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.

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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.

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About morganhowland

I am a recent college graduate with a degree in American History. I am also a music nerd who likes keeping up with current music and knowing anything about pop songs of the past. Combining the two ambitions into a blog of essays on various topics of popular song history seems like an appropriate thing to do.

One response to “Everything, All at Once, Part 2: Pop Songs and the Annual Revue”

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