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.

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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.

2 responses to “Out of Step: Tin Pan Alley Tries to Get the Blues”

  1. william brooks says :

    An excellent book by Peter Muir covers this topic thoroughly: Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920 (University of Illinois Press, 2010). It should be in your bibliography (at least!).

  2. Joseph Scott says :

    Enjoyed reading this.

    “‘The Memphis Blues,’ … he originally published in 1909” Handy didn’t publish it in 1909, or any blues until 1912.

    “But the blues trend never really accelerated in popularity during the mid 1910s” It did. E.g. there were about seven times as many 12-bar “Blues” published or copyrighted in 1915 as in 1913.

    “’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” No, “Alcoholic Blues” has 12-bar.

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