands. New York: Richmond-Robbins Inc. 1922.

Phillips, A. Fred (music) and Jack Caddigan (lyrics). Egyptian Moonlight. New York: Ted Garton Music Co. 1919.

Rimsky-Korsakoff, Nikolas (music) and Leo Wood and Irving Bibo (Music), arranged by Paul Whiteman. Play That “Song of India” Again. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1921.

Roberts, Lee S. Ching Chong (He Came From Hong Kong). Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts. 1917.

Scott, Maurice (music) and Weston & Barnes (lyrics). I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers, or Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O’Shay. New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1909.

Snyder, Ted (music) and Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler (lyrics). The Sheik (of Araby). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1921.

Spencer, Herbert (music) and Fleta Jan Brown (lyrics). There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1917.

Wallace, Oliver G. and Harold Weeks. Hindustan. Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher Inc. 1918.

Weeks, Harold. Chong (He Came from Hong Kong). New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

Whiting, Richard A. (Music) and Raymond B. Egan (lyrics). The Japanese Sandman. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1920.


Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Oriental Fox Trot. Victor 18940. located at The Library of Congress National Jukebox. Found at http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/8853/

Waldorf-Astoria Singing Orchestra. The Vamp. Columbia Record. A2758. 1919. Found on YouTube.com. Posted on 2 August 2009 by cdbpdx. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Iop5LZqsI.

[1] Arthur Loesser, Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History, (New York: Dover Publications, 1990), 602.

[2] Adam Green, Selling Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 54.

[3] E. Brentschneider, History of European Botanical Discoveries in China, (London, Sampson Low, Martson and Company, 1898), 476.

[4] Noel Fahden Briceno, The Chinoiserie Revival in Early Twentieth Century American Interiors, Thesis. Spring 2008, University of Delaware. 15.

[5] Bob Brier, Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 160.

[6] Maurice Scott (music) and Weston & Barnes (lyrics), I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers, or, Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J O’Shay, (New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Harris, 1909).

[7] “Palmolive: Re-Incarnation of Beauty,” The Advertising Archive, accessed 5 May 2015, http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/detail/87518348/1/Magazine-Advert/Palmolive/1920s.

[8] For synopses of these films, see “Most Popular Films Released in 1919,” Internet Movie Database, imbd.com, accessed 20 May 2015, found at http://www.imdb.com/search/title?year=1919,1919&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc.

[9] Dominic Monserat, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy of Ancient Egypt, (New York: Routledge, 2001), 8.

[10] Byron Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose), New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[11] A. Fred Phillips (music) and Jack Caddigan (lyrics), Egyptian Moonlight, (New York: Ted Garton Music, 1919).

[12] Elmer Olson, Moe Thompson and Dannie O’Neill, Kharmine, (New York: Harrison Music Co Inc, 1921).

[13] Ted Snyder (music) and Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler (lyrics), The Sheik of Araby, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1921).

[14] Phillips and Caddigan, Egyptian Moonlight.

[15] Herbert Spencer (music) and Fleta Jan Brown (lyrics), There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1917).

[16] Oliver G. Wallace and Harold Weeks, Hindustan, (Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher, Inc, 1918).

[17] Snyder, Smith and Wheeler, The Sheik (Of Araby).

[18] Byron Gay, The Vamp, (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1919).

[19] Waldorf-Astoria Singing Orchestra, The Vamp, Columbia Record, A2758, 1919, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Iop5LZqsI.

[20] Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose).

[21] Olson, Thomspon and O’Neill, Kharmine.

[22] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[23] Richard A. Whiting (music) and Raymond B Egan (lyrics), The Japanese Sandman, (New York: Jerome H. Remick, 1920).

[24] Felix Bernard and Johnny S. Black (music) and Fred Fisher (lyrics), Dardanella, (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[25] Thomas Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 74.

[26] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[27] Snyder and Brown, The Sheik (Of Araby).

[28] Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Oriental Fox Trot, Victor 18940, located at The Library of Congress National Jukebox, accessed 5 May 2015, found at http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/8853/

[29] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[30] Spencer and Van Brown, There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes.

[31] Irving Berlin, The Syncopated Vamp, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1920).

[32] Lee S. Roberts, Chong (He Came from Hong Kong), (Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts, 1917).

[33] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[34] Olson, Thompson and O’Neil, Kharmine, (New York: Harrison Music Co. Inc, 1921).

[35] D. Onivas (music) and Jack Meskill (lyrics), Burnin’ Sands, (New York: Richmond-Robbins Inc, 1922).

[36] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[37] Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose).

[38] Irving Berlin, Tell Me Little Gypsy, (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1920).

[39] Hischak, 318.

[40] Snyder and Smith & Wheeler, The Sheik (of Araby).

[41] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[42] Irving Berlin, Harem Life (Outside of That Every Little Thing’s All Right), (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1919).

[43] Irving Berlin, Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1914).

[44] Irving Berlin, I’m the Guy Who Guards the Harem (And My Heart’s in My Work), (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc., 1919).

[45] Irving Berlin, Lock Me In Your Harem and Throw Away the Key.

[46] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[47] Bryon Gay, The Vamp (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1919).

[48] Fanchon and Marco, The Love a Gipsy Knows, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1920).

[49] Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics), Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’), (New York: Ager, Yellen & Bornstein, 1922).

[50] Nikolas Rimsky-Korsakoff (music) and Leo Wood and Irving Bibo (lyrics), arranged by Paul Whiteman, Play That “Song of India’ Again, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1921).

[51] Weeks, Chong (He Came from Hong Kong).

[52] Lee S. Roberts (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics), Ching Chong, (Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts, 1917).

[53] “Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder 3769 – Chong (He Came from Hong Kong) by Premier Quartet,” found on YouTube.com, posted on 12 October 2014 by bigtradermicks, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf0ST2KcP_4.

Everything, All at Once, Part 2: Pop Songs and the Annual Revue

During the 1910s and 1920s, an iconic form of American stage entertainment, the spectacular stage revue enjoyed impressive growth of popularity on Broadway. A marker of the bustling theatre industry following the First World war, revues with lavish sets, dancing girls, nudity and comedy, by 1919, had earned annual places on the theatre stage with shows like Ziegfeld’s Follies, The Passing Show, The Greenwich Village Follies, and George White’s Scandals, just to name a few titles. Many of these revue productions have become the material of Broadway legend, but often forgotten are the pop songs which came from each of these shows. An amusing genre of theatre, the revue, a genre whose sole raison d’être ensures that the audience have “a rousing good time,”[1] had the latest fashionable songs and the trends of the era’s popular music became an indispensable source of inspiration for these shows. The biggest names in popular song writing created music and lyrics for revues, frequently taking advantage of currents and fads in pop music. Topical news and theatre events also became sources of song material. The business relationship between the stage and song inclusion was also carefully considered. Frequently, sheet music of popular songs had been used as advertising to exude the shows’ fame and on stage, popularity of some revues gave theatre producers ample marketing opportunities to promote upcoming shows by previewing their songs to audiences. The most popular entertainers were hired for revues to perform songs and when Jazz music became the default popular music, the most successful jazz orchestras were installed in their orchestra pits. The pop song on the revue stage was not just necessity for the whimsical nature of the genre; a number of important pop consequences came from revue music. The genre launched the careers of celebrated American songwriters, introduced a number of nationally successful hits and eventually helped to transform the song styles featured in the “frivolous type of entertainment”[2] into critically praised song craft. Understanding the nature of the commercial pop tune within the context of the lavish stage revue reveals the interwoven nature of music business, its pop trends, and resulting popularity of many of these songs.

The lavish stage revue debuted on Broadway during the first decade of the twentieth century when the operetta, the most fashionable and stylish form of stage entertainment, had the audience’s attention. Operettas “written under the European influence of Offenbach, Lehar, Oskar Strauss and Johann Strauss II”[3] featured elegant scores written by composers with dialogue and lyrics provided by librettists. As popular as operettas were on Edwardian Broadway, they lacked the commercial aesthetic of Ragtime Era pop songs coming from Tin Pan Alley, the originator of many of the era’s most popular and successful tunes. Put more casually, Edward B. Marks comments there had been a “gap between all of this show music and the product of the Alley.”[4] For more colloquial and commercial forms of stage entertainment like comedies, theatres were often used intensively as an advertising platform for the latest pop songs. Tin Pan Alley songwriters used musical comedies to introduce new songs for the audience, i.e., the potential customer who might like what they hear and then purchase the music at a shop. Consequently, pop songs routinely made their way from theatre stages to the music stands and talking machines of millions of Americans. One of the earliest successes, “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden,” one of the most successful songs of 1900, had been introduced to the public in the comedy Florodora with much fame for the show’s double sextet of six male and six female singers exchanging the several “coquettish verses.”[5] Inserting interpolated numbers, songs not inherently written as part of the show, became a commonplace method as well to advertise music via the stage comedy. One of the most famous instances of interpolation was Charles K. Harris’s “After the Ball” (1892) inserted into the popular comedy A Trip to Chinatown. The song eventually sold a remarkable five and half million sheets following a national tour of the show. The Theodore Morse and Vincent Bryan sea chanty “Hurrah for Baffin’s Bay” (1902) also became widely popular after being interpolated, surprisingly, into a stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.[6] For entertainers on stage, popular songs from comedies became career-defining moments. In the 1902 comedy Sally in Our Alley, actress Marie Cahill earned a hit song that would define her career with “Under the Bamboo Tree.” Anna Held similarly introduced “I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave” in the comedy A Parisian Model in 1906 and her “sensational eye song”[7] became so famous that musicians played it wherever Anna went.[8] Song success was not limited to the stages of early comedies, early forms of revues, a genre composed of “series of separate songs, dances and skits, unified by a [usually comic] point-of-view,”[9] created hits as well. Early pop songs with national fame came from Weber and Fields burlesques, for example, including fashionable turn-of-the-century coon songs like “Ma Blushin’ Rosiefrom 1900’s Quo Vass Iss and Fiddle Dee Dee and “Come Down, Ma Ev’nin’ Star” from Weber and Fields 1902’s instalment Twirly Whirly. By the 1910s, revues had come into maturity, with large casts, opulent sets and beautiful girls, and consequently became the latest stage fashion and commercial success, overtaking the art of the operetta. Purists complained about the amount of commercialism that such revues and their productions were bringing to Broadway theatres. British composer W.S. Gilbert, half of the writing team Gilbert and Sullivan, known for productions HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, and Pirates of Penzance, found colloquial American forms of stage entertainment vulgar, expressing the opinion that the American stage was in “an unclean state.”[10] Newspaper articles had by 1913 complained about “the love of a new generation for extravagance and luxury, unheard of by our grandparents,”[11] seemingly casting judgement on an entire generation of theatregoers. Throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, pop songs were coming from the theatre stage and as the 1910s progressed, the extravagant revue was taking a larger part of the Broadway schedule.

As the 1910s progressed, dazzling and spectacular revues in the style of Ziegfeld’s Follies and The Passing Show continued to gain success. Naturally, such productions required music and the pop songwriters of the day were more than willing to oblige. The initial instalments of the Follies of the late 1900s and early 1910s had a broad range of Tin Pan Alley songwriters, composers and lyricists like Gus Edwards, Harry von Tilzer, Jean Schwartz and E. Ray Goetz had songs featured on the stage of the initial instalment. It was a varied mix of original and interpolated musical entertainment for the show to keep audiences entertained without settling into musical monotony. Subsequent editions of the Follies through the late 1910s and into the 1920s continued this method of featuring fresh music. Throughout the 1910s, the increasing demand for revues brought other big shows to the Broadway stage, including The Passing Show, Greenwich Village Follies and George White’s Scandals. As the genre grew in popularity, naturally there were more working opportunities for composers and lyricists to write material; many famous composers of the era gladly supplied the tunes for the revue stage. Indispensible to the genre was the ever-prolific composer Irving Berlin who could produce “more songs than Ziegfeld had girls”[12] if requested by Florenz Ziegfeld. Berlin had already achieved commercial and critical success as a songwriter in the revue genre, creating music for the choreographed show Watch Your Step featuring celebrity dancers Vernon and Irene Castle in 1916.[13] By 1919, that year’s edition of Ziegfeld’s Follies featured seven Berlin numbers with enough diversity in style to equip actress Marilynn Miller with elegant songs and comedians Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams with quasi-minstrel numbers to perform in blackface.[14] Other notable composers similarly produced work for annual revues. Created by Ziegfeld veterans George White and Ann Penningtion, The George White Scandals presented a more tuneful stage show than Flo Ziegfeld had anticipated, a burgeoning young composer named George Gershwin writing most of the show’s score each year.[15] The Garrick Gaieties series of revues featured music from song writing duo Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. By the beginning of the Jazz Era, composers with enough ambition to capitalise of the revue trend, opened their own theatres, producing and writing their own show to suit their own distinct musical pop song styles. The always-enterprising George M. Cohan commenced his own revue series with The Cohan Revue in 1916, with a great number of Cohan and Irving Berlin tunes, however The Cohan Revue went defunct with a final edition in 1918. By 1921 Irving Berlin, co-owner of the Music Box Theatre with Sam Harris, eventually opened his own Music Box Revue in the early 1920s “crowded theatre scene.”[16] Naturally, Berlin’s Music Box Revue was much more music-oriented than other lavish revues; the Berlin brand would be the fashionable name that sells astronomically expensive theatre tickets. Unlike other shows that featured dancing girls, Berlin’s showgirls were whimsically nicknamed “The Eight Notes” and donned music note costumes.[17] Berlin’s new show got positive reviews being called a “stage revelation” having “dash and sparkle.”[18] Berlin would incorporate a number of current and former hit songs for his revue, including the theme song “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” which he debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919.[19] As the fad of the revue persisted, notable pop song composers were writing music to keep apace with the increasing demand for the genre.

The popularity of the Broadway revue created a substantial amount of music and as pop songwriters provided the material, songs on stage reflected general trends in the overall pop market. All of these composers were producing pop tunes, not just stage music, even though, admittedly, not all revue music was pop oriented, in fact the first instalment of The Passing Show in 1912 opened with “mime-dramatic ballet.”[20] Revues were the epitome of grand stage entertainment, featuring beautiful chorus girls wearing lavish, sometimes ridiculous costumes; and some songs were utilitarian for dancing. An early example, from the second instalment of the Follies in 1908 featured the song “The Taxicab (Take Me Round in a Taxi)” choreographed on stage with dancers entertaining audiences while wearing taxicab costumes. Such musical stage stunts were not limited to Ziegfeld’s stage. In the inaugural edition of the Shubert brothers’ The Passing Show of 1912, which had been reviewed as a “collection of vaudeville stunts,” featured the song “All the World is Madly Prancing,” the performance concluding with singer Trixie Fraganza tumbling into a tank of water “more to her courage than to her cleverness”[21] according to critic Channing Pollock. Overall, the pop music market from year to year, at least gave some acknowledgement to the fads and trends that were commercially successful, sometimes dictating what appeared on the revue stage. What sells well commercially can translate well to the revue stage. If a musical trend experienced interest or popularity, revue songs reflected such musical trends; examples of which span the breadth of revue shows and occur nearly every year. Amid the dance fervour of exotic new dances in the early 1910s, The Passing Show of 1915 featured the stylish instrumental dance tune “The Spanish Fandango.” Amidst a national craze for Hawaiian tunes in 1915 and 1916, songs like “I Left Her on the Beach in Honolulu” and “My Hula Maid” made their way to productions of The Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 and The Passing Show of 1915 respectively. By the start of the Jazz Era around 1917, the new musical nomenclature was well represented with jazz, blues, and the dance craze shimmy. Various titles are featured across all shows like “I Want to Learn How to ‘Jazz’ Dance” (Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1918), “Trombone Jazz” (The Passing Show of 1918), “That American Jazz” (The Passing Show of 1922), “Jazzmania” (Earl Carroll’s Vanities 1923), “Broadcast a Jazz” (Greenwich Village Follies of 1924), “Unlucky Blues” (Greenwich Village Follies 1921), “Shimmy Town” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1919), “The Shimmy Sisters” (The Passing Show of 1918), “(Let Us Keep) The Shimmy” (Shubert Gaieties of 1919), “Shimmy a la Egyptian” (Passing Show of 1919) and “Flappers” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1922). The Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 presented “Everybody’s Got the Dog Gone Blues, But I’m Happy” the name of the genre used to show how popular the song style had become while also equating blues with sadness:

Blues ain’t nothin’ but the easy goin’ heart disease, Brother stop your moanin’

Blues can’t make you warmer of you’re bound to freeze Sister stop your groanin’

Why don’t you rise and shine Take dem blues right off you mind

‘Cause the blues ain’t nothin’ but the easy goin heart disease, That’s all Lawd![22]

The popularity of the dance Charleston had been featured in the Vanities of 1925, female singers tap danced while spelling “C-H-A-R-L-E-S-T-O-N.”[23] Perhaps most fashionable song subject was the rash of so-called “oriental” songs around 1920 which featured exotic places in the Middle East or Asia. On stage, it was a omnipresent phenomenon with titles like “My Little Javanese” (The Greenwich Village Follies of 1919), “Wang Wang Blues” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1921), “Orient” (Passing Show of 1919), “Sunny South Sea Isles” (George White’s Scandals of 1921), “Harem Life” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1919), “I’m the Man Who Guards the Harem” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1919), “Rubiyats of the Rubiyat” (Passing Show of 1921), “I Live in Turkey” (The Ziegfeld Follies of 1920), and “Becky From Babylon” (The Passing Show of 1921). Such adherence to the musical fads of the times is a commercial way of entertaining the most people with the most popular styles of music, having mass appeal is important for such revue shows, after all many of these theatres like the New Amsterdam and the Winter Garden, held upwards of one thousand people. Maximizing entertainment and commercial success of the show requires following the commercially successful trends on the pop market. As a part of the pop fashions of their times, music from the spectacular revue rode the waves of popularity of various song trends.

Songs from spectacular revues were much more than fashionable product placement easily styled to fit within overall commercial pop trends, revues were entertainment on an industrial scale that also featured topical humour to get laughs from the audience. Consequently, songwriters took liberty with any widely known theatrical or pop culture news event by turning headlines into entertaining fodder. Sometimes the high art of the opera made its way to the songs of the revue stage. Inspired by the popularity of the Richard Strauss opera Salome, which had recently debuted at the Metropolitan Opera, Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1910 featured stylish waltz “Vision of Salomé”[24] inspired by Salome’s famous dance of the seven veils. The cover art for the revue song is nearly identical to the opera’s original sheet music, with the exception of the song’s title, the notably less challenging music[25] and the advertisement “Featured in F. Ziegfeld Jr. Follies of 1910.”[26] “Poor Butterfly” from 1915’s The Big Show at the Hippodrome Theatre, is a reference to the title character of the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly and the song’s lyrics summarize the basic plot elements of Puccini’s opera:

There’s a story told of a little Japanese

Sitting demurely ‘neath the cherry blossom trees.

Miss Butterfly her name

A sweet little innocent child was she[27]

Victor Herbert, a popular operetta composer whose music had been featured frequently on the revue stage, was remembered in memoriam following his death in 1924 in the Ziegfeld Follies of that year with a montage of tunes from his popular operettas. More colloquial entertainment like comedies or pop culture trends were also referenced via song. The famous “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden” from Florodora had been represented in triplicate two decades later in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1920 with a montage of “The Ziegfeld Sextette,” “The Florodora Girl” portrayed by entertainer Fanny Brice, followed by her performance of “Tell Me, Little Gypsy.” The “new dance sensation”[28] “The Black Bottom” was launched on George White’s Scandals in 1926 as a response to the seemingly unstoppable popularity of The Charleston. News topicality was also fodder for composers and lyricists penning songs for the revue stage. “New York, What’s the Matter with You? (Good Bye my Tango)” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1913 had been presented in protest against New York City bans or restrictions on many dances during the early 1910s dance craze; the lyrics of bid a mournful farewell to the dance while also offering clever double entendre:

Good bye my Tango! The turkey trot had died.

I can’t shuffle and ruffle any more,…

Now I’ve got to go home When the curfew rings and do a grizzly

And do a grizzly, And do a grizzly with my wife![29]

The First World War was represented from the stage in varying contexts, including in patriotic form with the Victor Hebert‘s “Can’t You Hear Your Country Calling?” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1917), in comical form with Irving Berlin’s “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1918) and in risqué form after the war’s conclusion with the spoof “The Leg of Nations” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1920). Prohibition naturally became a notable spoofworthy news event in 1919 and 1920, protested mildly on the revue stage with such Irving Berlin songs like “A Syncopated Cocktail” (Ziegfeld Follies of 1920) and “You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake on Tea,” a tune which laments “On the day they introduced their Prohibition laws/They just went and ruin’d the greatest Shimmy dancer.”[30] Such pop culture spoofs are not just relatable to an audience experiencing such pop culture events or theatre-savvy audience members, they are, admittedly, easy topics to write about. It does not take too much imagination to notice the popularity of another stage show or to open a newspaper and then find a topical event to spoof. While the annual revues provided popular song styles on stage, they also featured topical numbers that would also be appealing for audiences on a mass scale.

The plethora of songs and lyric writing talent had brought a number of musically fashionable and topical titles to the stages of revues. However, it was the performer on stage who brought such songs to the audience’s attention. Revues are often remembered more for displaying legions of beautiful dancing girls, but year after year, just as demand for song writing ability had surged with the rise in the number of revue shows, so did demand for big name entertainers. Such stars did not just act, tell jokes or sing, stars in revues had to entertain audiences with whatever skill the performance demanded, including performing song numbers. Fanny Brice who “sacrifices all dignity”[31] during comedy sketches could additionally captivate an audience with “a musical true confession”[32] like “My Man/Mon Homme.” Ziegfeld broke the colour barrier of the Broadway stage and hired popular actor Bert Williams, who turned out to be a valuable asset for the Follies. A veteran of the Vaudeville stage, Williams wrote comedy sketches and songs for the Follies and performed them with comic inventiveness. Consequently, the African-American press energetically monitored William’s fame and performances.[33] According to Ashton Stevens, he was not the “’flash nigger’ telegraphing his ‘ma-baby,’”[34] in sort of role into which many African Americans had been typecast. Comedy duo Van and Schenck were also big name Vaudeville entertainers who came to the revue stage, bringing their comical performances and songs to the stage and recording studio with great success. As choreographed as the entertainment on stage was, spontaneity frequently kept audiences and stage producers on their toes. Another veteran of Vaudeville, Eddie Cantor, during a performance of Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, caused chaos when he extemporaneously stopped the production so that he could personally sing “That’s the Kind of Baby for Me” for the Prince of Wales; naturally following a lengthy introduction to charm the audience.[35] The stunt immediately resulted in a flurry of press releases for the morning papers. Another famous stage name in Vaudeville, on Broadway and on record, Al Jolson, also worked for revues, earning upwards of $15,000 per week solely to perform former hits like “Always,” “Keep Smiling at Trouble,” and “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” and “California, Here I Come” in Artists and Models of 1926.[36] When the general pop music market shifted to Jazz in the early 1920s, revues reacted by hiring the latest in pop fashion, the bandleader and the orchestra. Art Hickman had worked in the orchestra pit for Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1920, Isham Jones worked for the Greenwich Follies of 1924, and comedian-turned-bandleader Ted Lewis also worked for the Greenwich Village Follies. The most popular musician of the decade, Paul Whiteman led his orchestra in the pit at George White’s Scandals. The revue did not just have famous song writing talent writing fashionable songs for the stage, they also hired the most famous names in entertainment to perform them.

A bevy of au current music and song was filling stages and orchestra pits festooned with famous bandleaders, but there was big business, more specifically advertising, behind pop songs and the revue. On sheet music, fashionable artwork routinely advertised the songs’ inclusion within a well-advertised revue show, as well, on stage, upcoming shows were advertising by introducing audiences to new songs from upcoming shows. Obviously, selling sheet music on a national scale is as an important motivating factor as selling local Broadway theatre tickets. Just as the composer is linked to the stage through the inclusion of these songs, the composer also had obligations to a music publisher indispensible for mass production and if a song does not sell copy, then the composer does not earn the potential profit and royalties. For sheet music customers browsing for sheet music in shops, the song’s title was routinely less prominent than the title of the revue or the fashionable, stylish and eye-catching artwork. The cover art for the song “Hello, Frisco!,” features a stylish girl sitting on the brim of a champagne glass blowing bubbles “F. Ziegfeld Jr’s Ziegfeld Follies 1915;” the song’s title placed at the very top of the page almost as an afterthought.[37] The song “At the Ball. That’s All,” the fashion on the Ziegfeld stage was a prominent feature; a stage girl on the song’s cover applies make up while trying on “costume for 1914” while last year’s costume is packed away.[38] “I Left Her on the Beach in Honolulu” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 also features the fashion of the girl on stage with no reference to the content of the song[39] and “When My Babyf Smiles At Me” features Ted Lewis and on stage with his band and the advertisement that it had been “sung with terrific success…in The Greenwich Follies NY.”[40] The song The Moon Shines on the Moonshine from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1920, interestingly, has cover art which does not feature the show; instead, entertainer Bert Williams the centre of attention, with his name in larger type than Ziegfeld’s.[41] The sheet music for the hit song “Hold Me” brings the imagery of the stage and features stylish photographs of some of the showgirls in a montage of beauty that could entice consumers to purchase such a fashionable piece of music packaging.[42] “Say It with Music” from Berlin’s Music Box Revue shows an illuminated and opened music box with a dancing ballerina alight in stage lights, the Irving Berlin brand visible in all forms, as the composer, lyricist and publisher.[43] Interpolations form other shows had been advertised, and if a producer needed to advertise music for an upcoming show, then it was convenient to introduce a new song in a hit revue. “Katinka” from the operetta of the same name, made a revival on the pop scene from its inclusion in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. The song “Mandy” first made its debut in the Irving Berlin patriotic show Yip Yip Yiphank, but became an even bigger hit following interpolation in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. “Chu Chin Chow” had been introduced in Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 for the comedy of the same name, “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” featured in George White’s Scandals of 1928 would eventually be the hit song from the boxing comedy Hold Everything. “My Coal Black Mama” included in The Passing Show of 1922 would also be part of the show The Co-Optimists and “Beautiful Island of Girls” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 also would be featured in Gypsy Love. The theatre stage was business and so was song advertising featured on the covers of sheet music and by advertising a forthcoming song via the revue stage for another production.

There were a number of songs included in revues which became big sellers, but as the music fashions changed from Ragtime to Jazz, and more instrumental and orchestral recordings gained market prominence over sheet music, the music market became varied with lyric and instrumental versions of the same songs. Early hits certainly mixed up the musical market, with formats of sheet music and recordings both selling well, notable examples being “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” from Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1908,[44] the sheet music written by actress Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth and recordings by singers Billy Murray and Ada Jones both sold well. “Row, Row, Row!” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1912 and “Hello, Frisco” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 became hugely selling songs in both formats as well. Similarly, songs featured in revues like “Pretty Baby” from the Passing Show of 1916, “Smiles” from The Passing Show of 1918 and “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 became million sellers in sheet music as well as popular recordings. However in the changing climate of music style, from vocal music to orchestrated jazz music, jazz orchestras turned vocal versions of the stage pop tunes into sales gold. Art Hickman had a giant hit in 1920 “Hold Me,” “Wang Wang Blues” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 became nationally popular instrumental recording by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, Paul Whiteman and his orchestra likewise popularised “The Birth of the Blues” from Scandals of 1926, “Three O’clock in the Morning” from Greenwich Village Follies of 1921, which sold upwards of three million copies, according to one estimate.[45] Paul Whiteman also made Irving Berlin’s “Say It with Music” from Music Box Revue 1921 a huge hit that year. “Manhattan” was such a big hit for Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers from Garrick Gaieties of 1925 that the song’s lyrics were reproduced in national newspapers,[46] but became an instrumental hit, “recording managers of the big phonograph companies [broke] their necks to put the record on the market”[47] for Ben Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra in 1925. But as the 1920s progressed, a notable change had occurred, popular vocal versions were mingling on the charts with the instrumental orchestral Jazz versions, especially with the recordings of Paul Whiteman. “My Man/Mon Homme” was the hit of Fanny Brice’s career from Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 and recordings by Fanny and Paul Whiteman made this song a hit twice,;“All Alone” from both Music Box Revue 1924 and Scandals of 1925 became a hit for singers Al Jolson and John McCormack as well as Paul Whiteman. “My Blue Heaven” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 became a hit recording twice, once for singer Gene Austin and, again, Paul Whiteman. While the popularity of these songs had commercial appeal during the 1920s, instrumental jazz orchestras had big hits as well.

Beyond examining the business of getting famous songwriters to produce music, famous entertainers to present fashionable new material and jazz orchestras play in the orchestra pit and on record, there is something slightly unimportant about the songs of the Jazz Era revue. The spectacular antics on stage like large dance numbers, beautiful showgirls and comedians were often the reasons why audiences purchased tickets to revues. One critic refers to the songs featured in spectacular musical revues as filler to keep the audience attention “while the girls changed costumes.” Another often-overlooked detail is that hundreds of songs were written or interpolated into these revues, leaving only a small fraction of songs to become lasting hits. The spectacular revue was a theatrical fad which, by the 1930, fell out of fashion in the social climate of economic depression or in the technological development of talking movies that “marked the finish of the theatre orchestra.”[48] On the other hand, nothing from this theatrical fad is completely frivolous and, in fact, there are elements which had lasting consequences for American pop song history and theatrical history. Many maturing songwriters and composers had their first works presented on spectacular revues. In his tenure of being the sole songwriter for the George White Scandals, the young George Gershwin worked in “preparation for writing his mature musical comedy scores.”[49] Cole Porter, who would eventually come to pen some of the most critically successful songs of Broadway, had one of his first hit songs in a revue, “Old Fashioned Garden” written for the revue Hitchy Koo of 1919, consequently selling over 2 million copies.[50] After the song “Manhattan” became a national hit for the song-writing duo Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, their fame was insured. Rodgers would eventually team up with Oscar Hammerstein II and produce a string of innovative and historically significant Broadway musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. The songs from the revue also changed as the Jazz Age musical tastes did, reversing the critics’ objection to the frivolity of revues to become critical successes and by the mid 1920s, “the conquest of Broadway by the Great Professionals was speedy and glorious”[51] notes Allen Churchill. George Gershwin earned praise with “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,”[52] critic Carl Van Vechten subsequently “completely capitulated to his amazing talent and nominated him to head my list of jazz composers.”[53] In fact, the revue stage featured the musical art of the Jazz Era. While it is remembered that Gershwin composed 1924’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the most recognisable pieces of music in American history, it is sometimes forgotten that it was a both a musical “Experiment” [54] in American music as well as a pop moment that had been featured on the revue stage in George White’s Scandals of 1926 and a phenomenal commercial success; its “popularity has been remarkable since we put it one record,” reflected bandleader Paul Whiteman in 1926.[55] The bulk of the songs that had come from the revue stage have long been forgotten, an unfortunate consequence of the theatrical fad of the revue, many of the composers who wrote for these shows would go on to create critically successful stage tunes representative of the changing musical climate of the Jazz Era.

The lavish stage revue conjures images of the fashions of the stage and the beautiful girls who provided dancing entertainment, no matter how scantily clad, but it is often forgotten that these stage productions featured a substantial amount of pop music. Many established and burgeoning songwriters, some of whom became great composers of American popular music, were hired by these revue shows to compose fashionable and topical songs to include as part of the stage entertainment. But the stage revue was also part business as well and promoting the song via sheet music was a well-established trend, as was bringing songs from forthcoming shows, inserted into the production as part advertising. As the Jazz Era came into full swing, orchestral recordings by celebrity bandleaders appeared on charts, either replacing vocal versions or appearing alongside then. Even though few of these songs are remembered, a small fraction becoming hit songs and part of the Pop Song History canon; there were important moments that came from the fashionable music of the revue stage.


Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin. New York: Viking Press. 1990.

Bordman, Gerald. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992.

Churchill, Allen. The Theatrical 20s. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1975.

Forbes, Camille F. Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway and the Story of America’s First Black Star. New York: Basic Books. 2007.

Frankel, Aaron. Writing the Broadway Music. New York: Da Capo Press. 2000.

Furia, Philip. The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.

“Gershwin Bros.” New York Times. 20 July 1925. Edited by Robert Wyatt and Andrew Johnson. Contained in The George Gershwin Reader. New York: University Of Oxford Press. 2004. 25-27.

Golden, Eve. Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 2000.

Goldman, Herbert G. Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life. New York: Oxford University Press. 1988.

Grossman, Barbara W. Funny Woman: The Life and Times of Fanny Brice. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. 1991.

Hughes, Glenn. The History of the American Theatre, 1700-1950. New York: Samuel French. 1951.

Jones, John Bush. Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre.  Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England. 2003.

Magee, Jeffery. Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012.

Marks, Edward B. They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée. New York: The Viking Press. 1934.

McBrien, William. Cole Porter. New York: Vintage Books. 1998.

Mordden, Ethan. All that Glittered: The Golden Age of Drama on Broadway. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2007.

——-. Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2008.

Nolan, Frederick. Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway. New York: Oxford University Press. 1994.

Pollack, Channing. “Channing Pollock’s Review.” The Green Book Album. Vol VIII No 4 (October 1912).

Saremba, Meinhard. “’We Sing as One Individual’? Popular Misconceptions of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’.” Contained in The Cambridge Companion to Gilbert and Sullivan. Edited by David Eden and Meinhard Saremba. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 50-66.

Starr, Larry. George Gershwin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2011.

Stempel, Larry. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theatre. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2010.

Van Vechten, Carl. “George Gershwin, An American Composer Who Is Writing Notable Music in the Jazz Idiom.” Contained in The Gershwin Reader. Edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. 77-82.

Whiteman, Paul and Mary Margaret McBride. “An Experiment.” Contained in The Gershwin Reader. Edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. 45-49.

Songs Cited

Berlin, Irving. Say It With Music. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1921.

Berlin, Irving (music) and Rennold Wolf and Irving Berlin (lyrics). You Cannot Make You Shimmy Shake on Tea. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1919.

Bowers, Robert Hood (music) and Francis De Witt (lyrics). The Moon Shines on the Moonshine. New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. Inc. 1920.

Cobb, Will and Gus Edwards. I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave. New York: Edwards Music Pub. Co. 1906.

Creamer, Harry and Turner Layton. Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout the Doggone Blues (But I’m Happy). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1918.

Hickman, Art and Ben Black. Hold Me. New York: Jerome H Remick & Co. 1921.

Hill, J Leubrie. At the Ball. That’s All. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co. 1913.

Hirsch, Louis (music) and Gene Buck (lyrics). Hello, Frisco! New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1915.

Horsley, Gus and Perry Bradford. Original Black Bottom Dance. New York: Perry Bradford Music Company. 1926.

Hubbell, Raymond (music) and George V Hobart (lyrics). Good-bye My Tango (New York What’s the Matter with You). New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1913.

Hubbell, Raymond (music) and John L. Golden (lyrics). Poor Butterfly. New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1916.

Joyce, Archibald. Vision of Salome Valse. New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1909.

Munro, Bill (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ted Lewis (lyrics). When My Baby Smiles at Me. New York: Harry von Tilzer Music Publishing Company. 1920.

Strauss, Richard. Salomes Tanz, für Klavier und zwei Händen, Opus 34. Adolph Fürster: Berlin, Germany. 1905.

[1] Laurence Bergreen, As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin, (New York: Viking Press, 1990), 183.

[2] Glenn Hughes, A History of the American Theatre, 1700-1950, (New York: Samuel French, 1951), 381.

[3] Aaron Frankel, Writing the Broadway Musical, (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000), 3.

[4] Edward B. Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 144.

[5] Barbara Grossman, Funny Woman: The Life and Times of Fanny Brice, (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1991), 120.

[6] Gerald Bordman, American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 2nd ed., (New York: New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 189.

[7] Will Cobb and Gus Edwards, I Just Can’t Make My Eyes Behave, (New York: Edwards Music Pub. Co, 1906).

[8] Eve Golden, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway, (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 94.

[9] Aaron Frankel, Writing the Broadway Musical, (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000), 2.

[10] W.S. Gilbert qtd in Meinhard Saremba, “’We Sing as One Individual’? Popular Misconceptions of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’,” contained in The Cambridge Companion to Gilbert and Sullivan, David Eden and Meinhard Saremba, ed, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 50.

[11] Hughes, 355.

[12] Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 46.

[13] Ibid ,50.

[14] Bergreen, 169.

[15] Ethan Mordden, Ziegfeld: The Man who Invented Show Business, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009), 189.

[16] Jeffrey Magee, Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theater, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 103.

[17] Bergreen, 184.

[18] Ibid, 185.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bordman, 277.

[21] “Channing Pollock’s Review,” The Green Book Album, Vol VIII No 4 (October 1912), 636.

[22] Creamer and Layton, Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout the Doggone Blues (But I’m Happy), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).

[23] Bordman, 402.

[24] Archibald Joyce, Vision of Salome Valse, (New York: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1909).

[25] Richard Strauss, Salomes Tanz, für Klavier und zwei Händen, Übertragen von Otto Singer, (Adolph Fürster: Berlin, Germany, 1905).

[26] Arhcibald Joyce, Vision of Salome Valse.

[27] Raymond Hubbell (music) and John L. Golden (lyrics), Poor Butterfly, (New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1916).

[28] Gus Horsley and Perry Bradford, Original Black Bottom Dance, (New York, Perry Bradford Music Company, 1926).

[29] Raymond Hubbell (music) and George V Hobart (lyrics), Good-bye My Tango (New York What’s the Matter with you), (New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1913).

[30] Irving Berlin (music) and Rennold Wolf and Irvin Berlin (lyrics), You Cannot Make You Shimmy Shake on Tea, (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1919).

[31] Grossman, 116.

[32] Ibid, 126.

[33] Camille F. Forbes, Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway and the Story of America’s First Black Star, (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 198.

[34] Ashton Stevens, qtd in Forbes, 205.

[35] Mordden, 179.

[36] Herbert Goldman, Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 141.

[37] Louis Hirsch (music) and Gene Buck (lyrics), Hello, Frisco!, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1915).

[38] J Leubrie Hill, At the Ball. That’s All, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1913).

[39] Louis Hirsch (music) and Gene Buck (lyrics), I Left Her on the Beach at Honolulu, (New York: T.B. Harms, 1916).

[40] Bill Munro (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ted Lewis (lyrics), When My Baby Smiles at Me, (New York: Harry von Tilzer Music Publishing Company, 1920).

[41] Robert Hood Bowers (music) and Francus De Witt (lyrics), The Moon Shines on the Moonshine, (New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. Inc, 1920).

[42] Art Hickman and Ben Black, Hold Me, (New York: Jerome H Remick & Co, 1921).

[43] Irving Berlin, Say It With Music, (New York Irving Berlin, Inc, 1921).

[44] Nora Bayes-Norworth (music) and Jack Norworth (lyrics), Shine On, Harvest Moon, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1908).

[45] Bordman, 364.

[46] Frederick Nolan, Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 66.

[47] Lorenz Hart qtd in Nolan, 67.

[48] Marks, 140.

[49] Larry Starr, George Gershwin, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 50. [

50] William McBrien, Cole Porter: A Biography, (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 71.

[51] Allen Churchill, The Theatrical 20s, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975), 157.

[52] “Gershwin Bros,” New York Times, (20 July 1925), contained in The George Gershwin Reader, edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 26.

[53] Carl Van Vechten, “George Gershwin, An American Composer Who Is Writing Notable Music in the Jazz Idiom,” contained in The George Gershwin Reader, edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 81.

[54] Programme from the concert, contained in Paul Whiteman and Mary Margaret McBride, “An Experiment,” contained in The Gershwin Reader, edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 47-48.

[55] Paul Whiteman and Mary Margaret McBride, “An Experiment,” contained in The Gershwin Reader, edited by Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 49.

Everything, All at Once, Part 1: The Rise and Fall of the Spectacular Revue

Each year, tens of millions of television viewers are witness to perhaps the most expensive twelve minutes of pop music of the calendar year, the over-the-top spectacle known as the Super Bowl Halftime Show. The show, a pop interlude in the biggest sporting event of the American year, is an event which, honestly, has nothing to do with the sport at all; the Halftime Show is a well-advertised pop music product placement in which pop stars perform medleys of their greatest hits, or at least the songs’ first verse or chorus. Naturally, like most cultural events touching the sports industry, corporate sponsorship for the show is conspicuously provided by PepsiCola; its logo prominently featured at the beginning of this year’s show starring Katy Perry, and certainly “no one does big fun better than Katy Perry.”[1] The list of spectacular events which befell the audience’s eyes in 2015 is itself quite impressive. Katy Perry opened by riding a giant animatronic “robocat,”[2] danced on an animated dance floor, then rocked out with a seemingly out-of-place Lenny Kravitz in front of a pyrotechnics display, followed by dancing with back-up performers in beach ball and shark costumes, then hammed it up with Missy Elliott, and concluded with Katy Perry performing on a aerial pedestal fashioned as a shooting star. Taking into consideration a continually changing yet flawless lighting design, a fireworks display, four costume changes and a medley of nine songs, it boggles the mind to think about the amount of work involved to fit the whole show in twelve and a half minutes. It is interesting to note that, as expensive as Super Bowl Halftime Shows are to produce, estimated at $10 Million in 2014,[3] nearly $1 million per minute, there is nothing really musically memorable about them other than their grandiosity; that the entertainment, a collection of songs heard everyday on American radio, is mere background noise in relief to the splashiness happening on stage. Save, Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during a performance of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” during the 2004 Halftime Show. In the 1910s and into the 1920s at the commencement of America’s Jazz Age, the spectacular revue would be its own form of splashy annual entertainment.

The revue is a genre of theatre which has something to see for everyone.[4] Amidst a theatre schedule filled with popular and fantastic operettas, colloquial vaudeville acts and musical comedies, the revue emerged from the 1890s and quickly earned a loyal audience with revues like those of Weber and Fields. However, the revue would transform into a spectacular piece of theatre, designed to pack the most into a performance. With programmes full of skits, songs, topical humour and beautiful showgirls, spectacular revues during the 1910s and the 1920s, would get a more polished, stylized and lavish treatment and became the highlight of the summer theatre schedule. Year after year, the annual revue became a theatrical event with the productions by Florenz Ziegfeld and his Follies and the Shubert brothers’ The Passing Show, some of which are the stuff of fondly remembered Broadway lore. With ticket sales of such variety shows brisk, revues became the newest craze and production trend on Broadway by 1919. By the mid-1920s, composers, producers and even former revue cast members were creating their own spectacular annual shows. However, as the decade progressed, the market for revues became oversaturated with an increasing number of successful revue series and also badly written and produced annuals vying for audience dollars. By the time the Great Depression hit Broadway hard in the early 1930s, talking movies had lured many of the top talent, on stage and off, to Hollywood and theatre producers turned to smaller budgets the era of spectacular revue had ended.

At the turn of the twentieth century, three relatively disparate musical theatrical trends were prominent on the American stage: early forms of musical comedy, the Vaudeville show and the operetta. By the 1890s, minstrel shows that had been popular throughout the nineteenth century, had been considered by urban Americans as old fashioned, and had been in decline in popularity. The Vaudeville show, perhaps the most well remembered style of the era was on the rise. Vaudeville shows had no plot at all; instead the shows featured a variety of entertainment from performers like comedy acts, jugglers and singers performing interpolated pop songs of the day. Vaudeville shows were quick paced, according to Stempel “eight to twelve acts made up a bill, with no act longer than twenty minutes.”[5] Vaudevilles were low budget, colloquial to appeal to the greatest number of paying customers and packaged to tour a national circuit of chain theatres including Big Time Vaudeville’s Keith-Albee or Orpheum circuits or Small Time Vaudeville circuits like the Pantages or the Loew. Musical comedy, on the other hand, had been “a new, vernacular entertainment in America in the early twentieth century”[6] offered shows to audiences with more plot structure and, of course, pop tunes to enjoy. In such shows, it was not necessarily the music that was the focus, but rather the comedy, the characters of which were sometimes caught up in humorous farcical situations or rags-to-riches stories rather than engaged in a storyline prominent in more modern musicals. A notable trend of musical comedy in the early twentieth century, included a number of shows in which the female lead, often the stage star that carried the production to success, is the centre of attention and shows took titles like Sergeant Kitty, My Lady Molly, The Medal and the Maid, The Belle of Newport, Mam’selle Napoleon, Winsome Winnie, The Fisher Maiden, and Peggy from Paris, opening in the autumn of 1903 just to name a few titles of the time. However, in the burgeoning theatre industry developing on Broadway, the most popular form of theatre in Edwardian America was the operetta. A Germanic style of stagecraft, operettas brought elegance to the American stage during the 1890s when “the winds of realism that swept the theatre at the end of the century,”[7] with European-style music and songs, along with foreign and erudite settings. Fanciful titles like A Waltz Dream (1908), The Dollar Princess (1909), The Chocolate Soldier (1909) and The Count of Luxembourg (1912) demonstrate the kind of productions that operettas were during the 1900s. The operettas written by composer Victor Herbert were particularly popular; Herbert had a string of Broadway hits with Babes in Toyland (1903), Madame Modiste (1905) and eventually Sweethearts (1913).[8] By 1905, there had been a full craze for the operetta and in 1907, perhaps the most successful operetta, The Merry Widow opened an impressive run of 416 performances[9] and has subsequently been revived a number of times since, including a 2015 engagement at the Metropolitan Opera.[10] Many theatre producers found that musical audiences, many of whom were of German extraction, desired more upscale entertainment compared to more colloquial American Vaudeville or musical comedy formats[11] and were willing to subsidize productions of Austrian operettas, then pay for more expensive theatre tickets.[12] Throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, all three distinct styles of theatre found their own distinct style and audience.

It is within this theatrical context that the revue debuted on Broadway. The revue, like the operetta, is a genre of stage entertainment steeped in European heritage; while the operetta has Germanic origins, the revue is largely considered a French style of entertainment,[13] a style popular on such famed Parisian stages as the Folies Bergere and the Moulin Rouge. Like vaudeville, revues lack a formal plot but are held together by a theme instead of a narrative. Larry Stempel notes that the revue’s lack of plot was often the element which held the shows together “not so much for its obvious lack of a plot but for its capacity to turn that very fact into an element of cohesion.”[14] Revues blend comedy, songs and skits with topical humour burlesquing everything from pop culture to news events, they also projected a more casual acceptance of sex appeal, particularly of the female form, and featured large numbers of show girls in glamorous costumes. Revues enjoyed early success during the 1890s, especially productions by the comic duo Joe Weber and Lew Fields, who opened their Music Hall on 29th St in Manhattan, just north of the old Tin Pan Alley in 1896. For eight years Weber and Fields produced the “greatest vaudeville names of the era” and included “individual comedy and song-and-dance acts.”[15] Weber and Fields shows featured the biggest stars and relentlessly spoofed contemporary popular culture and theatre culture. Bordman notes that Weber and Fields “had a reputation of displaying the most beautiful line [of chorus girls] in New York.”[16] Weber and Fields revues became popular annual events[17] and their titles reflect the sorts of breezy and extemporaneous entertainment audiences could expect, including Hurly Burly (1898), Whirl-i-Gig (1899), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), Hoity-Toity (1901) and Higgledy-Piggledy (1904). The title of their debut edition in 1896 had been titled Cyranose de Bric-a-Brac, a molestation of the title of that year’s big theatre hit, Cyrano de Bergerac. The 1907 edition spoofed The Merry Widow, titling that year’s instalment The Merry Widow Burlesque. With musical comedies in their infancy and Vaudeville and operettas attracting audiences, the revue was beginning to develop its own style of show at the turn of the twentieth century.

The revue à la Paris would get the star treatment when theatre producer Florenz Ziegfeld debuted his Follies of 1907 and commenced a string of annual spectacular revues reaching into the 1930s. The son of prominent theatre producer, Flo, as he was affectionately known, produced a string of early twentieth century Broadway shows. He constantly straddled the boundaries between financial success and destitution and debt. Some of his productions were successful like A Parlour Match (1897), others, like Mam’selle Napoleon (1903), were utter critical and commercial failures that he nevertheless toured extensively. Ziegfeld also had a calculated mind for business and taste for extravagance and spectacle. Bringing his common law wife, French actress Anna Held, to the United States was even part choreographed spectacle and part business decision. Believing that she could “make a success, with her charms of face and figure, and her quaint French mannerisms,”[18] Ziegfeld eventually hustled together $1500 for her passage and arranged an advertised press event.[19] The trick worked; Anna Held proved to be a name that could carry a Ziegfeld show, whether successful or not. The idea to launch an annual revue, was not Flo’s, but rather Anna’s, since she “knew what drew audiences and she knew the sort of dazzling, mindless spectacle at which her husband excelled.”[20] The new show, Follies, would debut at the beginning of summer on the New Amsterdam’s rooftop theatre, the Jardin de Paris, home to the annual Follies for the next four seasons. Although the theatre’s glass roof enhanced the summer heat and leaked when it rained, the theatre and the Follies became part of the theatrical buzz of that summer with its well advertised and promoted legion of beautiful chorus girls which he called “Anna Held Girls.” The Follies of 1907 liberally burlesqued theatre humour audiences would like have known like the big “theatrical scandal” of the year, a production of Salomé at the Metropolitan Opera.[21] In 1911, the popular theatre hit The Pink Lady was burlesqued in full drag. Year after year, casts grew larger and theatre megastars had been hired including Lillian Lorraine in 1909, Fannie Brice and Bert Williams in 1910, and the Dolly Sisters and Leon Errol in 1911. Though Weber and Fields revues were popular, Ziegfeld’s shows were big in a big way. In 1908, the theme of Adam and Eve was used to tie the show together. Costumes for the Follies were equally as spectacular with actress wearing “things” rather than clothes, including taxicab costumes in 1908 and battleships in 1909. The formula worked, year after year, The Follies attracted theatregoers interested in seeing the spectacular show and had become “phenomenally successful.”[22] Ziegfeld’s model equating revue with stage decadence would be copied dozens of times over the next two decades.

With the buzz and the stage set for the spectacular revue, other theatre producers were looking to tap into the suddenly lucrative market for revue shows. Five blocks away from the New Amsterdam at the newly constructed Winter Garden Theatre, two rival theatre producers, Lee and J.J. Shubert, who “could not ignore the growing success and form of the Follies[23] opened their own annual revue in 1912, The Passing Show. The Shuberts had already succeeded at challenging the hegemony of the reigning figures of the theatre management racket of early Broadway, the Syndicate, and their operation was “a machine that makes dollars.”[24] The idea to open an annual revue at the Winter Garden Theatre had been powered by the intoxicating combination of personal spite and financial ambition; the Shubert Brothers loathed Flo Ziegfeld and everything he did. The Shubert brothers had to fight for their place on Broadway in the tough theatre industry. Led primarily by tyrannical booking agent Lincoln “Honest Abe” Ehrlanger,[25] the theatre trust The Syndicate controlled how theatres get booked and which shows get into which theatres and were vicious when the Shuberts came to Broadway, creating an acrimonious business culture on Broadway.[26] Ziegfeld had been caught in the middle of their dispute, often changing sides as it suited his own interests. After taking money from the Shuberts and then collaborating with Ehrlanger, Ziegfeld’s relationship with the Shuberts officially became acerbic. Ehrlanger and his partner Marc Klaw consequently provided the $13,000 for the first run of the Follies in 1907 and funding for subsequent Follies productions.[27] The Shubert’s first attempt at a competing revue, 1911’s The Revue of Revues, was a flop both commercially and financially, lasting only 55 performances at the Winter Garden.[28] A year later, the Shuberts allocated their resources and produced The Passing Show if 1912, a successful rival to Ziegfeld and his Follies. Opening at the height of a early 1910’s dance craze,[29] The Passing Show included flashier song-and-dance numbers and, of course, a chorus line of beautiful girls brought physically closer to the audience by a ramp.[30] Like The Follies, The Passing Shows featured sumptuous costumes like the 1917 edition in which the chorus girls had been bedecked in mirrors[31] and sets ranging from an ocean liner, a harem and a Ragtime wedding for the 1912 edition to a lavish 1916 show which featured horses on treadmills to simulate a cavalry charge to conclude the first act.[32] The Passing Show relied more heavily on topical humour that burlesqued theatre and pop culture, including the election of 1916 that had been the theme which tied that year’s Passing Show together.[33] The Shuberts hired some of the most famous names on the stage including Henry Fox and Anna Whealdon for the inaugural edition, Marilyn Miller was hired for The Passing Show of 1913 and other names like Harry Carroll, George Gershwin and Frank Fay appearing on the bill throughout The Passing Show’s residency on Broadway. Throughout the remaining 1910s, Ziegfeld and the Shuberts competed by hiring the best set designers, costume designers and year after year, the productions became evermore lavish.

Not to be outdone by competition happening at the Winter Garden, Florenz Ziegfeld continued to build the legend of The Follies, which in 1911, gained the most lucrative commodity, the Ziegfeld name to become The Ziegfeld Follies and “the series continued commercially powerful producing each season’s biggest opening night, a bragfest of celebrities dressed to thrill.”[34] The 1913 edition opened inside the New Amsterdam theatre and entertained audiences with spoofs and lampoons from everything from the Turkey Trot dance craze, to cubist art and the recently opened Panama Canal. The 1914 production of that season had become “better than anything else of its kind on Broadway”[35] wowing theatregoers with numerous set changes and complicated machinery like rotating turntables and conveyer belts for moving set pieces.[36] But the 1915 edition would commence the so-called “golden age” of the Ziegfeld Follies[37] and year after year, artistic development would push production budgets ever higher, including building larger, and more grandiose sets. With Ziegfeld’s brand and “the Ziegfeld touch,” the spectacular revues that have achieved Broadway legend status came to life on stage. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 was famous for its blue sets by Joseph Urban which offered simulated visually stunning underwater scenery and effects. With war against Germany looming, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 ended with a sweeping patriotic telling of American history since the American Revolution. Cast changes from year to year were frequent enough to keep audiences interested with a combination of familiar and fresh talent. Celebrity stage personalities were added from year to year including W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Ann Pennington, and Marilyn Miller just to name a few celebrities of the time. Increased budgets, stars, sets and the shows had produced spectacular returns on investment for Ziegfeld. But competition was heating up, with the amount of money both The Passing Show and Ziegfeld Follies were earning throughout their engagements, other producers were eager to establish their own annual revues. Composer George M Cohan, at his own Cohan Theatre in 1916, wrote and presented an annual series comparable to Ziegfeld and the Shuberts, the Cohan Revue, which featured his own brand of stage entertainment. However, The Cohan Revue had little success compared to the Follies or The Passing Show; only one more addition of his show opened in 1918 before going defunct. While Ziegfeld and the Shuberts were trying to produce competing the types of shows which have become legendary productions, other theatre producers were eager to put revues in their theatres.

The trend continued to build; by the end of the 1910s, new revue series were debuting annually. Anti-German sentiment of The First World War had officially stemmed the popularity of Germanic sounding operetta and revues took an increasingly larger segment of the theatre schedule. Along with the Ziegfeld Follies, which took its official motto, “Glorifying the American Girl” in 1922 and the Passing Shows, which continued until 1924, other revues series at other theatres were becoming popular. The Greenwich Village Follies debuted in 1919 at the Greenwich Village Theatre and was so successful downtown that it was rushed to Broadway one year later. Former revue actors were beginning to produce their own revue series as well. Former Follies actor George White debuted his Scandals at the Liberty Theatre in 1919 and his approach was more over-the-top than even Ziegfeld productions, offering more girls and larger song and dance numbers. By 1926, George White’s Scandals became annually popular and that year, ended the theatre season with an impressive 464 performances at the Apollo Theatre.[38] Another veteran of The Follies stage, Earl Carroll, debuted his Vanities in 1923 at the Earl Carroll Theatre and proved to be a popular series. A much bawdier revue which had been “much more of a girlie show than anything else,”[39] the Vanities, featured, albeit muted, female nudity and male comedians, including early appearances of Jack Benny and Milton Berle.[40] Both series were not exactly highbrow entertainment; they were after all, revue shows which focused on theatrical fun and comedy, satirising the general popular culture of theatre of the times and dazzling audiences with dance numbers. Irving Berlin, now in charge of the Music Box Theatre began to compose a differently themed revue The Music Box Revue in 1921, which was more focused on his brand of songs than beautiful girls and satire.[41] Nevertheless, it was a lavish production and a spectacular show with a budget of $190,000[42] and tickets costing a theatre-goer an absurdly high $5. Throughout the 1920s, the annual revue had enough competition for the genre to include other shows on Broadway’s schedule.

However, large numbers of spectacular annual revues filling theatre schedules were unsustainable and by the mid-1920s, the extravagant revue had been in sharp decline. A glut of annual revues early in the decade produced a number of shows without much merit, content or relative success. At the beginning of the 1920s, series featuring years in their titles in anticipation of subsequent annual instalments came and went without success or influence. Revues titled Frivolities of 1920, Broadway Brevities of 1920, Snapshots of 1921, Spice of 1922, Nifties of 1923, Puzzles of 1924 and Fashions of 1924 came and went with each season without following editions. The shows were not scant in budget, and nor was there a lack of talent; the Broadway Brevities of 1920 included top stage talent like Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams, who starred in other lavish revues and Snapshots of 1921 featured actress Nora Bayes and comedian Lew Fields. But star power alone was not enough to carry these shows, Broadway Brevities lasted thirteen weeks with dwindling ticket sales and Snapshots languished at the Slewyn Theatre for only four weeks.[43] The Ziegfeld Follies was not immune to creative stifling, particularly in 1923 when a number of songs and sketches from the previous year had been cobbled together into a show.[44] Other revues which failed to get audience attention were inherently terrible productions. Fashions of 1924 had been called a “poorly assemble fashion show”[45] and Spice of 1922 found its comical zenith with a travesty burlesque of the opera Tosca.[46] 1926 was an especially overheated year with more titles debuting, each revue gaining little audience attention or critical praise; there had been a glut of revues and lack of sustaining talent to feed them. Bunk of 1926 lasted for four weeks, Bad Habits of 1926 closed after 19 performances, Nic Nax of 1926 had habitual set failures, and Bare Facts of 1926 fared better with 107 performances. The Shubert produced Artists and Models series of revues which featured nearly nude models in various tableaux vivants poses was particularly “dull” according to one critic.[47] Larger scale musicals with cohesive and interesting plotlines were coming into fashion, holding audience attention through a captivating narrative like No, No Nannette (1926) and the Ziegfeld-produced musical Show Boat (1927), “the first American musical that integrates the elements of a musical theatre into a credible drama.”[48] The “zappiness” and quick-paced fun revues had run its course. With the spectacular revue taking too much of the theatre schedule and increasing number of bad shows in production, the genre faded at the end of the 1920s as the modern form of musical took the Broadway stage.

Two additional events, the development of talking movies and economic depression, would officially end the spectacular revue’s residency on Broadway. Even though radio had already become an entertainment in which one could, for the first time, enjoy broadcasts and entertainment directly at home, talking movies dealt the largest blow to the lavish stage revue. Stars were leaving for Hollywood as new job opportunities for composing, acting, dancing, producing, and trades related to the stage lured more talent from Broadway across the continent to California, leaving a talent vacuum on the Broadway theatre. The deep economic depression of the 1930s not just ravaged theatre budgets but closed theatres entirely. The mood on Broadway changed to spending on lavish revues to spending as little money as possible to give audiences a form of escapism. [49] Some theatre producers relied on adding strippers to shows to keep men and women from going to movies.[50] There is not a simpler or inexpensive entertainment than nudity after all, and at a burlesque show, “he could laugh. And let me tell you, there was nothing to laugh about in the ‘30s” according to burlesque actress Dixie Evans.[51] An interesting movie trend did develop when theatre veterans left for Hollywood; Hollywood tried to replicate the spectacular revue to the screen for national audiences. John Bush Jones notes that while Broadway spectacular were largely for the local audience in New York, movies could be accessible all across the county to people who may have never seen such lavishly produced shows.[52] But the revue was a genre which seemed to flourish only on stage; Hollywood productions of spectacular revues of the late 1920s and early 1930s were always beset with production and casting problems. One of the most famous examples, The King of Jazz featuring bandleader Paul Whiteman, had spectacular sets and a variety of talent, including animated cartoons. Filming the extravaganza had been repeatedly delayed for weeks, budgets had to be increased and The King of Jazz haemorrhaged cash.[53] Marketing was a problem, since it’s star was a bandleader, albeit a popular one, whose job was to conduct his orchestra, not to sing, act, dance or be entertaining. Florenz Ziegfeld died in 1932 during all of this change. His wife, Billie Burke, then residing in Los Angeles pursuing an acting career to pay off his debts,[54] listened to his funeral via radio.[55] One last production of the Follies happened in 1936, produced by the Shuberts at the Winter Garden Theatre. The collapse of the revue was ahead of tumultuous changes in the economy of theatre on Broadway of which the revue was only a symptom.

Despite being a theatre fad of the 1910s and the 1920, spectacular revues remain part if a fondly remembered era of the Broadway theatre. The trend has all of the earmarks of a fad and yet, people still remember revue shows with a certain amount of awe. Their initial and topical success had captured audience attention, challenges by others to produce and perform in the genre created competition on the stage, then the genre overloaded with anyone wanting to make a buck on the revue and then the annual revue disappeared from the stage when a new popular entertainment in talking movies came into the scene. But there is something quaint about the nostalgia of the revues of the 1910s and 1920s. Revue shows are an example of the sort of escapist entertainment that audiences wanted to see, particularly during the 1920s when the Broadway stage experienced tremendous growth. The spectacular revue also has ties with nostalgia for the ethos and spirit of the Jazz Age in America, the fast-paced and irreverent entertainment that people truly could not get enough of from the stage. I think there is something more obvious about the remembrance for the spectacular revue like Ziegfeld’s Follies or The Passing Show or even the silliness of The Vanities. They will always remain in the past; I doubt that any theatre producer would revive, say, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, even replicating the lavish blue set designs of Joseph Urban would undoubtedly sell tickets and get customers in theatre seats. Certainly, the year in the title would look old-fashioned on the theatre marquis. But topical humour had also been incorporated into the fabric of the revue show, which I doubt references to popular shows from a century ago would translate to the stage in the twenty-first century, and so, annual editions of spectacular revues will continue to be fondly remembered stuff of Broadway legend and their place in theatre history cannot be overlooked in this transitional period in American entertainment.


Bordman, Gerald. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992

Engel, Lehman. Words with Music: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto. Updated by Howard Kissel. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. 2006

Eyman, Scott. The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1997.

Furia, Phillip. Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.

Golden, Eve. Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 2000.

Hayter-Menzie, Grant. Mrs. Ziegfeld: The Public and Private Lives of Billie Burke. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc. 2009.

Jones, John Bush. Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre.  Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England. 2003.

Karp, Hannah. “The Economics Behind the NFL’s Pay-to-Play Super Bowl Pitch. The Wall Street Journal. Corporate Intelligence (blog). 20 August 2014. http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/08/20/the-economics-behind-the-nfls-pay-to-play-super-bowl-pitch/

Kenrick, John. “1890s: Part II.” musicals101.com. Accessed 3 February 2015. http://www.musicals101.com/1890-1900b.htm

Kornhaber, Spencer. “The Terror and Glory of Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Performance.” The Atlantic.com. 2 February 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/02/katy-perry-at-the-super-bowl/385069/

Lamb, Andrew. 150 Years of Popular Musical Theatre. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2000.

Magee, Jeffrey. Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012.

Marks, Edward B. They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée. New York: The Viking Press. 1934.

Mordden, Ethan. Ziegfeld: The Man who Invented Show Business. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2008.

Pollack, Howard George Gershwin: His Life and Work. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2006.

“Renée Flemming Stars in Lehár’s Enchanting Operetta.” The Metropolitan Opera. Accessed 5 February 2015. http://season.metopera.org/widow?gclid=CKvWzv-w0cMCFUM1aQodbkIAFw

“Snapshots of 1921.” International Broadway Database. Ibdb.com. http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=9076.

Stempel, Larry. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theatre. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2010.

Swain, Joseph. The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.

Van der Merwe, Ommen. Ann The Ziegfeld Follies: A History in Song. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 2009.

Vogel, Michelle. Olive Thomas: The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2007.

Weber, Lindsey. “Watch Katy Perry’s Halftime Super Bowl Show (Featuring a Ton of Missy Elliott). Vulture.com. 1 February 2015. http://www.vulture.com/2015/02/watch-katy-perrys-halftime-super-bowl-show.html

Zemeckis, Leslie. Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2013.

[1] Lindsey Weber, “Watch Katy Perry’s Halftime Super Bowl Show (Featuring a Ton of Missy Elliott), vulture.com, 1 February 2015, http://www.vulture.com/2015/02/watch-katy-perrys-halftime-super-bowl-show.html.

[2] Spencer Kornhaber, “The Terror and Glory of Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Performance,” The Atlantic.com, 2 February 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/02/katy-perry-at-the-super-bowl/385069/

[3] Hannah Karp, ‘The Economics Behind the NFL’s Pay-to-Play Super Bowl Pitch, The Wall Street Journal, Corporate Intelligence (blog), 20 August 2014, http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/08/20/the-economics-behind-the-nfls-pay-to-play-super-bowl-pitch/

[4] This installment of Pop Song History will actually be a detour into theatre history. Admittedly, this essay will be a discussion about the development and collapse of the spectacular, lavish annual Broadway revue and an examination of the song and ramification will be the topic of the second part.

[5] Larry Stempel, Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theatre, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 66.

[6] Ibid, 133.

[7] Ibid, 118.

[8] Lehman Engel, Words with Music: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto, (New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006), 125.

[9] Ibid, 123.

[10] “Renée Flemming Stars in Lehár’s Enchanting Operetta.” The Metropolitan Opera. Accessed 5 February 2015. http://season.metopera.org/widow?gclid=CKvWzv-w0cMCFUM1aQodbkIAFw

[11] Stempel, 118.

[12] Engel, 126.

[13] Ethan Mordden, Ziegfeld: The Man who INvented Show Business, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 92.

[14] Stempel, 208.

[15] John Kenrick, “1890s: Part II.” musicals101.com. Accessed 3 February 2015. http://www.musicals101.com/1890-1900b.htm

[16] Gerald Bordman, American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 2nd Ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 170-1.

[17] Andrew Lamb, 150 Years of Popular Musical Theatre, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 147.

[18] Edward B. Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 140.

[19] Ibid, 140.

[20] Eve Golden, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld’s Broadway, (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 111.

[21] Marks, 142.

[22] Lamb, 156.

[23] Bordman, 277.

[24] John Bush Jones, Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre, (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2003), 38.

[25] Stempel, 124.

[26] For a more detailed look at the so-called “war of the managers” between The Syndicate and the Shuberts, see Mordden, 66-90.

[27] Mordden, 90

[28] Bordman, 271.

[29] For a look at the dance craze of the early 1910s, see Morgan Howland, “1910s Pop Trend: The Ragtime Dance Craze,” 10 June 2014, Pop Song History (blog), https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/1910s-pop-trend-the-ragtime-dance-craze/

[30] Stempel, 212.

[31] Bordman, 321.

[32] Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006), 223.

[33] Bordman, 315

[34] Mordden, 141.

[35] Bordman, 295.

[36] Stempel, 209.

[37] Ann Ommen van der Merwe, The Ziegfeld Follies: A History in Song, (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 52.

[38] Bordman, 412.

[39] Ibid, 402.

[40] Stempel, 214.

[41] Phillip Furia, Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 54.

[42] Jeffery Magee, Irving Berlin’s American Musical Theater, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 104.

[43] “Snapshots of 1921,” International Broadway Database, accessed 5 February 2015, http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=9076

[44] Bordman, 382

[45] Ibid. 380.

[46] Ibid, 372.

[47] Ibid, 460.

[48] Joseph Swain, The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 15.

[49] Leslie Zemeckis, Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America, (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013), 2.

[50] Ibid, 4.

[51] Dixie Evans qtd in Zemeckis, 7.

[52] Jones, 68.

[53] Scott Eyman, The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 316.

[54] Grant Hayter-Menzies, Mrs. Ziegfeld: The Public and Private Lives of Billie Burke, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc, 2009), 142.

[55] Ibid, 158.

The Beating Heart of a New Sub-Culture: Jazz’s Route to the Music Mass Market

In the present-day Club Banger Era, hip-hop has become a prominent and necessary component to the commercial pop song market. Some of the most successful songs of 2014 use features to blend pop and hip-hop elements;[1] the collaboration technique bridges sometimes unlikely combinations of rapper and pop singer to bring about fresh creativity, cross-genre appeal and, ultimately, increased sales. Recent songs like Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” features rapper Juicy J, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” features pop singer Charlie XCX, Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” features rapper 2 Chainz, Pitbull’s “Timber” features pop star Ke$ha, DJ Snake’s “Turn Down For What” features Lil Jon, Eminem’s “The Monster” features pop star Rhianna and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” features rapper Iggy Azalea, just to name a few titles. As well, the beat of Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” is remarkably similar to hip-hop duo Outkast’s 2003 hit “Hey Ya.” The cross genre commercial influence of hip-hop on pop music is evident from the lengthy list of recording artists like Beyoncé, Rhianna, Drake, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown who simultaneously appear on hip hop, pop and Hot 100 charts on a regular basis. Despite the proliferation of hip-hop on pop for the past quarter century, hip-hop has rather humble beginnings dating back to the early 1970s, at a time when neighbourhood DJs and MCs in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn provided the beats and lyrics for house and block parties to “keep the crowd pumped.”[2] Although early hip-hop was somewhat an urban folk tradition for neighbourhood entertainment, early acts unreservedly embraced the pop ethos of the 1970s by isolating the beats and rhythm tracks of the latest commercial and danceable disco and funk records while also providing their own rhymes. The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979), widely regarded as the first hip-hop hit, prominently sampled Chic’s “Good Times,” one of the most commercially successful hits of that year; a song from an album with a budget of over $150,000 from Atlantic Records.[3] Thirty-five years after “Rapper’s Delight,” hip-hop is a multibillion-dollar industry touching everything from advertising to fashion to vodka and tequila.[4] Similar humble beginnings preceding tremendous commercial success are also integral to the history of jazz music, a style which incubated in New Orleans after the turn of the twentieth century, became the city’s musical export during the 1910s and American pop phenomenon during the 1920s.

Jazz music has a complex social history, long before the style became known by its moniker; what would become jazz music in American pop culture zeitgeist of the 1920s took decades to slowly develop in the city of New Orleans and required a journey to the American music mass market. One of the most cosmopolitan and culturally complex cities in North America, nineteenth century New Orleans had a strong social affinity for music, particularly for brass band music, and the city’s diverse population of Europeans, African Americans, Caribbean people and Creoles all aided in the development of what would become jazz music. But a number of important musical, social and entertainment developments built the foundations for a new style that captured audiences’ tastes and the local music market. Working musicians of New Orleans, some of whom could not read music, blended ragtime and blues together and improvised to give band music individual personality. Segregation laws meant to separate African Americans and whites forced a musical relationship between Creole and African American musicians. However, throughout the 1910s, Jazz music consequently became a musical export of New Orleans at a time when a sizable number of southern African Americans migrated north for better opportunities, and many influential New Orleans musicians, following the audience and their dollars, brought the music with them and to a broader range of listeners. However, when the newly labelled jazz brand represented by various orchestras and Jazz Fox Trots proliferating the recording industry in the early 1920s, the finally achieved commercial success of jazz in the music market sounded much different from the origins of New Orleans jazz music and the white demographics of the musicians in the mass pop song market did not reflect the diverse nature of the new style of music.

In order for a new musical style to develop, there must be musicians to shape it and an audience to hear it and New Orleans, “perhaps the greatest cultural melting pot of its day,”[5] provided a unique, cosmopolitan social setting for what would become known as jazz music. As a trading centre of France’s Louisiana Territory, New Orleans and its access to the Mississippi River, attracted French, British, Spanish and Caribbean trading interests and the European influence has had lasting impressions on the city. Even in the twenty-first century, New Orleans retains a distinctly French personality in food, architecture and language. When Louisiana Territory transitioned to American possession in 1803, New Orleans became an important and busy American trading centre. However, the principle business of New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century was slave trading; not only was New Orleans the largest municipal centre of the American South, the city was also the largest importer and distribution centre of human beings.[6] During the Civil War, New Orleans was also the largest city of the Confederacy. Despite this business, New Orleans following the Civil War became even more diverse when Caribbean people and newly freed slaves from across the South migrated to the city for opportunities unattainable in other regions of the South. The distinct New Orleans population of Creoles, progeny of Spanish, French, Caribbean, and African American descendents, are a direct result of the diverse nature of New Orleans society. With so many different people cohabitating in the same city, New Orleans developed relatively lax social attitudes towards race; yet, during the 1890s, segregation laws which had systematically divided the American South between black and white populations following Reconstruction, also divided New Orleans and musically, between black and white musicians and audiences. It is in within this complex web of social context that fomented a passionate support and enthusiasm for music.

Entrenched in the diverse nature in the New Orleans social fabric, were also a deeply musical culture and a “joy in expressing itself through music.”[7] For much of the nineteenth century, New Orleans was home to the only permanent resident opera company in North America, a company which had a loyal local following and toured outside of the city frequently and successfully between 1827 and 1845.[8] It was a form of entertainment that became evermore multilingual when German and Italian companies opened to cater to increasing numbers of non-French speaking immigrants moving into the city throughout the 1840s and 1850s.[9] Professional white and Creole symphonies also found thriving homes in New Orleans, so much so that the capacity of their theatres frequently expanded to keep apace with audience demand.[10] But perhaps the most popular form of musical entertainment, one musically significant to the development of jazz, was the brass band.[11] A diverse range of social functions required band music, including parades, weddings, christenings and funerals.[12] The New Orleans phenomenon of the funeral parade became fashionable as early as the early 1800s, simultaneously commemorating the Napoleonic wars in Europe and celebrating the city’s French heritage.[13] The funeral parade became even more entrenched in New Orleans culture during a devastating cholera outbreak in 1832. Many funerals had three or four brass bands playing music “in the procession, because a member probably was active in eight to twelve organizations…it was more than likely his request to be buried as he lived, among a crowd and lots of music.”[14] In 1838, the New Orleans Picayune reported that the city was swept up in a “real mania in this city for horn and trumpet playing,” the article complained that one could not turn a street corner without running into a brass “blower.”[15] The brass band enthusiasm also brought business to New Orleans and the South, when music instrument companies and chambers of commerce began sponsoring regional band competitions by the late 1870s, including spectacular and legendary musical battles between numerous Confederate and Union Veteran bands, which brought tourist dollars wherever they played.[16] New Orleans brass band scene was often a form of sport, with impromptu battles breaking out between bands each one followed by their own loyal fans, “the bands would soon engage in a free-for-all in which each tried to outdo the other in timbre and sonority.”[17] The sustained popularity of brass band music consequently structured the foundations of jazz instrumentation of trumpets, cornet and trombone.

With a diverse mix of people and a vivacious music culture awash in brass bands, the collision of two distinct and seemingly disparate musical styles during the 1890s, blues and ragtime, blended together to form a new sound and song style. The blues was a social, non-commercial folk tradition, a pastoral, bucolic music derived from slave culture, work songs and African American spirituals. Early blues was not recorded, composed commercially available or taught formally, it was a working class music that expressed emotion while also passing the time. Blues music has a distinctly simple composition style of repeated 12-measure sequences, simple chord progressions, and “blue notes” that were melodically out of context from the rest of the tune, the earliest traditions of which, according to Ted Gioia had been “as much about creating sounds as it was about playing notes.”[18] The other style, Ragtime, throughout the second half of the 1890s and into the twentieth century, became a fashionable music craze and commercial phenomenon for music publishing firms of the North and the Midwest, a style represented by the flurry of rags and coon songs published around the turn of the twentieth century. In the South, however, local music publishing did not take the same route of publishing rags as quickly as possible to capitalize on a new trend. The ragtime craze that had consumed the pop ethos of urban America as late as 1912 was over in the South by 1910, note David Jasen and Gene Jones.[19] Southern published rags regularly reflect a blues influence; instead of 16 bar composition format of the North, southern rags regularly employed 12 bar pattern from blues music like Harry L Cook’s “The Shovel Fish Rag” (1907) and Charles Hunter’s “Possum and Taters” (1900).[20] In turn-of-the-century New Orleans, it was not the parlour piano that carried the ragtime tune, but rather the brass band that provided music in public. The most popular rags were translated to dance bands that “provid[ed] music for public consumption,”[21] for the purpose of dancing and general entertainment. Essential in this blending of styles was trumpeter Buddy Bolden who began to “infuse ‘blue’ notes into musical arrangements”[22] and became one of the most in demand and influential musicians of the era. The new style of syncopated and blues-influenced band music helped to build musicians’ playing style throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into what would become jazz music.

Within New Orleans, along with the enthusiasm for music, there was also no shortage of musical instruments or prospective musicians willing to learn them. During the 1870s, a plethora of used and inexpensive musical instruments leftover from the Civil War flooded the local music market, as did cheaper brass instruments produced by mass production in the similar commercial manner that pianos entered increasing numbers of American homes during the late nineteenth century. In New Orleans in particular, at a time when the new brass band style was causing a stir during the 1890s, more people were eager and able to pick up an instrument and try it for themselves. Even if there had been a glut in musical instruments and a thriving musical culture to embrace new music, not everyone purchasing instruments had access to formal instruction. Musical instruction requires time and money and while white and Creoles often afforded music education, the financial situation of many African American families put such instruction out of reach. Musician Nat Towles remembers that there was “No music, you understand, we didn’t know what a sheet of music was.”[23] Consequently, a lack of formal musical education helped to stimulate the most recognisable tradition of jazz music—improvisation. Many music-illiterate musicians learned the basic melody of a popular tune, oftentimes by ear and then added flairs, glissandi and improvised countermelodies to enhance the main melodic structure,[24] “in a way, this lack of instruction was an advantage because it allowed some Black bandsmen to incorporate their musical heritage and rhythmic vitality,” remark Hazen and Hazen.[25] Peter Townsend notes that learning to improvise well was not just about figuring out how the instrument worked but also about developing one’s own distinct sound; rather than adhering to notes, improvising was about creating sound.[26] Jelly Roll Morton, always eager to boast about his piano playing prowess, describes earning the biggest tips from audiences and prostitutes by improvising on the melodies of some of the most popular Tin Pan Alley tunes like “Bird in a Gilded Cage,” “Wearing My Heart for You” and “Mr. Johnson, Turn Me Loose.”[27] While the market for musical instruments provided many inexpensive instruments to prospective musicians, the lack of formal musical instruction of some musicians gave rise to improvisation, an important ingredient to jazz music.

The musical heritage, blending musical styles and incorporating improvised touches were bringing a new style to audiences, but it is equally important to understand where this new style of music was being played and to briefly look at the working culture of these musicians. The music business of Tin Pan Alley was focused on selling copies of sheet music and promoting titles by plugging and interpolating songs into musical theatre to bolster sales. In New Orleans, the music business was anchored chiefly in live performances of musicians who needed to work, not publishers or recording companies that needed to sell product. Wherever an audience had gathered, there were musicians to provide music including brothels that provided music in the same manner as restaurants. Many early jazz musicians had working class day jobs while playing a night schedule. Drummer Zutty Singleton reminisces, “there were so many bands in New Orleans. But most of the musicians had day jobs, you know—trades. They were bricklayers and carpenters and cigar makers and plasterers.”[28] Musicians juggling day jobs and night gigs frequently played well into the small hours of the night, sometimes until dawn. Musician Danny Barker remembers trumpeter Chris Kelly who would “play slow, lowdown gut-struts until all the dancers were exhausted and dripping wet…He’d blow a few bars before knocking off at 4:30, and his fans would rush about, seeking their loves because that dance meant close embracing, cheek-to-cheek whisperings of love, kissing and belly-rubbing.”[29] Musicians had to build individual reputations to keep paying consumers entertained and to get more paying music jobs;[30] the theme and improvised variation format became the standard method to encourage patrons to give the most tips.[31] One neighbourhood in particular, New Orleans’s red light district of Storyville, named for city alderman Sidney Story who proposed the 38-block section of legal prostitution in 1897, would provide paid employment for many musicians in “all kinds of places in The District” like whore houses, brothels, sporting houses, cribs, and clip joints, each of which had a different class of clientele and different setting for music.[32] Even though “jazz was not born in Storyville,”[33] the District became a renowned tourist attraction and its restaurants, dance halls and brothels provided music for visiting patrons and regular employment for musicians.[34] In New Orleans, “relatively humane attitudes on racial matters intertwined with a passionate love of music, entertainment and dancing”[35] it took all kinds of people playing music to develop the new style.

While socially more liberal than other areas of the South, the city of New Orleans was nevertheless divided along racial lines between black and white, which did not accommodate easily the diverse nature of the city and effected the musical culture. Although New Orleans resisted against the sorts of segregation laws passed systematically throughout the South following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, in 1890, New Orleans passed statutes that prohibited African Americans from occupying white establishments. The laws upset the social roles of New Orleans prominent and prosperous Creole population. In fact, Homer Plessy, who appealed the validity of the laws all the way to the Supreme Court, was actually a New Orleans Creole wealthy enough to purchase a first class train ticket,[36] not an African American. Many talented Creole musicians and their fans were suddenly classified as African American and segregated to black bands at a time when Creoles were “even more prejudiced to other Negroes than the attitude of white people.”[37] Creole musicians light-skinned enough to pass for white did so. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton on his travels throughout the South during the early twentieth century, because of his light-skinned Creole appearance, claimed to be either white or Cuban, depending on location.[38] Darker-skinned Creoles who were “a proud, cultivated, Catholic caste who spoke French patois…suffered a painful decline in socio-economic status” due to the segregation laws.[39] Nevertheless, Creole musicians segregated to African American establishments learned what style of music black audiences wanted to hear and added their own musical talents. The collision of Creoles and African American musicians ultimately had a great effect on the musical style blending ragtime and blues to eventually become jazz. Even though there was a racial divide in the District between black, white and Creole people, Storyville actually helped to break down the musical barriers. Phil Johnson notes that “[the District] broke down the colour line…not between black and white, but between the Negro sub ethnic groups: between the downtown, light skinned Creole Negroes, and the uptown, dark-skinned Africans.”[40] Joachim Berendt observes between Creole and African-American musicians “there were two very different groups of New Orleans musicians, and the difference found expression in music.”[41] The social upheaval expanded band instrumentation, while brass instruments were staples for African American musicians, in Creole music circles, the clarinet was the principle instrument. A plethora of early Jazz musicians reflect this heritage and instrumentation like Joe “King” Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Alphonse Picou, and Sidney Bechet, all of whom played clarinet.[42] Despite the diverse nature of New Orleans and the music scene, the city was legally divided between people and segregation forced two unlikely groups of musicians to work together to develop and advance the new sounds.

During the 1910s, the new style was on the move northwards as were hundreds of thousands of African Americans. The new style of music had been travelling across the country well before the later 1910s, in fact, the earliest print record of the word jazz did not appear in New Orleans, but rather in San Francisco in 1913.[43] The Creole Band, led by Freddie Keppard, travelled the national vaudeville circuit in 1911. As the decade progressed, Chicago became a second city of jazz music when increasing numbers of New Orleans musicians relocated there, including “King” Oliver, Bill Johnson’s Original Creole Band, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.[44] In 1915, the first white jazz band, Brown’s Band from Dixieland, was ready for export north to Chicago,[45] their popularity was so immediately intense that other club owners in Chicago started actively seeking out other New Orleans musicians in the mid-1910s.[46] The Original Dixieland Band moved in 1915, Alcide “Yellow” Nunez also relocated to Chicago that year and Sidney Bechet followed one year later. Within this timeframe, throughout the 1910s, a mass migration of hundreds of thousands of African Americans had been taking place, travelling from the South to the urban centres of the North. Ted Gioia notes that the prevalent economic trend of sharecropping had been systematically dropped from region to region leaving African Americans reliant on the farming practice without economic opportunity; migrating north seemed to be the best option for many.[47] 65,000 African American relocated to Chicago, and the African American populations of Buffalo, Toledo, and Akron more than doubled,[48] it was a mass migration where in all, over one million people relocated North.[49] The new migrants “brought their music with them—blues and its refined, citified cousin, jazz,”[50] as musicians “driven primarily by the flows of people and money”[51] followed the crowds when Storyville was driven out of business in 1917. The life of New Orleans’s Storyville district, the hot bed of early Jazz music, had been cut short by the federal government after four sailors had been murdered and the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issued an order prohibiting prostitution within five miles of the naval base. The main business of the red light district halted[52] and the once profitable tourist attraction, in which brothels like Mahogany Hall became so famous that they offered their patrons souvenir booklets for sale in gift shops,[53] became quiet. Louis Armstrong points out that when Storyville closed jobs became scarce, “poor people working people who made their living in Storyville such as cooks—waiters—maids—musicians—butlers—dishwashers” were suddenly unemployed.[54] The influence of jazz musicians in the North was palpable. The new musical sounds of live performances attracted everyone “from James Reese Europe to the poorest migrant, [who] took note of the new sound.”[55] By 1919, Jazz had become an international phenomenon, so intensely popular in France that newspapers claimed that the music was a French invention of so-called “cat orchestras” of the eighteenth century that “sound as the jazz band and was fully as musical and entertaining.”[56] By 1919, the new sounds of jazz from musicians looking for income and work had travelled out of New Orleans and into northern neighbourhood restaurants and clubs, delighting audiences of urban centres.

By the time the Jazz era took over the pop song market, the United States was in the middle of some of the most divisive urban racial tensions in history. The national popularity of the film The Birth of a Nation[57] from 1915, adapted from the Thomas Dixon novel The Clansman, had “unleashed racial violence” in its story of the “heroic and honourable Ku Klux Klan.”[58] Returning African-American soldiers from the First World War numbering around 200,000 were faced with segregation in the South and outright racism in the North. The migrating African American families relocating north faced racial tensions regarding housing and labour in traditionally white neighbourhoods then seeing an influx of new black residents looking for jobs. Street battles escalated to full-blown race riots culminating in the summer of 1919.[59] On 27 July 1919, in the city of Chicago, the second city of the jazz scene, a race riot broke out and lasted for a week, in which 23 African Americans were killed and over 500 people were injured in the melee.[60] Record companies eager to capitalise on jazz during these times took a narrow perspective on the new style of music, the sorts of products available to music consumers were not of the sort of the distinct style born in New Orleans, instead, it was a new form of novelty music popularized by white musicians. When presenting the proposition of recording African American musicians to encourage “fourteen million Negroes”[61] to purchase recordings, executives at Victor and Columbia refused;[62] black styles of blues singing in the late 1910s and early 1920s ultimately would be provided by the likes of white singers like Marion Harris and Sophie Tucker. Early recordings describe a style focusing on novelty and fun. The 1916 skit and song by Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan, “That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland,” focus on the musical style using musical sound effects, blacked-up comical dialogue and brisk laughter.[63] The Original Dixieland Jazz Band also propagated the new funny music in songs like “Livery Stable Blues,” in which the musicians use their wind instruments to mimic barnyard animals like cows and horses.[64] Zez Confrey’s “Fox Trot Oddity,” “Stumbling,” (1922) was a humorous tune about “stumbling all around so funny.”[65] Vaudevillians also took part in the new novelty music like Ted Lewis and Eddie Cantor, who suddenly became bandleaders, always looking for new material to add to their stage performances. New and popular multi-piece orchestras recording million-selling Jazz Fox Trots, Jazz One-steps and “Shimmies” created a new form of American orchestral music, one that was tightly orchestrated and lacked the “social balance and interconnectedness” of collective improvisation that jazz music matured in New Orleans.[66] Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra’s “Whispering” (1920) a light, breezy and densely orchestrated tune sold one and a half million discs,[67] their waltz “Three O’clock in the Morning” (1922) with its lilting string section that sounding like European-style classical music, sold three million.[68] Paul Whiteman, the rotund white son of a music teach from Denver, claimed himself as “the King of Jazz” and became the most popular musical figure of the 1920s. Even though Whiteman’s music was not necessarily representative of the rich social history of jazz, musician Joe Venuti suggests that we not judge Whiteman so harshly, “don’t even make fun of Paul Whiteman. He did great things for American music. He took pride in having the finest musicians in the world as sidemen, and he paid the highest salaries ever paid.”[69] At the beginning of commercial music’s foray into jazz, it did not necessarily represent the roots that had given Jazz music its diverse origins.

Jazz route to the commercial pop song market, a genre which lends the sounds and backing tracks of most of the commercial songs for over twenty years, had tremendously humble and yet culturally significant roots in the city of New Orleans. A diverse city in which a musical culture not only developed, but also thrived, New Orleans provided the social scene of both musician and audience. With an influx of used and mass produced instruments, many would-be musicians, with or without formal training in music, experimented with the new sounds brought about through the popularity of live performance, and improvised by blending ragtime and blues influences. But, the music scene in New Orleans during the first two decades of the twentieth century was difficult with many musicians devoting any or all of their spare time to the craft of musicianship. However, in the later half of the 1910s, the musicians pioneering what would eventually be called jazz music, left the city, along with nearly one million African Americans across the South, for opportunity in the North. But in the racial context of the late 1910s, what most people would know of jazz music as recorded by the largely white orchestras was a more orchestrated and less improvisational style taking over the mass market in the early 1920s. However, African American would have their own successes later in the 1920s when record companies found that African American singers and musicians like Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith had the potential for selling recordings and consequently bringing in revenue, so much so that individual record companies emerged to promote African American music.


Berendt, Joachim E. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond. H. and B. Bredigkeit, translators. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co. 1982.

Bronson, Fred. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard Publications. 1998.

Borthers, Thomas. Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2014.

Carter, William. Preservation Hall: Music from the Heart. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1991.

Charnas, Dan. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. New York: New American Library. 2010.

“Charts – Year End 2014, Hot 100.” Found on billboard.com. http://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2014/hot-100-songs.

Ewen, David. Panorama of American Popular Music. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1957.

Gioia, Ted. Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2008).

Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. “Diddy Explains New Diageo Joint Venture, DeLeón Tequila.” Forbes Online, 8 January 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/01/08/diddy-explains-new-diageo-joint-venture-deleon-tequila/

Hazen, Margaret Hindle and Robert M. Hazen. The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 1987.

Hine, Darlene Clark, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold. African American: A Concise History. 4th Ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc. 2012.

Hischak, Thomas. The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopaedia. Greenwood, CT: The Greenwood Press. 2002.

Jackson, Jeffrey H. Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2003.

Jasen, David A and Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York: Schirmer Books. 2000.

Johnson, Phil. “Good Time Town.” Contained in The Past as Prelude: New Orleans, 1718-1968. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University. 1968. 233-257.

Kmen, Henry Arnold. “The Music of New Orleans.” Contained in The Past as Prelude: New Orleans, 1718-1968. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University. 1968. 210-232.

Koster, Rick. Louisiana Music: A Journey from R&B to Zydeco, Jazz to Country, Blues to Gospel, Cajun Music to Swamp Pop to Carnival Music and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. 2000.

Morgan, Thomas L and William Barlow. From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930. Washington, DC: Elliott & Clark Publishing. 1992.

Pastras, Phil. Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 2001.

Peretti, Burton W. Jazz in American Culture. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee. 1997.

Pope, John. “Slave Trading in New Orleans was a Thriving Business. 13 April 2010. NOLA.com. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/04/slave_trade_in_new_orleans.html

Price III, Emmett G. Hip Hop Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2006.

“Robs Us of Jazz Credit.” New York Times. 11 June 1919. p.17.

Shapiro, Nat and Nat Hentoff, ed. Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told By the Men Who Made It. New York: Dover Publications. 1966.

Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. 8th edition. 2010.

Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1979.

Townsend, Peter. Jazz in American Culture. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2000.

Songs Cited

Confrey, Zez. Stumbling. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1922.


Collins, Arthur and Byron Harlan (performers). That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland. Victor Record. 1916.

Original Dixieland Jazz Band. “Livery Stable Blues.” Mp3 file.

[1] For a listing of the biggest hits of 2014, see “Charts – Year End 2014, Hot 100” on billboard.com, http://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2014/hot-100-songs, accessed 12 December 2014.

[2] Emmett G. Price III, Hip Hop Culture, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006), 24.

[3] Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, (New York: Billboard Publishers, 1988), 508.

[4] Zack O’Malley Greenburg, “Diddy Explains New Diageo Joint Venture, DeLeón Tequila,” Forbes Online, 8 January 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/01/08/diddy-explains-new-diageo-joint-venture-deleon-tequila/

[5] Ted Gioia, Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2008), 10.

[6] John Pope, “Slave Trading in New Orleans was a Thriving Business,” NOLA.com, 13 April 2010, accessed 17 December 2014, http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/04/slave_trade_in_new_orleans.html

[7] Henry Arnold Kmen, “The Music of New Orleans,” contained in The Past as Prelude: New Orleans 1718-1968 (New Orleans, LA: Tulane University Press, 1968), 232.

[8] Ibid, 210.

[9] William Carter, Preservation Hall: Music from the Heart (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1991), 35.

[10] Ibid, 35.

[11] Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen, The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920, (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987), 135.

[12] Rick Koster, Louisiana Music: A Journey from R&B to Zydeco, Jazz to Country, Blues to Gospel, Cajun Music to Swamp Pop to Carnival Music and Beyond, (Cambridge, MA: DaCapo Press, 2002), 6.

[13] Kmen, 227.

[14] Danny Barker, qtd in Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff, Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told By the Men Whio Made It: (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), 16.

[15] Hazen and Hazen, 8.

[16] Ibid, 66.

[17] David Ewen, Panorama of American Popular Music, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1957), 149.

[18] Gioia, 178.

[19] David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast, (New York: Schirmer Books, 2000), 161.

[20] Ibid, 160.

[21] Ibid, 162.

[22] Koster, 8.

[23] Nat Towles, qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 16.

[24] Hazen and Hazen, 127.

[25] Ibid, 54.

[26] Peter Townsend, Jazz in American Culture, (Jackson, MS: The University of Mississippi Press, 2000), 8.

[27] Jelly Roll Morton qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 29.

[28] Zutty Singleton, qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 17.

[29] Danny Barker, qtd in Shapiro Nat Hentoff, 50.

[30] Townsend, 38.

[31] Jasen and Jones, 161.

[32] Danny Barker, qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 10.

[33] Phil Johnson, “Good Time Town,” contained in The Past as Prelude: New Orleans 1718-1968 (New Orleans, LA: Tulane University Press, 1968), 250.

[34] Ibid, 241.

[35] Carter, 33.

[36] Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold, African Americans: A Concise History, 4th ed, (New York: Pearson Education, 2012), 316.

[37] Johnny St. Cyr qtd in Joachim E. Berendt, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond, (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1982), 9.

[38] Phil Pastras, Dead Man Blues: Jelly Roll Morton Way Out West, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 10.

[39] Carter, 51.

[40] Johnson, “Good Time Town,” contained in The Past as Prelude, 250.

[41] Berendt, 9.

[42] Ewen, 148.

[43] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1977), 51.

[44] Ewen, 151.

[45] Johnson, 252.

[46] Ewen, 150.

[47] Gioia, 208.

[48] “Black Population growth in selected northern Cities, 1910-1920,” contained in Hine, Hine and Harrold, 389.

[49] George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, America: A Narrative History, 8th ed, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 1036-1037.

[50] Dan Charnas, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, (New York: New American Library, 2010), 4.

[51] Gioia, 208.

[52] Johnson, 249.

[53] Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff, Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by The Men Who Made It, (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), 8.

[54] Louis Armstrong qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 64.

[55] Burton W. Peretti, Jazz in American Culture, (Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 1997), 27.

[56] “Robs Us of Jazz Credit,” New York Times, 11 June 1919, 17.

[57] For a viewing of the film The Birth of a Nation see The Birth of a Nation, posted by Fortune Cookie, posted 1 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=302YMeiDSrI.

[58] Hine, Hine and Harrold, 403.

[59] Peretti, 26.

[60] Hine, Hine and Harrold, 386.

[61] Perry Bradford qtd in Thomas L. Morgan and William Barlow, From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930, (Washington, DC: Elliott & Clark Publishing, 1992), 96.

[62] Morgan and Barlow, 96.

[63] Byron Harlan and Arthur Collins, “The Funny Jas Band from Dixieland,” Victor records, 18984-B, 78RPM disc.

[64] Original Dixieland Jazz Band, “Livery Stable Blues,” mp3 file.

[65] Zez Confrey, Stumbling, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1922).

[66] Thomas Borthers, Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), 134.

[67] Thomas Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Greenwood, CT: The Greenwood Press, 2002), 402.

[68] Ibid, 370.

[69] Joe Venuti, qtd in Shapiro and Hentoff, 277.

Series Preview: The Jazz Era

Between 1920 and the mid 1950s, the orchestrated sounds of Jazz would take over the American commercial song market. Whether the light and breezy sounds of jazz bands during the 1920s and 1930s or the lush sounds of backing orchestras of the crooner years in the 1940s and early 1950s, this was an era marked by a certain style in both music and the celebrity achieved by success of recording artists in the music industry. This essay will explore the topics of the forthcoming Pop Song History essay series on the Jazz Era, including the various ways in which American social history, music trends, music technology and music industry collide to produce commercial success of titles, fads and trends of songs. Below are the sorts of subjects which will this blog will explore in detail in the forth coming series about the Jazz Era of Pop Song History.

Throughout the Jazz Era, American cultural and social history seems inextricably linked to each decade and this series will explore the changes in American society in association with the kind of songs Americans were listening to and purchasing. The 1920s would be the embodiment of the Roaring Twenties Jazz Age, flapper girls, Jazz babies and the mindset of American rebellion against the laws of Prohibition. It would also be a politically conservative time following Progressive Era reforms including seemingly endless speculation into investments and the stock market and by a Red Scare that had been “simmering just beneath the skin of American tolerance” during the early 1920s.[1] By the early 1930s, the economic and social lives of most Americans were turned upside down imparted by a catastrophic financial collapse of the Great Depression, continued economic stagnation and a decade of government attempts to rebuild the American economy from the ashes of financial tumult. Those in the Great Plains would face environmental difficulties on agricultural life in the Plains due to an oppressive drought and the resulting Dust Bowl years. The 1940s would see the United States engaged in another World War just over twenty years after concluding the First World War. Fears of Communism would be characteristic of this time with an Iron Curtain of Soviet sphere of influence sweeping over Eastern Europe and the American paranoia of a nuclear stalemate of the Cold War with the Soviet Union; both sides stockpiling nuclear weapons and engaging in espionage. During the 1950s, financial security for many American brought an era and prosperity on a mass scale[2] and helped to create the sort of consumerism characteristic of the modern American economy. The new mass culture of America in the 1950s would also produce angst among many children of the Jazz Era who would eventually embrace a new style of Rock and Roll music. All throughout these decades, jazz music and style would reign supreme on the music market.

The Jazz Era, from beginning to end, would be characterised by style, not just musically, but also in the fashions, art, and architecture of these decades. During the 1920s and 1930s, for example, a new simpler Art Deco style became popular in art, jewellery, graphic design, fashion and architecture, the aesthetics of which are more dictated by compositional design characteristic of straight lines rather than the flourishes and embellishments of the Art Nouveau period popular during the Ragtime Era. It was an era in which Jazz bands and their leaders took the stage wearing smart-looking tuxedos and suits and female singers donned au current fashions. Beginning with a trend in so-called “oriental numbers” describing the far-off lands that had perfectly suited the minor keys of early jazz; Jazz music would evolve into a carefully arranged and harmonised style of swing by 1935.[3] By the end of the Jazz Era, Jazz music would transform from pop music phenomenon to the status of de facto American classical music and composers ranging from Duke Ellington to Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis to Charlie Parker are still renown for their compositions that transcend the relatively simple format of song. But not all music from the Jazz Era was explicitly jazzy. Traditional song styles of rural America like blues, country and folk music would get the commercial treatment and then transform to cultivated commercial pop song success. In the 1940s, there would be official charts measuring the nationwide popularity of songs; with R&B and Country charts documenting their respective commercial popularity by the end of the 1940s. While Jazz genre and styles associated with it are featured in the very name of the era, not everything released during this periods was about jazz.

Old methods of music production and recording pioneered during the Ragtime Era would fall by the wayside throughout the Jazz Era as new technology developed for recording and delivering music to consumers and audiences. The old business model of Tin Pan Alley song plugging from the stage would fall out of favour by the 1930s, when the theatre business slumped during the Great Depression and particularly when radio broadcasting music and variety programmes flourished.[4] Movies musicals coming from the studios of Los Angeles found a mass audience nearly as soon as movies featured sound in the late 1920s and songs found popularity after their inclusion in movies. During this time, music business celebrity would transfer from songwriter to popular recording star or band leaders. Arranged orchestras and their bandleaders would remain popular up until the mid 1940s, thereafter, a music industry awash in popular crooners took over the music market throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. New record labels like Okeh, Capitol, Brunswick and Decca would come onto the market and challenge older established names like Victor and Columbia, some of these new labels releasing niche specialty music that would eventually find pop success. Record companies faced the changing realities of music broadcasting when radio and eventually television brought new music directly in the homes of Americans for free. But perhaps the greatest transformation of music industry during this era was the transformation from acoustic recording and playback to electronics. It was a time period in which new inventions like speakers, radio, microphones created a much higher fidelity music product than the acoustic methods of the phonograph.[5] Throughout the Jazz Era, technological advancement continued to bring new products and recording techniques to the music market, but this advancement also brought changes in the music market when broadcasting began to delivery music directly into the home of potential music consumers.

Just as interesting as it is to investigate the trends and changes in the music industry during the Jazz Era, it is also interesting to note who is recording the music and providing the product to consumers. Throughout the era, the home piano would become something of a relic and Americans would continue to opt for purchasing pre-recorded music rather than producing it themselves at home with sheet music. Obviously, the most associated musicians of the time were band leaders and the various orchestras of the jazz and swing periods. Also prominent throughout this period in relation to jazz proper was the “age of the Soloist” [6] in which talented instrumentalists and scat vocalists showed their skills by improvising on melodies, a staple of the early New Orleans Jazz scene going as far back as the 1890s. Also during this time, the feature, a common method of song construction in the twenty-first century Club Banger Era, in which rappers are featured on pop tunes and pop singers on hip-hop tracks, would debut in the jazz era through the employment of a crooner, like Gene Austin or Bing Crosby, who would provide the accompanying vocals of jazz band orchestras. Perhaps even more telling about this time period in America commercial history is the increasingly important role of the African American musician and composer, with various race records featuring the voices of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters and the jazz performances of Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton gaining mass commercial popularity. The new development of sound and music accompanying movies would produce movie stars like Fred Astaire and Judy Garland owning their place in pop song history with tremendously successful songs. Individuals recording the music would achieve their own level of celebrity and by the late 1940s, crooners would be national stars and media staples of radio, film and television.

How people get music will also be explored throughout this series on the Jazz Era. With the wax cylinder in a precipitous decline throughout the 1910s, the disc record, and particular the 78rpm disc, would remain the dominant format throughout three decades. Discs would remain the favoured method for hard-copy music and in the late 1940s, a format battle would take place between companies developing the 45rpm single and those producing the long play record, a format which would bring the album prominence that dominated the music industry of the subsequent Rock and Roll Era. How music fits in with social spaces is also a theme which this series will explore. Films, talkies and movie musicals would proliferate the 1930s and 1940s and songs would pop from this new technological development. With the rise of the 45 single, the Jukebox would come into social spaces in much the same way that the phonograph did in the early 1890s, but the Jukebox would allow the consumer to choose the title with the jukebox’s large capacity to hold records.[7] But hard copy music was not the only methods by which music consumers had access to music and broadcasting would come of age during the Jazz Era, music plugging would be achieved through radio and television broadcasts. Beginning with radio in the 1920s, which allowed people access to news, radio variety shows and music delivered directly to the home of audiences for free, and the new era of broadcasting would challenge the status quo of music licensing law once again. Eventually in the 1950s, popular nationally broadcast television programmes like the Lawrence Welk Show also brought music into people’s home, and thanks to sponsorship and advertising, this would also be for free. Throughout the Jazz Era, how consumers had access to music also shows the changes in the music industry and such topics will be explored as well during this series of Pop Song History.

Indeed, this period in pop song history had some of the most spectacular changes in the social, technological, business and song trends of any period in American history. As well, some of the most beloved songs, which have become standards in the American song catalogue were released and recorded during the Jazz Era. The list of songs recorded and written between 1920 and 1954, the so-called “golden age of American song,”[8] that have become well-loved standards is lengthy and includes some influential titles like Swanee, Song of India, Down Hearted Blues, California Here I Come, Tea for Two, Sweet Georgia Brown, My Blue Heaven, Cheek to Cheek, Paper Doll, Over the Rainbow, Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Pennies from Heaven, A Fine Romance, A-Tisket A-Tasket, In the Mood, A String of Pearls, Begin the Beguine, Don’t Fence Me In, Beer Barrel Polka, Tuxedo Junction, and a score of other popular song titles, including the most popular and most commercially successful song in American history, White Christmas. The Pop Song History blog will explore this golden period of commercial song history and provide a number of interesting essays about the Jazz Era in the months to come. Stay tuned…


Bindas, Kenneth J. Swing, That Modern Sound. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press.   2001.

Burg, Daniel F. The Great Depression: An Eyewitness History. New York: Facts on File. 1996.

Carlton, Don E. Red Scare: Right Wing Hysteria, Fifties Fanaticism and Their Legacy in Texas. Austin, TX: Texas Monthly Press. 1985.

Furia, Philip. The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.

Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011.

Taintor, Callie. “Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry.” PBS.org. Accessed 10 November 2014. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/music/inside/cron.html.

Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History, 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2010.

[1] Don E. Carlton, Red Scare: Right Wing Hysteria, Fifties Fanaticism and Their Legacy in Texas, (Austin, TX: Texas Monthly Press, 1985), 135.

[2] George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, America: A Narrative History, 8th ed, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 1244.

[3] Kenneth J Bindas, Swing, that Modern Sounds, (Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2001), 3.

[4] Daniel F. Burg, The Great Depression: An Eyewitness History, (New York: Facts on File, 1996), 74-75.

[5] Callie Taintor, “Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry,” PBS.org, Frontline, accessed 10 November 2014, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/music/inside/cron.html.

[6] Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 53.

[7] Taintor, “Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry.”

[8] Philip Furia, Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 117.

Time Changes: From Ragtime to Jazz

Between 1900 and 1917, the music business had transformed from reliance on plugging a song by singing it “as loudly as possible in the city’s lowest dives,”[1] to create and commercialize popular songs on a national scale. The old days of the Ragtime Era reflected a music business culture that was still in its infancy. But by 1917, Tin Pan Alley songwriters and publishing houses had become multimillion dollar industries with titles regularly selling over a million copies of sheet music. The new world of Tin Pan Alley was an efficient factory that produced hit songs, but, judging from the songs that had been published between 1916 and 1918, this factory consistently produced a stylistically homogenous product. Underneath the war production fervour that had taken over the music business, sentimental ballads, oftentimes the sorts of waltzes that had been pop gold in the 1890s before the Ragtime craze hit the music market, became hits once again in the mid-1910s, this trend also included Dixie ballads featuring lullabies, mother ballads and wistful characters eager to go back to the south, rather than the caricatures that had been prominent during the days of Ragtime. While the pop music market had stagnated in topic, a new kind of music, Jazz, a style that had been popular throughout New Orleans as early as 1890, would make its mass-market debut. Consequently, the new genre gained favour with the Tin Pan Alley song machine; Jazz became the latest and freshest musical product on the scene for music consumers, officially marking the end to what was left of the Ragtime Era. Capping off these ongoing musical changes came a Prohibition law that outlawed alcohol, a news event that would eventually become synonymous with the pop culture of the Jazz Era and the 1920s.

Understanding the business environment of music industry adds a greater depth of knowledge about how commercial pop music is created and popularized throughout the decades. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during the Ragtime Era, most songs to become sheet music hits were created in the offices of Tin Pan Alley, a one block strip of West 28th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue in Manhattan’s notorious Tenderloin district. Nicknamed “Satan’s Circus,” the Tenderloin was a “shabby city enclave” of “Tammany police-protected vice”[2] that included gambling halls, saloons, bare-knuckled boxing matches, and more than 100 whorehouses.[3] Tin Pan Alley and the businesses of the surrounding neighbourhood supported each other in a somewhat symbiotic relationship. With Tin Pan Alley inundated with an endless stream of musicians and performers in search of new material for their acts during the 1890s, many of the saloons, pool halls, gambling houses, restaurants and local vaudeville theatres profited from the increased traffic. Music firms awash in new money and wary of the tumultuous banking system of the 1890s often used Tenderloin gambling houses as local banks. Publisher Edward Banks, partner in the Joe Stern Music Company, deposited large sums of cash at Shang Draper’s Gambling House on a regular basis, leaving as much as $800,000 in the first floor safe.[4] Plugging in the theatres of the Tenderloin and Bowery was the main form of advertising during these years and it required skilled knowledge of the area’s nightspots and a gruelling weekly schedule of promotion in up to sixty venues per week.[5] In one evening, Edward Marks visited five theatres to promote a single song, plying singers, musicians and theatre staff with rounds of beer for the hopes that a popular stage star would choose to introduce his title to the audience. The song’s chorus, the main component that insured a song’s success, had been reinforced in the ears and minds of theatregoers with the aid of a paid whistler and note cards distributed to each table in each establishment including the lyrics of the song’s refrain . All of this plugging took place while trying to avoid the myriad of other composers and publishers using these same tactics in the same theatres night after night. If successful, the network of plugs would produce sales by word of mouth or interpolation into another stage act; if unsuccessful, composers simply moved on to the next title to promote. Although initially crude, the music business by 1917, after the end of the Ragtime Era, the business environment for music publishing had become an industry.

By the end of the Ragtime Era, the pop song business and the geography of its old neighbourhood had changed significantly. The old notions of Vaudeville touring and Ragtime were quaint in the multi-million dollar music and theatre industries of the late 1910s. City officials eager to clean up the area’s reputation[6] targeted the characteristically raucous pop culture incubator that was the Tenderloin district and many property development projects approved throughout the 1900s and 1910s eventually swallowed entire city blocks of the neighbourhood. In 1910, the grandiose Penn Station occupied two whole blocks of the old Tenderloin; in 1914, the US Post Office Building took another block, as did retailers like Rogers-Peet Department Store[7] and the city’s largest hotel of the time, the Hotel Pennsylvania opening in 1919.[8] As the vaudeville circuit waned in the Tenderloin and the Bowery, audiences were attracted to musicals and spectacular revues debuting on Broadway further to the north of the neighbourhood. The music industry expanded beyond Tin Pan Alley, including recording studios and Broadway offices. The publishing industry matured into “a well-organized, efficient factory, capable of producing songs on every conceivable subject on an assembly belt.”[9] Nearly three decades of operation brought up a crop of composers raised and trained in the music business, well-versed in all the composition and lyrical formulas and promotional techniques. New schemes of profiting were on the rise like tune filtching, lifting a classical composer’s tunes for one’s advantage, the most famous instance being Harry Carroll’s “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” from 1917, a million-selling tune whose melody had been directly lifted from Frédéric Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor.[10] During the war and the topical profusion of war songs, “Alleyites blushed to speak of less than seven figures,” remembers music publisher Edward B. Marks.[11] Composers had become national celebrities. Irving Berlin, by 1919, relishing in the profits of nearly $200,000 from his own publishing firm,[12] was his own brand and industry; stores featured special sections in music departments showcasing his most popular tunes. Music licensing and distribution of royalties had been brought to the Supreme Court in 1917 and ASCAP, a group formed to insure performance and recording royalties would eventually pay over $200,000 in royalties by 1923.[13] By 1917, the business environment, in both geographic and financial terms, had changed considerably in Tin Pan Alley and the Tenderloin that had fostered the growth of the music business.

With the music business intensely focused on mass production, including war songs, sentimentality became a unifying theme on the pop song market and in some of the most popular songs during the years between Ragtime and Jazz Eras. While 1917 and 1918 would see a music industry in the throes of production of war songs, beneath this topical current of pop culture and music, songs not about the war turned sentimental in nature compared to the happy escapism of Ragtime syncopated rags that had gone out of fashion as early as 1912, according to Gilbert Chase.[14] With a wave of war songs gracing the talking machines and piano rolls of Americans, the sentimental ballad and particularly the waltz, a form that had been Tin Pan Alley’s signature composition during the 1890s, became popular once again with prominent themes of nostalgia and sadness offered for audiences and music consumers. Two of the most successful and biggest-selling titles of these years, Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy’s “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and Jaan Kenbrovin and William Kellette’s “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” feature characters who are dreamily pessimistic about the relative trajectories of their lives:

At the end of the rainbow there’s happiness

And to find it how often I’ve tried,

But life is a race just a wild goose chase,

And my dreams have all been denied.

Why have I always been a failure?[15]

“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” mirrors this sentimentality: “I’m forever blowing bubbles, Pretty bubbles in the air/They fly so high nearly reach the sky/Then like my dreams they fade and die.”[16] Nostalgia for a long-ended relationship is featured in the Pete Wendling song “Oh! What a Pal Was Mary,” a song that relays feelings of melancholy with a character who woefully remembers a long-lost childhood friend.[17] The short verses of Neil Moret and Sindey Carter’s torch song “Yearning” feature turn-of-the century bucolic, romantic imagery and lachrymose tones about pining for another lover, “There’s a sadness in the tone Of the woodbird’s song/All the gladness, dear, has flown While for you I long/In the lonely garden, too, Roses droop and die.”[18] The Heath, Lange, and Solman song “In the Sweet Long Ago” is particularly nostalgic for the “old-fashioned ways” and a character pines, “Can’t you bring back the old-fashioned melodies, mother and daddy used to know.”[19] With most of the songs coming out of Tin Pan Alley during this time between Ragtime and Jazz were about the war, topics had been homogenous among the factories of publishing firms and a well-known product, the sentimental ballad, made a notable and profitable return to the pop song mass market.

The propagation of sentimental ballads during the years of the First World War would not, however, impede the American taste for songs about the South, or more precisely Dixie, a notable trend lacing together many of the best known Coon songs of the Ragtime Era. However, such Dixie songs published between 1916 and 1918 continued the sentimental nature of the Tin Pan Alley production machine; the happy escapism of earlier syncopated Dixie songs had been replaced by wistful Dixie lullabies, mother ballads, and, of course, waltzes. Such Dixie songs would not be about the caricatures of the south, but rather nostalgic visions of returning back home and particularly, one’s mother. “The Missouri Waltz (Hush-a-Bye Ma Baby)” would become a million-seller after lullaby lyrics about an adult being comforted to sleep by mother were added in 1916 by J.R. Shannon: “Hush-a-bye ma baby, go to sleep on Mammy’s knee/Journey back to Dixieland in dreams again with me,”[20] read the lyrics. Another sentimental Dixie song and Al Jolson stage vehicle, Jean Schwartz, Sam Lewis and Joe Young’s “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” also copies this trend with similar lyrics, about going back home to Dixie and being lulled to sleep through song.[21] “I’m All Bound Round for the Mason-Dixon Line” tells the story of a lad going back home to see his mother while remembering his childhood in lyrics like “When I was younger I knew ever lane/Now I hunger to be once again Back where the robin keeps throbbin’ pretty melodies.”[22] Another song brought to the stage and popularized by Al Jolson, “Ain’t You Coming Back to Dixieland?” features a boy reading a letter from his “Mammy down in sunny Tennessee,” who asks when he is coming back home to the south.[23] The topic about the South, such a prominent feature of the earlier Ragtime Era, had also experienced the factory treatment of Tin Pan Alley and consequently, such Dixie songs published between 1916 and 1918 would follow the return of sentimental ballads and waltzes to the music market during this time, and the trend was so strong that even lullabies were becoming part of the pop culture character of these years.

Despite the schmaltz and war production taking over Tin Pan Alley throughout 1917 and 1918, the music-purchasing public were slowly turning their collective attention to a new music called Jazz. In 1917, the first Jazz recording became a million-seller; “Tiger Rag” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band would start a style transformation in the music industry that would become the Jazz Era characteristic of the 1920s. Characterized as “a steady beat overlaid with the three lines of lead instruments,”[24] “Tiger Rag” and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, fresh off a tremendous amount of buzz from their 1916 performances at Reisenweber’s Restaurant in New York after relocating from Chicago, became the freshest thing on the music market during 1917. Recording for Victor, after managers at Columbia shelved the original recordings,[25] the song vaulted the Original Dixieland Jazz Band to the status of celebrity. It is important to note, however, that while “Tiger Rag” was their original recording, it was not necessarily their original composition. With the history of Jazz in New Orleans less rigid than that of Tin Pan Alley publishing, the ability to compose or read music was not a prerequisite talented early jazz musicians to produce music; consequently, borrowing or improvising on themes and melodies between musicians was common; such was the case for “Tiger Rag.” There has been some dispute about the precise origins of “Tiger Rag;” Bunk Johnson notes that King Buddy Bolden used the first eight bars of the song to introduce quadrilles on Storyville dance floors in 1894, “Had Bolden knew music,” reflects Johnson, “probably Bolden would have made ‘Tiger Rag.’”[26] While David Ewen credits Jelly Roll Morton with creating “Tiger Rag” in the 1900s, experts have proven that “Tiger Rag” is most likely attributed to The Jack Carey Band and the song had various monikers like “Jack Carey” used by black musicians and “Nigger #2” by white performers.[27] “Tiger Rag” was not the only such jazz standard to make the pop charts, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band regularly brought other standards from the New Orleans Jazz scene into pop market in the late 1910s like “At the Jazz Band Ball” and “The Original Dixieland One-Step,” a song plagiarized from Joe Jordan’s “Teasin’ Rag.”[28]   Their celebrity not just woke up a profitable yet stylistically stagnated song market, it also changed the playlists of traditional jazz musicians working the Jazz circuit. Musician Jack Weber remembers that jazz bands on riverboats could no longer play well-established jazz melodies since The Original Jazz Band popularized them on record for mass audiences.[29] With a song market awash in sentimentality, a new sound pioneered by “Tiger Rag,” would simultaneously trigger a change in the music market of pop song during the late 1910s.

The sudden arrival Jazz in the music market brought an eagerness by Tin Pan Alley publishers to profit from the new vocabulary and included it in various ways on the covers and in the lyrics of sheet music. The trend became so noticeable that The Literary Digest in 1917 noted that “a strange word has gained widespread use…it is ‘jazz,” used mainly as an adjective descriptive of a band.”[30] An early pop use of the Jazz name actually came in 1916, when stage star Sophie Tucker, always looking for fresh material and variety for her stage shows, introduced a back-up Jazz band, the Kings of Syncopation, and heralded herself as the “Queen of Jazz.”[31] Terry Teachout notes that before “Tiger Rag” came onto record Jazz had never been out of New Orleans or Chicago[32] and so a new music market had opened up for the new and unfamiliar music that would have stood out in a music scene awash in war songs and sentimental ballads. Some tunes popular in the 1890s and early 1900s had been invigorated to fit into the new genre like Arthur Pryor’s 1899 hit “A Coon Band Contest,” a song that had been modernized in 1918 as a “Jazz Foxtrot.” [33] But Tin Pan Alley composers and lyricists would take a much more matter-of-fact approach, by literally introducing audiences to Jazz in the lyrics of songs. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 included “I Want to Learn How to ‘Jazz’ Dance,” a number plainly introducing audiences to the Jazz brand by describing a girl who wants to try new dances associated with the genre.[34] Of course, tunesmith Irving Berlin, keen on using any kind of new trend to his advantage to create a commercial hit, published “Mr. Jazz Himself,” plainly introducing audiences to the new music by characterising the genre as someone to meet,

Shake hands with Mister Jazz himself!

He knows a strange sort of change in a minor key,

I don’t know how he does it But when he starts to play the blues

He’s like the messenger of happy news;[35]

Jazz’s success “put an end to what was left of the Ragtime craze, for other bands rushed to record a similar style”[36] and throughout the 1920s, Jazz bands and composers would come to dominate the pop song market.[37] In the late 1910s and early 1920s when the First World War and eventually Prohibition shut down the saloons and brothels of New Orleans’s Storyville district, the cradle for jazz for over three decades, jazz musicians like Joe “King” Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong relocated north, giving a much larger audience exposure to Jazz musicians. After Jazz became a new vocabulary word on the music market, it became part of the Tin Pan Alley machine by introducing people to the new change in popular music and with a market languishing in sentiment, customers were likely receptive of this change in music.

Besides the music, The Jazz Era would also be inseparable with the cultural consequences that accompanied Prohibition, a law outlawing alcohol enacted by the 18th Amendment to the constitution in 1919 and its enforcement one year later. As soon as the Constitutional amendment and the Volstead Act that allowed its enforcement had been ratified, Joe Stern, a Tin Pan Alley publisher since the 1890s, retired believing that the song market would implode with the lack of alcohol.[38] The effects of Prohibition on the entertainment industry had been discussed when the legislation had been debated in Congress, it was logical for politicians to think that with households saving money by abstaining from alcohol, music consumers would purchase theatre tickets and sheet music for the home.[39] Called by Edward Marks as “one outstanding error and farce of the century,”[40] Prohibition initially inspired a series of topical and comical songs written by composers and lyricists thumbing their noses at the law. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 opened its summer season with a mock funeral march featuring an enormous whiskey bottle accompanied by Irving Berlin’s “You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake On Tea.”[41] Playful song titles came onto the pop market like “It’s the Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls),” “What Are You Going to Do to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry),” “A Syncopated Cocktail” and “Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar.” Entertainment spaces that traditionally profited from the combined effects of alcohol and music in their environs were forced to adjust. Some hotels and restaurants closed their elaborate bars and dance floors and transformed such spaces into cafeterias,[42] eventually “hotel dining rooms virtually disappeared since much of their trade depended on the convenience for lodgers of their bar and dining room.”[43] But the Prohibition years would not completely snuff out drinking in America, in fact cities would become epicentres of “bootlegging, distilling and imbibing.”[44] For entertainment purposes, Prohibition created the social spaces that one associates with the rebellious nature of Jazz music in the 1920s. Drinking during the Jazz Era would go underground in cellars, private parties, basements, and speakeasies albeit with more expensive bootleg liquor where anyone with the financial means could get “stewed to the balls.”[45] Enforcement of the Volstead Act was lax and enforcement officers sometimes could be easily bribed with money or liquor. In one establishment, bribes were a regular occurrence, seeing enforcement officers “eating dinner, having a few drinks and picking up some cash [i.e., a bribe] if he needed it.”[46] Just as Jazz was becoming a new trend with music publishers and record companies, Prohibition would establish the social nature of music by driving drinking below the legal radar and its soundtrack would composed of Jazz music throughout the 1920s.

The later years of the 1910s had been a transformative time period for composers and publishers producing commercial pop songs. The old days of the Tenderloin and Bowery theatres where songs were ruthlessly plugged were distant memories in the multi-million dollar music industry where tunes and lyrics were mass-produced in formulaic methods. Popular songs during these years reverted to sentimental ballads, including many Dixie songs that, in the past would be replete with caricatures and humours, turned sentimental by 1916. Precluding the war songs that had also been manufactured by the composers and publishers of Tin Pan Alley, the sentimental trend and the stagnated market of sadness, nostalgia and maternal wistfulness produced titles that sold millions of copies like “Hush-a-Bye Ma Baby (Missouri Waltz),” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” or “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” Simultaneously, a new style called Jazz had abruptly attracted the attention of music consumers with the popularity of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Tiger Rag,” a song that had long been a New Orleans standard. With an unremarkable yet tremendously prosperous pop song market and a new genre on the horizon, song composers and publishers quickly included the word on many titles. Also during this time, Prohibition had been added to the Constitution, a law which would become synonymous with the Jazz Era of the 1920s. Even though the song market had become monotonous in war and ballad production, Jazz was becoming a new product to sell to consumers eager for something new to listen to and Jazz would become the major pop style for over twenty years in the United States.


Caldwell, Mark. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. New York: Scribner. 2005.

Chase, Gilbert. America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill Company. 1966.

Ewen, David. Panorama of American Popular Music. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1957.

Freeland, David. Automats, Taxi Dances and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure. New York: New York University Press. 2009.

Green, Harvey. The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945. New York: Harper Collins. 1992.

Jonnes, Jill. Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: the Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels. New York: Viking. 2007.

Marks, Edward B. They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée. New York: The Viking Press. 1934.

Morgenstern, Dan. Living With Jazz: A Reader. Sheldon Meyer, ed. New York: Pantheon Books. 2004.

Shapiro, Nat and Nat Hentoff, ed. Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men who Made It. New York: Dover Publications. 1955.

Teachout, Terry. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. New York: Gotham Books. 2013.

Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2009.

Waldo, Terry. This Is Ragtime. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1976.

Song List

Berlin, Irving. Mr. Jazz, Himself. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1917.

Carroll, Harry (music) and Joseph McCarthy (lyrics). I’m Always Chasing Rainbows. New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1918.

Eppel, John Valentine (original music) and J.R. Shannon (lyrics), piano arrangement by Frederic Knight Logan. Hush-a-Bye, Ma Baby (Missouri Waltz). Chicago, IL: J.A. Forster. 1915.

Heath, Bobby, Arthur Lange and Alfred Solman. In the Sweet Long Ago. New York: Joe

Morris Music Co. 1916.

Kenbrovin, Jaan and John William Kellette. I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. New York: Jerome H Remick & Co. 1919.

Moret, Neil (music) and Sidney Carter (lyrics). Yearning. New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1919.

Pryor, Arthur. A Coon Band Contest. New York: Emil Ascher. 1899/1918.

Schwartz, Jean (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). I’m All Bound ‘Round with the Mason Dixon Line. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1917.

——-. Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1918.

Stamper, Dave (music) and Gene Buck (lyrics). I Want to Learn to “Jazz” Dance. New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1918.

Wendling, Pete (music) and Edgar Leslie and Bert Kalmar (lyrics). Oh! What a Pal Was Mary. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1919.

Whiting, Richard A. (music) and Raymond Egan (lyrics). Ain’t You Coming Back to Dixieland. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co. 1917.

[1] Edward B Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Valée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 3.

[2] Jill Jonnes, Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: the Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, (New York: Viking, 2007), 72.

[3] Ibid, 67.

[4] David Freeland, Automats, Taxi Dances and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure, (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 122.

[5] Marks, 4.

[6] Freeland, 125.

[7] Ibid, 124.

[8] Jonnes, 299.

[9] David Ewen, Panorama of American Popular Music, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1957), 29.

[10] Gilbert Chase, America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present, (New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1966), 201.

[11] Marks, 200.

[12] Chase, 179.

[13] Ibid, 193.

[14] Ibid, 148.

[15] Harry Carroll (music) and Joseph McCarthy (lyrics), I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1918).

[16] Jaan Kenbrovin and John William Kellette, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, (New York: Kendis-Brockman Music Co, 1919).

[17] Pete Wendling (music) and Edgar Leslie and Bert Kelmar (lyrics), Oh! What a Pal Was Mary, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1919).

[18] Neil Moret (music) and Sidney Carter (lyrics), Yearning, (New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1918).

[19] Bobby Heath, Arthur Lange and Alfred Solman, In the Sweet Long Ago, (New York: The Joe Morris Music Co, 1916).

[20] John Valentine Eppel (music) and J.R. Shannon (lyrics) arranged by Frederic Knight Logan, Hush-a-Bye Ma Baby (Missouri Waltz), (Chicago, IL: F.J.A. Foster, 1914).

[21] Jean Schwartz (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1918).

[22] Jean Schwartz (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), I’m All Bound ‘Round with the Mason Dixon Line, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1917).

[23] Richard A. Whiting (music) and Raymond Egan (lyrics), Ain’t You Coming Back to Dixieland, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1917).

[24] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1977), 167.

[25] Dan Morgenstern, Living with Jazz: A Reader, Sheldon Meyer, ed, (New York: Panteoen Books, 2004), 527.

[26] Bunk Jonson, qtd in Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It, Shapiro, Nat and Nat Hentoff, ed, (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), 36.

[27] Tirro, 170.

[28] Terry Waldo, This Is Ragtime, (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc, 2009), 128.

[29] Jack Weber, qtd in Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, 60.

[30] Chase, 465.

[31] Stewart, 171.

[32] Terry Teachout, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, (New York: Gotham Books, 2013), 36.

[33] Pryor, Arthur, A Coon Band Contest, (New York: Emil Archer, 1918).

[34] Dave Stamper (music) and Gene Buck (lyrics), I Want to Learn to “Jazz” Dance, (New York: T.B. harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1918).

[35] Irving Berlin, Mr Jazz Himself, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1917).

[36] Teachout, 37.

[37] Tirro, 157.

[38] Marks, 200.

[39] Ibid, 200.

[40] Ibid, 199.

[41] Mark Caldwell, New York Night: The Mystique and Its History, (New York: Scribner, 2005), 222.

[42] Harvey Green, The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945, (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 168.

[43] Green, 214-215.

[44] Caldwell, 222

[45] Gloria Wandrous, qtd in Freeland, 156.

[46] Luis Russell qtd in Freeland, 157.