Hearts, Minds and the First World War, Part 2: On the Home Front

While the American Doughboys went to aid the Allies in the war in Europe, civilians back home would experience temporary yet tumultuous changes in work life, domestic living and popular culture. War production in American factories would be focused on churning out products for the fight. Even before wartime involvement, in a state of preparedness, inventor Thomas Edison agreed to formulate “a department of inventions and development” for the Navy, shortly after the sinking of the luxury liner Lusitania in 1915.[1] Henry Ford, who had initiated his anti-war “peace Ship delegation” in 1915, had announced that his factories will be “at the disposal of the United State Government and will operate without one cent of profit”[2] just two years later. Private business had been required to “regulate consumption of fuel, agricultural products and other materials vital to war”[3] including the publishing houses of Tin Pan Alley who were allowed to continue publishing despite an impending paper shortage in 1917; songs were considered “essential to win the war” by the Committee on Public Information.[4] Thrift and saving were constant themes during the war, consequently, the American diet reflected the necessities of war since “Food is Ammunition—Don’t waste it.”[5] With meat, eggs and wheat rationed, light breakfasts consisting of a single soft boiled egg and a single slice of toast became fashionable,[6] as did so-called Victory gardens, encouraging citizens to grow their own food. President Woodrow Wilson even had his own garden and employed a herd of eight sheep rather than gardeners to help maintain the White House lawns.[7] If there was a lack of food, cigarettes were abundant as an appetite suppressant or anxiety remedy.[8] With so much happening in American culture on the home front and so many families separated during this time, songs were “a touchstone by which to cope with the anxieties of war,”[9] and so “songs of optimism, hope, sentiment, and nostalgia for home”[10] became pop gold, some titles selling millions of copies. Winning hearts and minds would consequently require a level of emotion not espoused by rousing patriotic numbers.

While rousing march numbers about American pluck and imperturbable optimism certainly gave music audiences and consumers an upbeat melody and provided an enthusiastic soundtrack for entry into the First World War, they rarely reflected the ordinary lives of civilians on the home front. Most pop songs about domestic life in America while the boys were over there were sentimental in nature, in opposition to the bellicose quality of marches. Descriptions of mothers and sweethearts, lonely, sad and fretful are conspicuous in lyrics and on covers of sheet music. But such maudlin emotionality is not the principle focus of these domestic songs, instead, the sentimentalism is a point of departure for introducing various ways of cheering up and getting through wartime. Instances of soldiers consoling sweethearts and mothers with pronouncements of swift return are common as were patriotic assurances regarding soldierly duty and pride. Sentimental songs also feature characters staying busy for the sake of outpacing the anxieties brought on by loved ones in the war and a plethora of pop songs featuring smiling, whether having “nothing to do with victory or fighting”[11] came onto the song market. So called “baby ballads” featuring toddlers both emphasize the tragic realities of warfare, while also providing consumers with cute imagery of small children praying or doing adult tasks like using the telephone. Sentiment would change drastically by the end of the war, when remembering and celebrating the war’s end became departures for poignant reflection. While the topical fad of patriotic marches about soldiers going to off to war gave American audiences pep and patriotic feelings, war ballads containing sad characters and the various ways of mollifying their emotional trepidations, helped to cheer up the home front.

Ostensibly, domestic songs during the war are character-centric and during the First World War, images of mothers were commonly representative symbols of wartime domestic living, including images within songs. One poster features an image of a mother with outstretched arms as though offering the viewer a comfortable hug, imploring “Women! Help America’s sons win the war.”[12] Domestic life on the home front was austere with everyday items rationed. In one letter to her son, a mother describes her life as “these meatless, wheatless, heatless, gasless, waterless, moneyless days…there is nothing new around here except a little less weather.”[13] Mothers had, in fact, already been central characters in pro-isolation songs like “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” and “Don’t Take My Darling Boy Away,” the lyrics of which describe mothers who are terrified that their sons will become casualties of war. However, when the United States entered the war in 1917, representations of mothers in lyrics would evolve to more sentimental forms, including songs about sons departing for the war and consequently, mothers left behind on the home front. It had become vogue to stitch sadness into the lyrics of songs by 1918; sentimental ballads featuring depressed and detached characters whose dreams have all disappeared like “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” became multimillion sellers. Maternal songs sometimes reflect this trend by characterizing mothers as “old and grey,”[14] or as wishing to “drive the clouds away”[15] or as “filled with despair.”[16] The covers of sheet music feature old mothers solemnly clutching knitting needles and crucifixes, while fathers are noticeably absent in sentimental songs. Nostalgia for their sons’ childhood provides comfort in some lyrics expressing maternal domesticity. For example, in Billy Baskette’s “Each Stitch is a Thought of You, Dear,” a mother reflects on how “the cradle stopped rocking for my four big men”[17] and in Jack Egan’s “We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There),” a mother remembers when her soldier was a baby and that “in dreams I seem to see you back on my knee.”[18] With American entry into the First World War in 1917, songs about maternal domestic life adjusting without one or more sons added sad sentiment into songs.

Another common song topic, saying good-bye to one’s sweetheart, is also an unavoidable trend tinged with fretful sentiment particularly about the uncertainties imparted by of the Great War. Like mother songs, sweetheart songs have a cohesive underlying theme of sadness and loneliness, one song is matter-of-factly titled “While You’re Over There in No Man’s Land, I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land;” the cover illustrates the fretful emotions offered in the lyrics.[19] Although the song “If He Can Fight Like He Can Love (Good Night Germany!)” is a rousing march celebrating the departure of a soldier with amusing lyrics like “If he’s half as good in a trench As he was in the park on a bench/Then ev’ry Hun had better run,”[20] songs about loneliness and separation would be the de facto love song during the war. Saying good-bye and being separated for an indefinite amount of time are, common themes. In Louis Weslyn and Al Piantadosi’s “Send Me Away with a Smile,” advertised as a “war love song with universal appeal,” a soldier tells his sweetheart that “It may be forever we part, little girl, And it may be for only a while,”[21] highlighting the uncertain nature of the ongoing conflict in Europe. Other departure songs of soldiers saying good-bye to sweethearts like Joseph Howard’s “Somewhere in France is the Lily”[22] and Richard Whiting’s “Till We Meet Again”[23] feature similar ambivalence of indefinite length of separation. The second verse of “My Sweetheart is Somewhere in France” by Mary Earl expresses anguished yearning while the sweetheart on the home front wistfully gazes at a picture of her soldier boy:

Ev’ryday I kiss his picture, And I tell him I’ll be true,

Just as he is to his country, And the old red, white and blue,

Both night and day I yearn, I pray and pray for his return;[24]

A rash of titles highlighting the uncertain nature of the war’s geography came onto the song market with titles like “When the Moon Is Shining (Somewhere in France),” “Somewhere (Somewhere in France)” and “Somewhere He’s Marching.” But the war love song is inherently romantic, and consequently saying good-bye is coupled with dreamy and dewy imagery. In “Till We Meet Again,” the couple says good-bye in front of a “high garden wall” set against the backdrop of clouds rolling by.[25] In “Somewhere in France is the Lily,” the couple says good-bye in a lush garden when “morning has its glow.”[26] In sentimental sweetheart songs, there is sadness in the uncertainties of war; however, their settings reflect the romantic nature of a couple saying good-bye.

While sad, nostalgic or fretful sentiment is predominately featured in song lyrics about people on the home front, such sentiment is only the context in which the song takes place. It is unlikely that music audiences and consumers would enjoy being perpetually reminded of the emotional void left by a departing family member, instead, various themes of cheering up to ameliorate wartime loneliness and sadness become important and poignant themes. One such method of the cheering up when domestic life looks bleak is to reassure those lonely mothers and sweethearts that, even though the length of separation from their soldiers is uncertain, their boys will auspiciously return and the tumult will be just a memory. In the aptly titled “Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father,” the soldier addresses his family and reassures them that the length of time will be worth it, “For the more you miss me/All the more You’ll kiss me”[27] he declares. In “My Sweetheart is Somewhere in France,” a sweetheart reads a letter from her solider and romantically thinks of how she will “put all [her] heart in one fond glance”[28] when the two eventually reunite. In a time when saying good-bye was more common than saying “I love you,” sweetheart songs featuring weddings gave audiences an eventual happy conclusion to an otherwise uncertain future. In “Till We Met Again,” the romantic lyrics of the soldier comfort her since “wedding bells will ring” and “ev’ry tear will be a memory,” [29] when he eventually returns. One song, the patriotic Geoffrey O’Hara march “K-K-K-Katy,” in which the title character initially fancies the soldier Jim for his sharp uniform, Jim buys a wedding ring with the intention of marriage before going over “to meet the foe.”[30] Such sentiment worked well for sales, “Till We Meet Again” would eventually sell upwards of three and a half million copies of sheet music in just a few months.[31] Although sadness is a major part of sentimental songs of the home front, cheering up is a much more important aspect for characters within the lyrics, who will be reunited once the war concludes.

But it was difficult if not impossible to escape the myriad of patriotic messages during the Great War, and so, patriotism can also be found in sentimental songs about domestic life. Messages about spending money on Liberty Bonds in a time of thrift were abound, including “What Are You Going to Do To Help the Boys? with a refrain which castigates consumers if they do not purchase the Bonds,

If you’re going to be a sympathetic miser

The kind that only lends a lot of noise

You’re no better than the one who loves the Kaiser

So what are you going to do to help the boys?[32]

Citizens sometimes found solace in domestic patriotic work. For schoolteacher Florrie Gaffney, who thought the constant barrage of patriotic support for Liberty Loans was “wonderful,” took beaming pride that her school sold “$3500 in bonds and 400 Thrift Stamps”[33] in a single day. Sentimental songs with grief-stricken family members and sweethearts offered patriotic counterpoints of how they should think positively and take pride in the work being done “over there,” that their boys will do a good job and make family members proud. In “Send Me Away with a Smile,” the soldier tells his sweetheart that “Tho’ I love you so, It is time to go, and a soldier in me you’ll find…you would not have my stay behind,”[34] suggesting that it would be unwise to urge him to stay at home. In Mary Earl’s “Cheer Up Mother,” the soldier reflects on his own father’s experience in the “field of glory” and attempts to cheer up his mother by saying that he will do an equally heroic job,

Mother, don’t you know How long long ago Dad would sit me on his knee,

Point to his old gun, tell me how they’d won Many hard won victories,

May your years from now I’ll tell my son how I helped our country free,[35]

Maternal pride is a theme of “We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There),” in which a mother tells her departing boy that she is proud of him “you know this vict’ry must be won/And it’s up to you son.”[36] Within the floral and maudlin imagery of “Somewhere in France Is the Lily,” a song where flowers like Shamrocks, Thistles and Roses represent Irish, Scottish and English soldiers in the war, American vitality is positively characterized as “the flower of youth.”[37] While the sweetheart in “While You’re Over There in No Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land)” is the epitome of loneliness, she is nevertheless “Proud you are mine, proud to know that you’re in line.”[38] Although sadness is part of the trend in domestic songs, so is the theme that people are proud of their soldiers and that thinking about this pride brings more positive messages of these songs.

The First World War on the home front, however, was not a time to be idle, wistfully clinging to sentimental feelings even if sentiment had been key components of the pop songs of the day. People busied themselves in war production, volunteering and generally staying active. For many women, doing work during the war was a great change in pace. Volunteers Addie D. Waite Hunton and Kathryn M. Johnson vivaciously laud that their volunteer work with the YMCA in France was “the greatest opportunity for service that we have ever known.”[39] While there are more lively enthusiastic songs about war production, like the Walter Hawley song “Watch the Bee Go Get the Hun,” in which an American factory is characterized as a busy bee hive in which stamping “U.S.A.” on each article is one step closer in bringing down Kaiser Bill,[40] other more sentimental songs describe the need to keep busy to stay ahead of despair. In “Each Stitch is a Thought of You, Dear,” a mother knits her “heart in each garment” for all of her boys in the war and she will be “proud to do it again.”[41] In the cheery, humorous number “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers,” Susie enthusiastically spends her spare time in front of the Singer sewing machine. Even though her mother is beaming with pride, apparently Susie is not very good at it suggested by the refrain, “Some soldiers send epistles, say they’d rather sleep in thistles/Than the saucy soft short shirts sister Susie sews.”[42] Staying stoic was equally as important as staying busy on the home front; soldiers in Europe encouraged their families back home to stay strong. One soldier writes, “All I want of you all is to keep ‘the home fires burning’ and it will not be long until we come marching home.”[43] Various songs instruct the listener to be productive during the war, and so, a plethora of similarly subtitled songs came onto the pop market like “When the Boys Come Home,” “We’ll Keep Tings Going (Till the Boys Come Home),” “Set Aside Your Tears (Till the Boys Come Marching Home),” and “Place a Candle in Your Window (Till You Laddie Boy Comes Home).” In “Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home),” audiences are told to “let no tears add to their hardship” since “we gave our glorious ladies, Honor us to do no less.”[44] In “Send Me Away with a Smile,” a soldier acknowledges the strength of his girl by saying that she can persevere since she has “the heart of a soldier too.”[45] However, despite the platitudes of being told to be strong, it is interesting to note that sales of the occult-themed board game Ouija, in which players try to connect with spirits by asking question, inflated in 1918, selling over a million units.[46] People being busy and staying strong are common motifs and method of cheering up by getting one’s mind off the war.

A more obvious method of getting people to remain happy and escape from the sadness of being separated from loved ones, is to tell audiences, rather matter-of-factly, to stay happy and just smile. Naturally, with the sad and lamenting feeling that some characters were feeling in certain sentimental domestic war songs, there are ways in which these characters are instructed to smile through their tears and that everything will be fine. In “We’ll do Our Share (While You’re Over There),” a mother recounts how everywhere “mothers are smiling tho’ their eyes are longing,”[47] suggesting that just trying to smile through the war was a common, if not universal method of getting through the day. A soldier also instructs his grieving mother to “keep on smiling all your cares beguiling”[48] in “Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father.” In “While You’re Over There In No Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land),” the sad and lonely sweetheart thinks how her feelings may impact her soldier’s work and that “if smiles will help you get through, then I’ll dry my tears just for you.”[49] A British song to become a hit in the United States, “Pack Up Your Troubles in An Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile,” cheers up audiences by telling the story of a soldier with a “funny smile”[50] suggesting that soldiers over there were jovially having fun. But there is a much more commercial feel to these smiling songs, that singing along to that very song will bring one’s spirits up, consequently adding to that song’s popularity. In “Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home),” the very song is promoted “And although your heart is breaking, Make it sing this cheery song,”[51] a rather clever way to advertise the title by telling consumers how happy it is.   The song “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh!,” not a song actually written about the war, came with a special “patriotic version” instructing the consumer “To ev’ry chap you meet on the street, You can sing this little song.”[52] The trend of staying happy became a prominent feature of pop songs of 1918, including the song “Smiles” from The Passing Show of 1918, a song which lists the ways in which various kinds of smile makes one happy, and consequently sold two million copies of sheet music within six months of release.[53] Various titles featuring smiling became part of the pop culture radar during 1918, including titles like “Have a Smile,” “Miles of Smiles,” and “You’re in Style When You’re Wearing a Smile.” If consumers were sad on the home front, a plethora of messages about smiling and staying happy would encourage hearts and minds.

However, there is one theme of cheering up that became a prominent trend during the First World War, showing audiences that it was not just mothers and sweethearts left on the home front. Songs featuring children and toddlers looking for their fathers, so-called baby ballads, left an indelible mark on the song landscape during 1918. There is abject sadness woven into these lyrics as babies are described with “years are filled with tears,”[54] along with their grieving mothers. Despite the heroic portrait of General Pershing on its cover, the Lew Porter song “Hello Gen’ral Pershing (How’s My Daddy Tonight?),” for example, both baby and mother are longing “for Daddy o’er the sea.”[55] The song “Just a Baby’s Letter Found in No Man’s Land” offers the image of a child’s letter trampled in the mud and muck of the front line, with soldiers reading it and sobbing with tears.[56] However, unlike mother and sweetheart songs in which the bleakness of the domestic situation is balanced with various methods of cheering up, baby ballads balance sad emotion with the inherent cuteness of the descriptions of toddlers praying or trying to use the telephone. In “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There),” a mother eavesdrops as a child prays for her father at bedtime, a charming scene captured on the cover of the sheet music.[57] The ill-fated letter found in “Just a Baby’s Letter Found in No Man’s Land),” simply reads the heart-warming message “I love you, Daddy,”[58] one can nearly visualize the child-like penmanship in the page. Cuteness reaches epic proportions when telephones are involved. In “Hello, Gen’ral Pershing (How’s My Daddy To-Night?),” a baby slumbers softly next to the telephone waiting for a reply after making an initial attempt at reaching the General.[59] The cover of “Hello Central! Give Me No Man’s Land” conspicuously features the heart-warming image of a small child on tip-toes trying to reach the telephone hanging on the wall.[60] Cuteness is a theme in “We Want Our Daddy Dear, Back Home (Hello Central, Give Me France),” in which a child calls France to tell his daddy that there is a new baby in the home, and after which, none other than President Wilson cancels the war to get the soldier back home.[61] With this sort of content, the cuteness is amplified by the unlikelihood of the situation; it is doubtful that a toddler would be able to fathom the war and elicit blatantly patriotic themes. For example, in “Some Where in France is Daddy,” a toddler is not likely to have the sort of patriotic feelings about his father going off to war with lyrics like,

I pray ev’ry night for the Allies

And ask God to help them win

For our Daddy won’t come back

Till the Stars and Stripes they’ll tack

On Kaiser William’s flag staff in Berlin[62]

In the case of the wartime baby ballad, while there are sad and often tragic themes, these are balanced through various methods of showing children, babies and toddlers partaking in cute or patriotic themes, some of which are highly dubious and used to sell the imagery appropriate for the times.

What would become known as the First World War would end in November 1918 with the Allies advancing on Germany and eventual international negotiations for peace. Going to get Kaiser Bill, a theme in many songs, would not come to fruition; Wilhelm II abdicated on 9 November 1918.  Before Tin Pan Alley acclimated to a song market without consumer need for war songs, the home front would experience one last type of war song celebrating or commemorating the war and its impact on soldier and civilian life. The humorous song “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?),” in which rural parents anxiously await their sons’ return after the war ends, tells how they worry that international travels will lead to “Jazzin’ around And paintin’ the town,” and that “They’ll never want to see a rake or plow.”[63] Richard Whiting’s waltz “Hand in Hand Again,” the sequel to “Till We Meet Again,” is full of the same dreamy sentiment of its predecessor without a plot, summarizing what audiences were thinking themselves perhaps, “But a smile lurks today Where a tear used to stray/And the curtain of darkness is drawn.”[64] While these familiar themes of comical characters and sentimental waltzes came a new topic of remembering what had happened. It was law, in fact, that “peace songs were banned, however, as comforting to the enemy”[65] during the Great War and so audiences had no access to messages of peace, but that changed with the war’s conclusion. The song “Good-bye Shot and Shell!” celebrates the “World-Famous policy of lasting peace” and also informs audiences of the horrors of the war, including “cooties, rats and stenches…gas bombs, torture filling…baby killing.”[66] In “The Dream of a Soldier Boy,” advertised as a “wonderful new idea,” a soldier on the battlefield dreams of international cooperation when “all nations are kind to each other.”[67] Even Thomas Edison who “has never permitted his voice to be recorded for the public,” told people that “’American’ has a new meaning in Europe,” but in celebrating American aide, we should not forget the troops of European countries as well.[68] With the end of the war, sentimental songs about the war’s end concluded Tin Pan Alley’s wartime production.

The legacy of the First World War would be one of death, remembrance and of memorials of gravestones; the number of casualties is truly staggering, with 65 million troops mobilised, over eight and a half million died among all sides of the conflict, including 115,000 Americans and 21 million injured.[69] John Keegan refers to the legacy of the First World War “no brave trumpets sound in memory for the drab millions who plodded to death on the featureless plains of Picardy and Poland.”[70] Americans would have a substantial effect on the war, and according to German general Erich Ludendorff Americans “became the decisive power in the war.”[71] American society during the war had undergone dramatic changes including the passage of one constitutional amendment allowing women the right to vote and another in debate over the legal status of alcohol. A global influenza pandemic would kill more people than the war; taking around 50 million lives worldwide,[72] including nearly seven hundred thousand Americans, six times the number of casualties on the battlefield.[73] As far as pop song history is concerned, the topical fad departed as soon as it appeared, and all of the plucky marches about American soldiers or sentimental numbers about American citizens trying to cheer up would become pop memories in the ever-changing currents of the music market. By 1920, the new sounds of a suddenly commercially successful genre called Jazz would become the fascination of consumers, composers, record companies, publishing houses and a bevy of new orchestras across the country.


Baldwin, Neil. Edison: Inventing the Century. New York: Hyperion. 1995.

Blanke, David. The 1910s. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2002.

Curcio, Vincent. Henry Ford. New York: Oxford University Press. 2013.

“The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918.” National Archives. Accessed 11 October 2014. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/.

Ellis, Edward Robb. Echoes of Distant Thunder: Life in the United States, 1914-1918. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan Inc. 1975.

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

Gaffney, Florrie. Florrie Gaffney to Joe Gaffney, 30 April 1918. In Linda S. George. Letters from the Home Front: World War I. New York: Benchmark Books. 2002.

H., Agnes E. Agnes E.H. to Joe Gaffney, 8 February 1918. In George, Linda S. Letters from the Home Front: World War I. New York: Benchmark Books. 2002.

Hensler, Lester. Lester Hensler to Mother and Father, n.d. In Virginia Schomp. Letters from the Battlefront: World War I. New York: Benchmark Books. 2004.

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

Howard, Michael. The First World War. New York: Oxford University Press. 2002.

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books. 1998.

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

Porteous, R.H. “Women! Help America’s Sons With the War.” Poster. 1917. Reproduced in Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret. Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1992.

Sanjek, Russell. American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years, Volume III: 1900-1984. New York: Oxford University Press. 1988.

Schaffer, Ronald. America in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991.

Sheridan, John E. “Food Is Ammunition—Don’t Waste It.” Poster. c.1918. Reproduced in Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret. Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1992.

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

Waite Hunton, Addie D. and Kathryn M. Johnson. “The YMCA and Other Welfare Organizations.” Contained in Lines of Fire: Women Writers of World War I. Margaret R. Higonnet, ed. New York: Penguin Group. 1999. 283-286.

Songs Cited

Baskette, Billy (music) and Al Sweet (lyrics). Each Stitch Is a Thought of You, Dear. New York: Leo Feist In. 1918.

Darewski, Hermann E. (music) and R.P. Weston (lyrics). Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers. New York: Francis, Day & Hunter. 1914.

DeCosta, Harry (music) and James M. Reilly (lyrics). We Want Our Daddy Back Home (Hello Central, Give Me France). M. Witmark & Sons. 1918.

Donaldson, Will (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1919.

Earl, Mary. Cheer Up, Mother. New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc. 1918.

——-. My Sweetheart is Somewhere in France. Newark, NJ: Mary Earl. 1917.

Egan, Jack (music) and Lew Brown and Al Harriman (lyrics). We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1918.

Hawley, Walter. Watch the Bee Go Get the Hun. New York: Meyer Cohen Music Pub. Co. 1918.

Howard, Great. Somewhere in France Is Daddy. New York: Howard and LaVar Music Co. 1917.

Howard, Joseph E (music) and Philander Johnson (lyrics). Somewhere in France (Is the Lily). New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1917.

Jerome, M.K. (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1918.

Lawrence, Ray (music) and Bernie Grossmann (lyrics). Just a Baby’s Letter (Found In No Man’s Land). New York: The Joe Morris Music Co. 1918.

Meyer, George W (music) and Grant Clake and Howard E. Rogers (lyrics). If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Good Night, Germany!. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1918.

Monaco, James V. (music) and Alfred Dubin (lyrics). The Dream of a Soldier Boy. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1917.

Novello, Ivor (music) and Lena Guilbert Ford (lyrics). Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home). New York: Ascherberg, Hopwoop, & Crow Ltd. 1915.

O’Hara, Geoffrey. K-K-K-Katy. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1918.

Olman, Abe (music) and Ed Rose (lyrics), patriotic version by Ray Sherwood. Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher. 1917.

Paley, Herman (music) and Alfred Bryan (lyrics). Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father. New York: Jerome H Remick & Co. 1918.

Peck, Gerald (music) and Lou Spero (lyrics). Good-Bye Shot and Shell! New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co. 1919.

Porter, Lew. Hello, Gen’ral Pershing (How’s My Daddy To-Night?). New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc. 1918.

Powell, Felix (music) and George Asaf (lyrics). Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile. New York: Francis, Day & Hunter. 1915.

Schwartz, Jean (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1918.

Stanley, Jack (music) and Jessie Spiess (lyrics). While You’re Over There in No-Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land). Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter. 1918.

Van Alstyne, Egbert (music) and Gus Kahn (lyrics). What Are You Going To Do To Help the Boys?. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co. 1918.

Weslyn, Louis and Al Piantadosi. Send Me Away With a Smile. New York: Al Piantadosi & Co Inc. 1917.

Whiting, Richard A. Hand in Hand Again. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co. 1919.

——-. Till We Meet Again. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co. 1918.


Edison, Thomas A. Let Us Not Forget. Edison Record. 6540. 1919. Found at Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?queryType=@attr%201=1020&num=1&start=1&query=cylinder5907.

[1] Neil Baldwin, Edison: Inventing the Century, (New York: Hyperion, 1995). 345.

[2] Henry Ford qtd in Vincent Curcio, Henry Ford, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 97.

[3] Ronald Schaffer, American in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 47.

[4] Edward B. Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 194.

[5] John E. Sheridan, “Food is Ammunition—Don’t Waste it,” Poster, c.1918, contained in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Poster of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 86.

[6] David Blanke, The 1910s, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 113

[7] Edward Robb Ellis, Echoes of Distant Thunder: Life in the United States, 1914-1918, (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975), 401.

[8] Blanke, 120.

[9] Ibid, 187.

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

[11] Thomas H. Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 327.

[12] R.H. Porteous, “Women! Help America’s sons win the war,” Poster, 1917, contained in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 70.

[13] Letter from Agnes E.H. to Joe Gaffney, 8 February 1918, contained in Linda S George, Letters from the Home Front: World War I, (New York: Benchmark Books, 2002), 29.

[14] Billy Baskette and Al Sweet, Each Stitch Is a Thought of You, Dear (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[15] Jack Egan (music) and Lew Brown and Al Harriman (lyrics), We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).

[16] Herman Paley (music) and Alfred Bryan (lyrics), Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1918).

[17] Baskette and Sweet, Each Stitch Is a Thought of You, Dear.

[18] Egan, Brown and Harriman, We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There).

[19] Jack Stanley (music) and Jessie Spiess (lyrics), While You’re Over There in No-Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land), (Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter, 1918).

[20] George W. Meyer (music) and Grant Clarke and Howard E. Rogers (lyrics), If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, (Good Night Germany!), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[21] Louis Weslyn and Al Piantadosi, Send Me Away With a Smile, (New York: Al Piantadosi & Co Inc, 1917).

[22] Joseph E. Howard (music) and Philander Johnson (lyrics), Somewhere in France (Is the Lily), (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1917).

[23] Richard A. Whiting, Till We Meet Again, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1918).

[24] Mary Earl, My Sweetheart is Somewhere in France, (Newark, NJ: Mary Earl, 1917).

[25] Whiting, Till We Meet Again.

[26] Howard and Johnson, Somewhere in France (Is the Lily).

[27] Paley and Bryan, Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father.

[28] Earl, My Sweetheart is Somewhere in France.

[29] Whiting, Till We Meet Again.

[30] Geoffrey O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[31] Russell Sanjek, American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years, volume III: 1900-1984, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 35

[32] Egbert Van Alstyne (music) and Gus Kahn (lyrics), What Are You Going to Do to Help the Boys?, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1918).

[33] Letter from Florrie Gaffney to Joe Gaffney, 30 April 1918, contained in Linda S George, Letters from the Home Front: World War I, (New York: Benchmark Books, 2002), 32.

[34] Weslyn and Piantadosi, Send Me Away with a Smile.

[35] Mary Earl, Cheer Up Mother, (New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc, 1918).

[36] Egan, Brown and Harriman, We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There).

[37] Howard and Johnson, Somewhere in France (Is the Lily).

[38] Stanley and Spiess, While You’re Over There in No-Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land).

[39] Addie D. Waite Hunton and Mathryn M. Johnson, “The YMCA and Other Welfare Organizations,” contained in Lines of Fire: Women Writers of World War I, Margaret R. Higonnet, ed, (New York: Plume, 1999), 283.

[40] Walter Hawley, Watch the Bee Go Get the Hun, (New York: Meyer Cohan Music Pub. Co, 1917).

[41] Baskette and Sweet, Each Stitch Is a Thought of You, Dear.

[42] Hermann E. Darewisky (music) and R.P. Weston (lyrics), Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers, (New York: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1914).

[43] Letter from Lester Hensler to Mother and Father, n.d. contained in Virginia Schomp, Letters from the Battlefront: World War I, (New York: Benchmark Books, 2004), 22.

[44] Ivor Novello (music) and Lena Guilbert Ford (lyrics), Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home), (New York: Ascherberg, Hopwood & Crow Ltd, 1915).

[45] Weslyn and Piantadosi, Send Me Away with a Smile.

[46] Blanke, 129.

[47] Egan, Brown and Harriman, We’ll Do Our Share (While You’re Over There).

[48] Pelay and Bryan, Cheer Up Mother, Cheer Up Father.

[49] Stanley and Spiess, While You’re Over There in No-Man’s Land (I’m Over Here in Lonesome Land).

[50] Felix Powell (music) and George Asaf (lyrics), Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile, (New York: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1915).

[51] Novello and Ford, Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home).

[52] Abe Oman (music) and Ed Rose (lyrics), patriotic version by Ray Sherwood, Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!, (Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher, 1917).

[53] Hischak, 327.

[54] M.K. Jerome (music) and Sam M Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There), (New York: Waterson Berlin & Snyder Co, 1918).

[55] Lew Porter, Hello Gen’ral Pershing, (How’s My Daddy To-Night?), (New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc. 1918).

[56] Ray Lawrence (music) and Bernie Grossmann (lyrics), Just a Baby’s Letter (Found in No Man’s Land), (New York: The Joe Morris Music Co, 1918).

[57] Jerome, Lewis and Young, Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There).

[58] Lawrence and Grossmann, Just a Baby’s Letter (Found in No Man’s Land).

[59] Porter, Hello Gen’ral Pershing, (How’s My Daddy To-Night?).

[60] Jean Schwartz (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1918).

[61] Harry DeCosta (music) and James M. Reilly (lyrics), We Want Our Daddy Dear Back Home (Hello Central Give Me France), (New York: M. Witmark & sons, 1918).

[62] The Great Howard, Somewhere in France is Daddy, (New York: Howard and LaVar Music Co, 1917).

[63] Walter Donaldson (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree), (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1919).

[64] Richard A. Whiting, Hand in Hand Again, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1919).

[65] Edward R. Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 195.

[66] Gerald Peck (music) and Lou Spero (lyrics), Good-Bye Shot and Shell!, (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co, 1919).

[67] James V. Monaco (music) and Alfred Dubin (lyrics), The Dream of a Soldier Boy, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1917).

[68] Thomas A Edison, Let Us Not Forget,” Edison Record, 6540, 1919, accessed 1 October 2014, found at Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, USC Santa Barbara, http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?queryType=@attr%201=1020&num=1&start=1&query=cylinder5907.

[69] “Total War Casualties,” contained in Michael Howard, The First World War, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 146.

[70] John Keegan, The First World War, (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 421.

[71] Erich Ludendorff, qtd in George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, America: A Narrative History, 8th ed, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 1005.

[72] Ellis, 462.

[73] “The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918,” National Archives, Accessed 11 October 2014, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/

October Hiatus

The Pop Song History blog will be taking a month-long hiatus during October so its author can devote an excessive amount of obsessive attention to the Major League Baseball playoffs, including wild card games, Championship series for the American and National Leagues and, eventually, the World’s Series. It takes a tremendous amount of spare time in the evenings to come up with ideas, research the songs, write and edit drafts to polish one of these essays to satisfactory narrative completion, but this time in the evening will be spent in front of the television watching America’s pastime as the postseason progresses and cherishing my favourite month, October in all its autumnal splendour. If there are any regular readers for this blog, an anticipated second part of Hearts, Minds and the First World War, subtitled “On the Home Front,” is underway, but progress has been slow-going, hindered by a sudden change in focus and thesis as well as the distractions imparted by the end of the regular baseball season, so expect another essay within the next two weeks or so, a full two weeks behind my own self-imposed deadline of a fortnight between blog entries. Research and writing for this blog will restart as soon as the World’s Series has been decided at the end of the month, unfortunately the Sox will not be partaking this year. Sorry y’all, things are fixin’ to get real lazy and relaxed here at home. For some of us life-long and devoted baseball fans, I’m sure you know a few yourselves; life nearly comes to a halt during October for the sake of playoffs. Thank you for reading.

–Morgan Howland

Hearts, Minds and the First World War, Part 1: The Boys Are Going Over

Keeping musical consumers entertained during troubling times of conflict is a tremendously important aspect of American life. Songs about war can both reflect and shape public opinion while also giving civilians and soldiers alike brief moments of melodic escapism. Of course, depending on the conflict, such public opinion can range from scathing to nationalistic. Popular songs from the American Civil War describe a conflict that seemed to have little civilian enthusiasm for the “Cruel War,”[1] how “our hearts will be lighter when the boys come home.”[2] During the Vietnam War, songs encapsulating themes of the protest ethos of the era are plentiful like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” (1969), Edwin Starr’s “War” (1970), The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” (1970) Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s “Ohio” (1971) and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” (1973). Not only are they fondly remembered classic pop and rock hits, but in their time, topical antiwar songs that were major commercial hits. On the other hand, during the Spanish-American war in 1898, around the commencement of Tin Pan Alley’s commercial endeavours, many songs proclaimed eagerness for conflict like Monroe Rosenfeld’s “Uncle Sam, Tell Us Why You Are Waiting” (1898) and a whole genre exalting the exploits of Admiral George Dewey in the Philippines became popular.[3] Equally celebratory of American involvement in international conflict were the songs of the First World War, which flooded the entertainment market after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917.

Songs during the First World War were perfectly suited to not only entertain consumers with new titles for purchase, but to keep civilians happy, enthusiastic and supportive of the war effort. After the United States officially declared war on Germany in April of 1917, nearly three years after the war began on the continent, an instant fad had been created in the pop song market. Rousing marches about going off to war and comical numbers about American soldiers living overseas became instantly, intensely and briefly fashionable. Even though the wave of songs of World War I has all of the characteristics of a superficial fad, like the Hawaiian fad preceding America’s entry into the war,[4] such a characterisation is only a partial examination of the phenomenon. In an age when the distinctions between news and advertising were often hazy, nearly all of American pop culture had been consumed with messages of support for the war including posters, movies, public speeches and, of course, songs. What looks like a fad was actually a case of propaganda, where war advertising became both entertaining and persuasive for public opinion, containing messages of enlisting in the military, American determination to end the war and a total castigation of the enemy, Germany. For all intents and purposes, it is more appropriate to call this phenomenon a “topical fad,” for the brief and intense nature of the popularity of the songs of World War I along with the timely nature of the song topic. But not all songs about soldiers were of this serious tenor. Some song titles tell humorous and, of course, patriotic stories of Americans in Europe including an ensemble of ethnic and racial stereotypes that had not been in fashion in American pop music for years and love songs between American and French or of nurses and soldiers are also part of this entertaining facet of World War I. But this commercial take on the conflict had little connexion with the actual lives of the soldiers in the trenches, many of whom were experiencing war on an industrial scale and yet were creating their own popular music.

While most of Western Europe went to war in the late summer of 1914 and a prolonged stalemate on the Western Front continued it for the next two and a half years, America’s politicians, while being at least sympathetic to the Allies of Great Britain, Belgium and France, were not particularly interested or eager to get involved in the conflict. For Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, his main objectives included keeping the war as far away from America as possible by adopting a foreign policy of neutrality.[5] Automobile manufacturer Henry Ford so wholeheartedly supported pacifism and opposed the war in Europe that he organised a “Peace Ship” delegation in 1915 to meet with leaders in Europe with the goals to “Get the boys out of the trenches before Christmas.”[6] The American public, while being pro-Ally, were also not necessarily interested in war in Europe either and popular protest songs reflect this popular isolationism. For example, in Albert Von Tilzer’s “Don’t Send My Darling Boy Away,” the cover art shows a terrified mother shielding her son from a recruiting officer; in the refrain she pleas,

Don’t take my darling boy away from me,

Don’t send him off to war,

You took his father and brothers three,

Now you come back for more;[7]

Public opinion against war helped the sales of one of the biggest selling hits of 1915, Al Piantadosi’s “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be A Soldier,” a song which sold three million copies of sheet music and recordings by the Peerless Quartet became one of the biggest recorded hits of the year.[8] The song encouraged American neutrality by describing mothers’ mournful pain in losing their sons;[9] the song consequently became a commercial and cultural sensation. But there was backlash from other composers favouring war and the popularity of “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” was the target. Laughable spoofs came onto the market like “I Didn’t Raise my Dog to Be a Sausage” or “I Didn’t Raise My Ford to Be a Jitney” mimicking the song title.[10] While the early years of war went on in Europe, American pop songs reflected citizens’ disinterest in getting involved in the war.

American isolation would end in April of 1917, nearly three full years after the major European empires, Austria, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and the Ottomans, descended into war; for the first time, Americans would be partaking in the conflict in Europe. Pop culture would be affected, if not dominated, by an advertising campaign by the government’s Committee on Public Information, or CPI, to cultivate support and participation at all levels of society, whether by promoting enlisting soldiers or Red Cross nurses or by endorsement of Liberty Bonds to raise money for American involvement. Public opinion about the duty of America to “fight for liberty” would be shaped by persuasive advertising in all forms. Propaganda films like Pershing’s Crusaders and America’s Answer had been shown in the nearly 10,000 of the nation’s 12,000 movie theatres, accompanied by stimulating speeches by “four-minute men” about the Liberty Loan program.[11] Patriotic and artistic posters encouraged American to “Protect the Nation’s Honor”[12] with a stern Uncle Sam informing men, “I expect you to enlist in the Army.”[13] One poster displays a particularly haunting image of the Statue of Liberty raising her arms in surrender as German planes bomb New York.[14] Public opinion had shifted quickly. At the reunion ball at Princeton University in June 1917, most of “the songs were not so much the songs of former reunions” instead the ceremony took the form of a “patriotic parade.”[15] The spectacularly lavish revue Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 featured skits about going to war and enlisting, including the Victor Herbert tune “Can’t You Hear Your Country Calling?”[16] Composers and lyricists quickly shifted to creating positive messages about war; Albert Von Tilzer, who had two years previous written “Don’t Take My Darling Boy Away” penned the march “What Kind of American Are You?,” a song which nearly shames men into enlisting, including the biting lyric “If the Star Spangled Banner don’t make you stand and cheer/Then what are you doing over here?”[17] War-positive spoofs of “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” came onto the pop radar like “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Molly-Coddle” or “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Coward,”[18] the verses of which extol the duty, bravery and nobility of enlisting in the military, regardless of the original song’s original message.[19] With America’s entry into the First World War, a well advertised propaganda campaign, and topical importance a topical fad had been created that helped shape public opinion, while also making a buck for those in the music business.

One of the most noticeable themes of this topical fad is what Ronald Schaffer called the “unity motif” of propaganda[20] that enlisting and serving with American grit, Americans can win the war in Europe and it is a paramount theme contained in the pop songs about World War I. Up-tempo and catchy enlisting songs in tempo di marcia boldly and proudly announce how tenacious American will fix the problems in Europe when the Europeans themselves could not do so and helped create patriotic enthusiasm when the United States clearly did not have enough troops to back up its commitment to war. The United States had only 107,000 men in service at the beginning of 1917,[21] whereas hundreds of thousands of soldier had already fought and died in the war. Songs like “Good-Bye Broadway, Hello, France” encouraged participation by claiming “We’re ten million strong…It won’t take us long.”[22] Perhaps the most famous song of the First World War, and one of the most famous songs in all of American history, “Over There” by George M Cohan, declares that the Yanks “won’t come back till it’s over over there.”[23] The song “Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware, General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine” equates American aid in Europe with the fight for liberty of the American revolution,

Take our own great Revolution That began our evolution

Washington then won his fame

Today across the sea, They’re making history

The Yankee spirit still remains the same.[24]

Comical character songs describe how often bumbling fools can become brave and accomplished war heroes, for example, Tony the barber in “When Tony Goes Over The Top,” who “could shave you, He’d cut you from ear to ear” shows his fortitude and becomes a “regular hero, They call him Italian Ace.”[25] In “Good-bye Broadway Hello France,” historical references show American necessity of aiding France by remembering the Marquis de LaFayette and his contributions to the American Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, “Brave LaFayette/When deeds and fame we cannot forget” French aid during the American revolution and how American aid to France will “square our debt with you.”[26] Such songs of American unity and fighting spirit not only give a bouncy song in march tempo, but they glorify enlisting and participation, creating positive public support of sending American soldier to Europe even by making historical references.

Just as there are songs about American enthusiasm to enlist and fight alongside the Allies, there are also songs about the enemy, and in the American case, it was Germany and the face of the German Empire, Kaiser Wilhelm II. American aggression was aimed directly at Germany, after all, German submarines had been sinking ships in the Atlantic for a year before the United States declared war. American advertising images are flush with the “Mad Brute” of Germany[27] and the CPI even produced pamphlets that “implied that Germans in general were guilty of their country’s transgressions.”[28] This trend was prominently featured on the covers of sheet music and lyrics of World War I songs. The word “Hun,” a historical reference to invading nomads into Europe during the fourth and fifth centuries, appears frequently as a choice slur and convenient rhyming word throughout many of the songs censuring Germany’s role in the war. The words of “Hunting the Hun” are quite brutal, even though the song is structured in the form of a nursery rhyme and the hunt for the Hun is expressed almost like a children’s playground game.[29] The song “We’ll Knock the Heligo-Into Heligo-Out of Heligoland!” about the first naval battle of the war in 1914, but historically inaccurate and written in 1917, is all about how the Americans will “get the Kaiser’s goat” by winning the battle, along with characterizations of killing the Hun.[30] Many of these songs are not necessarily about violence of war or the death of the Kaiser, instead they include humiliation and treating “Kaiser Bill” as he was known in many lyrics, as a caricature with a funny moustache. The sheet music of “Who’s Afraid of the Kaiser!!!” by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Anatol Friedland shows American soldiers trimming a farcically large upturned moustache of the style worn by Wilhelm II.[31] In “We’re Going to Hang the Kaiser (Under the Linden Tree),” trimming his moustache “nice and neat” is a part of humiliation before hanging Kaiser Bill.[32] Not only did songs reflect the opinion that Germany and its leader were responsible for the war, some songs even take personal shots at the Kaiser.

Not all song treatments dealt with pressing matters of a crusade for liberty or total castigation for a nation or leader like Kaiser Bill. The music business was still the music business and selling entertaining, catchy songs was still the goal, and this required writing more light-hearted material that appealed to music consumers who may have been a little tired of constantly hearing rousing marches. The song “Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France” comes with consumer-friendly footnotes like “Name of any city may be Substituted for Broadway if desired,” or an announcement that “This composition may also be had for your Talking Machine or Player Piano.”[33] There were humorous entertaining war songs about Americans out-of-context from America, usually in France or somewhere “over there,” an all-purpose phrase used to describe the geographical distant between the United States and Europe. There is important entertainment value in these songs, since, American hearts and minds needed to be entertained rather than constantly persuaded. The entertaining and comical nature in songs about the First World War is evident by a cast of characters of racial and ethnic stereotypes that stretch from the earliest days of the Ragtime Era; nearly all stereotypes came back into fashion.[34] This includes wartime Coon songs like “When I Gets Out in No-Mans Land (I Can’t Be Bother’d With No Mule)” (1918), songs about country Rubes like “It’s a Long Way to Berlin, But We’ll Get There,” (1918), and racial caricatures like Tony the “fighting Wop”[35] in “When Tony Goes Over the Top” and the Irish “Mick” Paddy Mack in “Where do We Go From Here?” (1917). There were not just serious songs about the importance of war, but also commercial elements of humorous pop songs, no matter the patriotic and topical subject matter.

Another popular topic that was more entertaining than informative with persuasive jargon, was the World War I love song. Love is common entertainment fodder for consumers since it gets them to purchase themes that were common in already popular songs, but in the case of the First World War, the plots of such songs were usually focused on the relations between soldiers and nurses or Americans and the French. According to John Keegan, “[The doughboys] personal popularity was everywhere noted. The American were light-hearted, cheerful, enthusiastic, dismissive of difficulties”[36] and such sentiments are expressed in love songs. For songs involving soldiers and nurses, pithy loving sentiment usually shields that fact that the soldiers in the song is injured and such songs add more light-hearted elements to warfare. The song “My Red Cross Girlie” is all about how “Ev’ry Red Cross girlie like a soldier/There’s a feeling in her heart akin to love” with part of the refrain offering comfort for the nurse when receiving an injured soldier, the speaker in this song:

I need you sweetheart for I am wounded,

By a cunning fellow’s dart,

But don’t swoon, dear, for the wound, dear,

Is only somewhere in my heart.[37]

With American servicemen only temporarily in France for the war, it is inevitable that any relationship that may be kindled will likely end, and so, some wartime breakup songs create sentimental moments of temporary lovers separating. Take, “Don’t Cry Frenchy, Don’t Cry,” for example, in which a soldier in Flanders has to “leave her alone in Flanders” and yet promises that “We’ll hear wedding bells chime.”[38] Naturally, language is prominent in these love songs between American and French and entertaining and humorous moments ensue when both parties cannot understand one another. The song “And He’d Say Oo-La-La Wee Wee[39] describes how American serviceman will “break a million heart” when he returns to “Paree” with proficient French language skills,[40] patriotically suggesting that American men would make the French girls swoon. In the song ‘Oh! Frenchy,” a nurse named Rosie Green believes that the French word “oui means you and me, la la” and even though their continued linguistic impasse continues, she brings Soldier Jean to mean her “rural Ma and Pa” in Maine.[41] The character Willie Earl in the song “And He’d Say Oo-La-La Wee Wee” has numerous comic misunderstandings with a French girl, and reverts to using the only French phrase he knows, “oo-la-la wee wee.”[42] The character Johnny in “Oui Oui Marie (Wee Wee Marie)” tells his girl that he’ll learns French if she gives him a kiss,[43] offering a playful and humorous context of the language barriers. Such songs add new elements to familiar topics of love, but done so within the context of Americans in a new place, doing something new, while also entertaining music consumers with pithy and comic love stories set in France.

There is one glaring omission from all of these songs about life in the trenches, that they never really reflect the true realties about soldier life in the First World War. Truthfully, life in the trenches was something that music consumers were unlikely to find desirable or palatable. The methods of warfare on the Western Front included digging as many trenches as possible, and using newly developed technology to kill or disable as many soldiers as possible. Shrapnel-filled warheads, warplanes, asphyxiating chemical gasses, flame throwers, tanks and automatic machine guns became facts of everyday life on the front line as did lice, rats and dysentery. Daily life was filled with boredom. Gary Meade points out that the trenches were and “awful purgatory of banal things…being at the mercy of the elements, a poor diet, the filthy grime and the ubiquitous ‘cootie’.”[44] Irving Berlin’s “Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning” written by Berlin while serving in France and dedicated to his bunk mate Private Howard Friend who “feels as I do about the ‘bugler’,”[45] comes close to reality, expressing derision at the bugler, whose only job is to blow the bugle in the morning and then go back to sleep.[46] Homesickness and boredom helped to create a musical culture in the trenches and pop songs that had been en vogue back home had been sung in the trenches like “There’s a Long, Long Trail,” “Good-Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You” and “Turn Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday.”[47] But soldiers also composed their own song lyrics expressing daily life at the front. Soldier songs range from sarcastic like “Oh What a Lovely War” to romantic torch songs to expressing exasperation at the horrors of war. The lyrics in a verse of “The Trench” poignantly mix the beauty of the countryside with reminders of what the goals of warfare are,

All the night the frogs go chuckle, all the day the birds are singing

In the pond beside the meadow, by the roadway poplar-lined,

In the field between the trenches are a million blossoms springing

‘Twixt the grass of silver bayonets where the lines of battle wind

Where man has manned the trenches for the maiming of his kind.[48]

Even though the commercial pop songs about soldiers in the war, including patriotic marches and entertaining characters and love songs, it is unlikely that consumers could not handle the actualities of war at the front.

The First World War was a challenging time in America, but the songs about the war at least entertained music consumers. Albeit part of a propaganda campaign that was everywhere in American society, these songs provided an outlet for the many Americans who knew someone to go “somewhere over there.” But the phenomenon had all of the hallmarks of a musical fad like the brief and intense nature of its popularity, but it was far from being a fad. Composers and publishing houses aided in the sort of propaganda campaign to get Americans interested and supportive of participation in the war that had already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of a couple years. Songs about American pugnacious and tenacious attitude towards warfare and encouragement about enlisting quickly became marketing, commercial fodder. But there was a more light-hearted side of the rash of World War I song, that entertaining and humorous songs about Americans overseas, including social difficulties and love songs of various nuances, became part of the escapism of the war. The songs of the First World War would become a commercial, yet propaganda laden moment of pop song history.


Flagg, James Montgomery. “I Am Telling You.” Poster. 1918. Reproduced in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

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

Hopps, H.R. “Destroy This Mad Brute.” Poster. c.1917. Reproduced in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books. 1998.

May, Ernest R. The World War and American Isolation, 1914-1917. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1959.

MacGill, Patrick. The Trenches. “Soldier Songs of Patrick MacGill.” The World War I Document Archive. Richard Packen, ed. 15 July 2009. http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Soldier_Songs_of_World_War_I.

Mead, Gary. The Doughboys: America and the First World War. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press. 2000.

Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret. Persuasive Images: Poster of War and Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1992.

Pennell, Joseph. “That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth.” Poster. 1918. Reproduced in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

“Popular Songs Sung by the Soldier.” World War One Music and Songs. Accessed 4 September 2014. http://www.ww1photos.com/WW1MusicIndex.html.

“Popular Songs of World War I.” Cylinders Preservation and Digitization Project. Accessed 5 September 2014. http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/wwi-radio.php.

Princeton Alumni Weekly. Princeton, NJ. Volume 17, no. 36. Accessed 3 September 2014 via Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=chJbAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA859&lpg=PA859&dq=kaiser+bill+linden+tree&source=bl&ots=RbnjRLQLCu&sig=eEvSGYZ2xPk5y7wp6ELmFcmJgUM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=q8AHVOqHJpHLggT16YCoBQ&ved=0CFEQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=kaiser%20bill%20linden%20tree&f=false.

Schaffer, Ronald. America in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991.

Schneck. “It’s Up To You. Protect the Nation’s Honor.” Poster. c.1917. Reproduced in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

Song list from Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. International Broadway Database. Accessed 3 September 2014. http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=8558.

Van Wienen, Mark W. Partisans and Poets: The Political World of American Poetry in the Great War. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Walsh, Thomas P. Tin Pan Alley and the Philippines: American Songs of War and Love, 1898-1946, A Resource Guide. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2013.

Watts, Steven. The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century. New York: Alfred Knopf. 2005.

Whitburn, Joel. Pop Memories, 1890-1954: A History of American Popular Music. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc. 1986.

Song List

Baskette, Billy (music) and C. Francis Reisner and Benny Davis (lyrics). Good-bye Broadway, Hello France. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1917.

Berlin, Irving. Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1918.

Case, C.C. (music) and F.G. McCauley (lyrics). I Did Not Raise My Boy to Be a Coward. Wellington, OH: F.G. McCauley. 1917.

George M Cohan. Over There. New York: William Jerome Pub. Corp. 1917.

Conrad, Con (music) and Sam Ehrlich (lyrics). Oh! Frenchy. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1918.

Donaldson, Walter (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). Don’t Cry Frenchy, Don’t Cry. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1919.

Fischer, Fred (music) and Alfred Bryan and Joe McCarthy (lyrics). Oui Oui Marie (Wee Wee Marie). New York: McCarthy & Fischer Inc. 1918.

Gilbert, L. Wolfe and Anatol Friedland. Who’s Afraid of the Kaiser? New York: Gilbert & Friedland Inc. 1918.

Gottler, Archie (music) and Howard E. Rogers (lyrics). Hunting the Hun. New York: Kalmar, Puck & Abrahams Consol’t’d Inc. 1918.

Johnson, Howard and Percy Wenrich. Where Do We Go From Here? New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1917.

Kendis and Brockman. We’re Going to Hang the Kaiser (Under the Linden Tree). New York: Kendis-Brockman Music Co. 1917.

Marr, Alex, Billy Frisch, and Archie Fletcher. When Tony Goes Over the Top. New York: The Joe Morris Music Co. 1918.

Meyer, George W. (music) and Howard Johnson (lyrics). (Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware) General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1918.

Morse, Theodore (music) and John O’Brien (lyrics). We’ll Knock the Heligo-Into Heligo-Out of Heligoland! New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1917.

Morse, Theodore (music) and Harry Hewley (lyrics). My Red Cross Girlie (The Would is Somewhere in My Heart). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1917.

Nelson, Ed (music) and Will Hart (lyrics). When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez Vous Francais. New York: A.J. Stassy Music Co. 1917.

O’Kane, T.C. (music) and John Hay (lyrics). The Boys Will Soon Be Home. Cincinnati, OH: A.C. Peters & Brain. 1864.

Piantadosi, Al (music) and Alfred Bryan (lyrics). I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1915.

Ruby, Harry and George Jessel. And He’d Say Oo-La-La! Wee-Wee. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1919.

Tucker, Harry (music) and Charles C. Sawyer. When This Cruel War Is Over. Columbia, SC: Geo. Dunn & Company. N.d.

Von Tilzer, Albert (words) and Will Dillon (lyrics). Don’t Send My Darling Boy Away. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1915.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Lewis Brown and Charles McCarron (lyrics). What Kind of American Are You? New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1917.

[1] Harry Tucker (music) and Charles C. Sawyer, When This Cruel War Is Over, (Columbia, SC: Geo. Dunn & Comp, n.d.).

[2] T.C. O’Kane (music) and John Hay (lyrics), The Boys Will Soon Be Home, (Cincinnati, OH: A.C. Peters & Bro, 1864).

[3] Thomas P. Walsh, Tin Pan Alley and the Philippines: American Songs of War and Love, 1898-1946, (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2013), 381.

[4] For an insight to the Hawaiian song fad of 1915 and 1916, see Morgan Howland, “Hapa Haole Numbers: The Hawaiian Craze,” Pop Song History (blog), 19 August 2014, https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/hapa-haole-numbers-the-hawaiian-craze/

[5] Ernest R. May, The World War and American Isolation, 1914-1917, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), 38.

[6] Henry Ford, qtd in Steven Watts, The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005), 229.

[7] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Will Dillon (lyrics), Don’t Take My Darling Boy Away, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1915).

[8] Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories, 1890-1954: A History of American Popular Music, (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc, 1986), 647.

[9] Al Piantadosi (music) and Alfred Bryan (lyrics), I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1915).

[10] Mark W. van Wienen, Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 58.

[11] Ronald Schaffer, American in the Great War: The Rise of the War Welfare State, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 12.

[12] James Montgomery Flagg, “I Am Telling You,” poster, 1918, in Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret, Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 70.

[13] Schneck, “It’s Up To You. Protect the Nation’s Honor,” poster c.1917, in Paret, Lewis and Paret, 54.

[14] Joseph Pennell, “That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth,” poster, 1918, in Paret, Lewis and Paret, 75.

[15] Princeton Alumni Weekly, Princeton, NJ, volume 17, no. 36, Accessed 3 September 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=chJbAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA859&lpg=PA859&dq=kaiser+bill+linden+tree&source=bl&ots=RbnjRLQLCu&sig=eEvSGYZ2xPk5y7wp6ELmFcmJgUM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=q8AHVOqHJpHLggT16YCoBQ&ved=0CFEQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=kaiser%20bill%20linden%20tree&f=false

[16] Song list from Ziegfeld Follies of 1917, International Broadway Database, accessed 3 September 2014, http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=8558.

[17] Albert Von Tilzer, (music) and Lewis Brown and Charles McCarron (lyrics), What Kind of American Are You?, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1917).

[18] Thomas H. Hiscak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 154.

[19] C.C. Case (music) and F.G. McCauley (lyrics), I Did Not Raise My Boy to Be a Coward, (Wellington, OH: F.G. McCauley, 1917).

[20] Schaffer, 6.

[21] John Keegan, The First World War, (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 372.

[22] Billy Baskette (music) and C. Francis Reisner and Benny Davis (lyrics), Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1917).

[23] George M Cohan, Over There, (New York: William Jerome Pub. Corp, 1917).

[24] George W. Meyer (music) and Howard Johnson (lyrics), (Lust Like Washington Crossed the Delaware) General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[25] Alex Marr, Billy Frisch, and Archie Fletcher, When Tony Goes Over the Top, (New York: The Joe Morris Music Co, 1918).

[26] Baskette, Reisner and Davis, Good-bye Broadway, Hello France.

[27] H.R. Hopps, “Destroy This Mad Brute,” poster, c.1917, in Paret, Lewis and Paret, 25.

[28] Schaffer, 8.

[29] Archie Gottler (music) and Howard E. Rogers (lyrics), Hunting the Hun, (New York: Kalmar, Puck & Abrahams Consol’t’d Inc, 1918).

[30] Theodore Morse (music) and John O’Brien (lyrics), We’ll Knock the Heligo-Into Heligo-Out of Heligoland!, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1917).

[31] L. Wolfe Gilbert and Anatol Friedland, Who’s Afraid of the Kaiser?, (New York: Gilbert & Friedland Inc, 1918).

[32] Kendis and Brockman. We’re Going to Hang the Kaiser (Under the Linden Tree), (New York: Kendis-Brockman Music Co, 1917).

[33] Baskette, Reisner and Davis, Good-bye Broadway, Hello France.

[34] “Popular Songs of World War I,” Cylinder Preservation and Digitzation Project, accessed 5 September 2014, http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/wwi-radio.php.

[35] Howard Johnson and Percy Wenrich, Where Do We Go From Here?” (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1917).

[36] Keegan, 374.

[37] Theodore Morse (music) and Harry Hewley (lyrics), My Red Cross Girlie (The Would is Somewhere in My Heart), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1917).

[38] Walter Donaldson (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), Don’t Cry Frenchy, Don’t Cry, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1919).

[39] Harry Ruby and George Jessel. And He’d Say Oo-La-La! Wee-Wee, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1919).

[40] Ed Nelson (music) and Will Hart (lyrics), When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez Vous Francais, (New York: A.J. Stassy Music Co, 1917).

[41] Con Conrad (music) and Sam Ehrlich (lyrics), Oh! Frenchy, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).

[42] Ruby and Jessel, And He’d Say Oo-La-La! Wee-Wee.

[43] Fred Fischer (music) and Alfred Bryan and Joe McCarthy (lyrics), Oui Oui Marie (Wee Wee Marie), (New York: McCarthy & Fischer Inc, 1918).

[44] Gary Mead, The Doughboys: America and the First World War, (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2000), 191.

[45] Irving Berlin, Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1918).

[46] Berlin, Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning.

[47] “Popular Songs Sung by the Soldier,” World War One Music and Songs, accessed 4 September 2014, http://www.ww1photos.com/WW1MusicIndex.html.

[48] Patrick MacGill, The Trenches, “Soldiers Songs by Patrick MacGill,” The World War I Document Archive, Richard Hacken, ed, last modifies 15 July 2009, http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Soldier_Songs_of_World_War_I

Hapa Haole Numbers: The Hawaiian Craze

Geographically based trends and fads are infrequent throughout the history of American commercial pop songs. One example of geographic song has been explored earlier in this series,[1] the Irish trend of the early twentieth century, and it was a song trend which not only prominently featured Ireland as a geographic place, but also the connection the characters in the lyrics have with the Emerald Isle. Other than the rash of Irish songs, many titles of which have become beloved over the decades, there are not many outstanding trends based on location and place. There have been a substantial number of individual songs that focus specifically on a place. Think about how many songs there are about California in the American pop canon like Al Jolson’s “California, Here I Come” (1924), The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” (1965) The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreamin’” (1966), Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Going to San Francisco” (1967), Tupac Shakur’s “California” (1996), Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” (2005) or Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” (2010). These songs are not part of a cohesive trend; instead, they are individual and incidental popular song moments. However, there was a brief geographical song fad that rippled through pop culture in the mid-1910s, with pop songs about Hawaii becoming the latest commercial music product of Tin Pan Alley, a fad which came on quickly and then faded within a couple of years.

Sparked by the popularity of Hawaiian musical acts at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, it became vogue for composers and publishing houses to churn out Tin Pan Alley visions of Hawaii. Unlike the Irish phenomenon, a trend which had lasting consequences in popular music memory, the Hawaiian craze was a consumer targeted fad, the goal of which included selling an image and riding the wave of the fad’s popularity. In Irish songs, by comparison, Irish characteristics were the focus, along with all the jokes, references to Ireland and Irish pop culture, songs targeted to music consumers who may understand such connotations. The Hawaiian fad, on the other hand was substantially less dimensional, where mass commercial consumers on the mainland were less likely to have a full grasp of Hawaii beyond limited and passing information about the islands. Most of these hapa haole[2] titles featured common themes of love impacted by the distance of Hawaii from North America, while other songs use a select number of oft-repeated Hawaiian buzzwords. Consequently, according to Michael Keany, “The hapa haole music being produced at this time didn’t often have much to do with real Hawaiian culture.”[3] These Hawaiian themes and superficial references were likely easily digestible with audiences in the midst of a fad about a new and exotic place, all the while packaged within an illustrated, decorative and fashionable piece of music. Upon review of the songs from this brief period, it is surprising to note that nearly every song was not necessarily about Hawaii, rather its main port and territorial capital, Honolulu. While brief, the hapa haole music fad of the 1910s gave composers an opportunity to create new songs from oft-used themes and language, resulting in a homogenous music product easily understood by a collective mass audience.

Music from or about Hawaii was not a new arrival to American pop culture when the Panama-Pacific Exposition opened in 1915, in fact, Hawaiian musicians had been producing traditional music for centuries and commercial music for decades. Hawaiian royalty were even involved in the music business. In 1874, King Kalakaua composed what would become the state song of Hawai’i, “Hawai’i Pono’i,” a hymn celebrating King Kamehameha’s unification of the islands. In 1878, Queen Lili’oukalani wrote “Alohe Oe,” a song reworked many times throughout the decades by Tin Pan Alley staff arrangers, translators and published in various editions by various firms; in June 2007, a group of panellists from Honolulu Magazine named “Aloha Oe” the greatest song of Hawaii. Hawaiian recording artists also lent their voices to the talking machine like Toots Paka Hawaiians and Albert R. “Sonny” Cuhna, designated “the father of Hapa Haole Songs” according to the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.[4] The Hawaiian-themed show Bird of Paradise from 1912 had a successful run on Broadway followed by a national tour, bringing Hawaiian musicians publicity and exposure.[5] Hawaiians were also subjects of songs in the early years of Ragtime in the mid 1890s when coon songs were all the rage, but included under the racial umbrella of coons in lyrics, evident in the songs of composer Lee Johnson. In his “My Honolulu Lady” form 1898, he writes of bringing home a “choc’late culled” Hawaiian girl to “show dem coons and wenches style,”[6] suggesting that Hawaiian girls are somewhat classier than the typified “coon.” Another Hawaiian coon song, “The Bella of Honolulu,” also written by Johnson, is less raggy and dialectical but still has “blacked-up” lyrics when describing the wedding of a “Honolulu hula queen.”[7] William H. Penn’s “My Honolulu Queen” from 1899 is also part of this racial characterisation of Native Hawaiians, “And although her face a dusky shade is/She is my Honolulu Queen.”[8] This classification eventually fell out of favour after coon songs became less abundant on the pop market by the end of the 1900s, and songs like Tom Armstrong’s “My Rose of Honolulu” (1911) focus more on love for his “sweet Hawaiian maiden”[9] than her ethnicity. Even before the Hawaiian song craze of 1915, songs about Hawaii and Hawaiians had been on the American pop culture radar, even included in early Ragtime and placed within the cultural context of coon songs.

In 1915, the Panama-Pacific Exposition opened in San Francisco, celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal, and one of the attractions available to fair-goers was the Hawaiian Pavilion which showcased the culture, people and music of Hawaii. The Pavilion, located in the vicinity of the California Building and the Boat Harbor, near the centre of the Fair,[10] featured artefacts including canoes of various Hawaiian woods, grass huts, and “making fire with two sticks by friction.”[11] Although Heather Diamond mentions that Hawaii’s participation at the World Fair was for business prospecting and that Native Hawaiian images were heavily managed and scripted,[12] an estimated 17 million people over the span of nine months visited the exhibit.[13] Hawaiian musicians performed there several times a day, including steel guitar players, ukulele performances and guest musicians including the Royal Hawaiian Quartet, Joseph Kekuku, Pale K. Lua and David Ka’ili.[14] Consequently, with so many people in attendance, in 1915 and into 1916, the ukulele, the Hula and everything else associated with Hawaii became part of pop culture pandemonium, including the song “On the Beach in Waikiki” which became a national hit at a time when “many Americans had never been exposed to Hawaiian music.”[15] Composers and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley found themselves in the epicentre of full-on music publishing craze, and dozens of songs and recordings flew out of the offices of publishing firms and record companies eager to attract consumer attention.

The kingdom of Hawaii’s relatively recent entry into United States by annexation in 1898 brought a new geographical area to pop culture attention[16] and an easy way to market music about the islands included producing dreamy descriptions of a new and paradisal place. Stylish cover art frequently advertised the setting of Hawaiian songs with beaming moonlight on a seashore, palm trees and lovers fraternising in the climate of the islands, exactly the sort of material that could possibly entice consumers.[17] Song lyrics also gave consumers loving descriptions of a new exotic place including the constant perception of Hawaii as a seaside paradise. The Earl Burtnett tune “Down Honolulu Way” from 1916 reads like a love letter to the Hawaiian environment including descriptions of the islands where “the moon is always shining,” “palm trees swaying” and “whispering to me of a blue singing sea.[18] In “My Lonely Lola Lo” a similar setting is given where “Banyan trees are softly swaying to and fro, in Hawaii/While the cooling South Sea Island breezes blow, in Hawaii.[19] The Irving Berlin song “I’m Down in Honolulu (Looking them Over)” from 1916 adds a more bawdy element to the descriptions of the climate of Hawaii by discussing his wardrobe, “Try and guess the way I dress/No matter what you think it is, it’s even less.[20] By creating song lyrics with a unifying theme of a tropical paradise, it was uncomplicated to sell the image of Hawaii and with a demand for Hawaiian-themed products high, composers were more than willing to create an ample and seemingly homogenous supply.

Other than being a tropical locale, Hawaii is, after all, located thousands of miles away from the United States mainland and a novel way to address this fact by composers is to use Hawaii’s distance to give another perspective to love songs. By including distance between two lovers as part of the plotlines, composers could successfully give consumers the familiar topic of love, albeit in formulaic ways; note the abundance of copied themes in the following examples. The song “Dear Old Dreamy Honolulu Town” is entirely about the anticipation of arriving in Honolulu to meet his “dark eyed gal” once more,[21] a plot repeated in “Down Honolulu Way.”[22] In the torch song “I Left Her on the Beach in Honolulu,” from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916, the speaker of the song in the first verse sets the scene of heartbreak and longing:

       My heart is yearning, My thoughts are turning ever,

       A maid, I met her, I can forget her never,

       She was a sweet Hawaiian, A little Hula dancing maiden,

       And for her now I’m sighin’, My heart with love is heavy laden.[23]

Such sad sentiment of distance and love is mirrored in the song “Hawaiian Butterfly,” in which the speaker in the song is lovelorn and “she simply carried my heart away.”[24] Returning is also a common motif, in the Gus Edwards song “I Lost My Heart in Honolulu,” the speaker in the lyrics is heartbroken when he has to leave Honolulu, on the other hand, is elated when he is restless to get back to Hawaii to wed “some girl.”[25] The same sentiment is in the 1915 Irving Berlin hit “My Bird of Paradise,” in which the speaker in the song writes a letter to his “Honolulu girl” saying that he will return to her.[26] A less formulaic way of talking about distance is by complaining about the unequivocally high cost of telephoning Hawaii, a plot point which is the focus of the song “Hello, Hawaii, How Are You?” in which case the speaker in the lyrics goes broke calling his “Honolulu Lou” to “give me a kiss by wireless” and then only has time to say “hello.”[27] By addressing ideas of love within the context of Hawaii’s relative distance from the mainland, composers and lyricists created lyrically analogous songs for consumers.

Fundamentally, the hapa haole fad give consumers a product that was familiar and yet fresh within the setting of a new place, but as a geographic location where action happened, representations of Hawaii are lacking, in fact in most of the songs of the times, even those not analysed for this essay, are about the territorial capital and port city of Honolulu, not Hawaii and by looking at where songs take place, it is apparent that the hapa haole fad was more about Honolulu than Hawaii. This is evident when investigating the glut of similarly titled songs from 1916 alone like “My Rose of Honolulu,” “My Honolulu Bride,” “I Love You Honolulu,” “Honolulu Cabaret,” “Honolulu Blues,” “In Honolulu,” “Goodbye Honolulu,” “Dear Old Dreamy Honolulu Town,” and “Down Honolulu Way.” Titles containing the name of the city abound and even when Hawaii is part of the title of a song, the action happens in Honolulu. For example. in the 1917 Joseph Santly song “Hawaiian Butterfly,” which mentions “Somewhere in Hawaii, I’m sending a wire,” a set-up which generalizes about geography, gives into the use of “Beautiful Hulu, Down in dreamy Honolulu”[28] without making any other references to the islands other than the port city. Even in a song which is written specifically about how the Hawaiian fad had swept over American pop culture and how Hawaii has “made America happy,” the actual title of such a song is “Honolulu, America Loves You,” and throughout the song, the city is the focus of the lyrics.[29] It is worth noting that the sounds of the word Honolulu are euphonic, rhythmic and rhymes easily with other common words and so, besides a general setting, Honolulu is an easy lyrical word to use. While Hawaii was at the centre of the music fad, Honolulu was actually the specific geographic setting of many lyrics.

Even if the Hawaiian language was officially banned in schools on the islands following American annexation,[30] Hawaiian words like hula, aloha, and, ukulele, had entered into the American English lexicon and these new words saturate the lyrics of song, adding superficial cultural references and lyrical word play for audiences interested in Hawaii. A verse of “Honolulu America Loves You,” a song self-referential to the Hawaiian craze, insists that everybody in cafés now dances the Hula and that “Our millionaires are playing Ukalele’s too.”[31] Bill Bailey, popularized in the 1902 Hughie Cannon song “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home,” made an appearance during the Hawaiian craze playing a ukulele, “When Old Bill Bailey plays the Ukalele Down in Honolulu they do the ‘Hula Hula’/Ev’ry evening there they are, swayin’ while he’s playin’ his Hawaiian guitar.”[32] The refrain from the Irving Berlin tune “That Hula Hula” from 1916 illustrates just how invasive Hawaiian words were during this fad; note that there are no real descriptions, just superficial inclusion of repetitious words.

       That Hula Hula, Have you seen them do the Hula Hula

       In Honolula, The way they do?

       I know, if you know, How to do the Hula Hula,

       You’d be in Honolula doing the Hula Too[33]

In the lyrics of E. Ray Goetz’s “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula” from 1916 alone, the word hula appears 17 different times, not counting a second repeat of the refrain. It should be noted that hapa haole songs before the fad, like “My Rose of Honolulu” from 1911 or “Honolulu Lu” from 1902, do not regularly include or overuse such Hawaiian words in their lyrics and it seems apparent that the incorporation of such words was inherently part of the fad in the mid 1910s. Inclusion of a few buzzword of Hawaiian extraction within lyrics was another method of attracting consumers to the homogenous sorts of Hawaiian songs during the mid-1910s fad.

With the exotic tropical climate in focus and the few words of Hawaiian extraction in American English in nearly every song, oftentimes the Hawaiian language was imitated, but usually in nonsensical, rhythmic rhyming chatter, with lyricist-created phrases that could possibly be used as catchphrases. Even though the lyrics of “Honolulu America Loves You,” assert that “We’ll all be talkin’ Hawaiian very soon,”[34] most of the lyrics of other songs of Tin Pan Alley imitated the language in pop culture context, whether as a serious imitation of the language, as blatant double entendre or to express annoyance and ire at the extent of lyrical novelty occurring during the fad. A transparent attempt at imitating the Hawaiian language can be found in “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula,” the lyrics of which describes that popularity of a fictitious Hawaiian phrase, every third line repeats the song title while reinforcing it to listeners’ memory. This technique also adds convenient lyrical filler and takes up space in the verses,

       Down Hawaii way, by the moonlit bay,

       When I lingered awhile, she stole my heart away,

       Yaaka hula hickey dula, Yaaka hula hickey du,

       Oh I don’t care if you’ve loved the ladies far and near,

       You’d forget about them all if you could hear.

       Yaaka hula hickey dula, Yaaka hula hickey du.[35]

“Oh! How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo” offers a more risqué imitation of Hawaiian but in this example the title’s semantically vacuous phrase is, presumably, a coy euphemism, along with the other meaningless phrases that manage to create more vulgar suggestions,

       She had a Hula, Hula, Hicki, Boola, Boola in her walk,

       She had a Ukalele Wicki Wicki Waili in her talk,

       And by the big Hawaiian moon,

       Beneath a banyan tree we’d spoon,…

       But Oh, how she could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo, That’s love in Honolulu.[36]

Thomas Hischak mentions that some songs included imitations of the Hawaiian language in order to protest the superfluous lyrical content and intense popularity of the hapa haole craze,[37] which is unmistakable in the song “Yaddie Kaddie Kiddie Kaddie Koo,” when a man wonders “why do they sing that silly [phrase]?”[38] Certain composers were tiring of the Hawaii fad by 1917, including publishing of such titles as “The More I See Hawaii, The More I Like New York,” in which a speaker directly expresses the annoyance of the fad and such nonsense lyrics by being “sick and tired of hearing That crazy Yacki Hula talk.”[39] The fad in Hawaiian songs also made popular various ways in which the Hawaiian language was imitated within the song lyrics, whether as a serious attempt at copying the language, offering double entendre or expressing derision directly at the fad by mimicking the steady stream of nonsensical phrasing being published.

Songs about Hawaii coming from publishing houses and record studios flooded the music market in the mid 1910s, but the hapa haole fad would be brief. As the First World War consumed Europe and American military interests gradually shifted from isolationism to troop mobilisation and declaration of war, songs expressing enthusiasm of participating in the war in 1917 and 1918 quickly eclipsed the escapism of an exotic seaside paradise thousands of miles offshore, as did the new trendy music called Jazz. This quick end to the hapa haole publishing fad did not completely end America’s fascination with songs about the islands, in fact many waves of Hawaiian popularity have come and gone since 1915 and 1916. During the 1920s, a fad for the ukulele created a new market for manufacturing the instrument and sheet music commonly featured ukulele accompaniment. During the 1930s, “tropical escapism was a significant past-time in the depths of the great depression,”[40] and broadcasts of the radio show Hawaii Calls helped to reinvigorate the genre. Consequently, many pop songs from that decade also featured Hawaii as a destination like “Pagan Love Song” (1929), “Sweet Leilani” (1937), and Hawaiian-themed movies like the popular 1937 film Waikiki Wedding starring Bing Crosby. Hawaiian songs also had a resurgence of popularity during the 1950s. Although the Hawaiian song craze of the 1910s was brief, it was only the initiation of a broader American interest in songs about the islands.

By looking at the Hawaiian hapa haole fad of the mid-1910s, a number of methods for creating and propagating that fad emerge. Hawaii was a different locale for music consumers and with a hit song coming out of the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco, composers looked to create their own niche in the market. There are a number of ways in which composers and lyricists perpetuated the fad, by copying a number of unvarying lyrical mechanisms in which Hawaii, or rather Honolulu, was the setting of the plot, not by including anything remotely related to Hawaiian culture. When Hawaii was described, it was done so through the context of an island paradise. When Hawaii was the setting of the lyrics, it was usually accomplished by telling love stories just as in other Tin Pan Alley love song. But another pattern emerges from the homogenous nature of Hawaiian songs from this time, that buzzwords of Hawaiian extraction were used over and over again and the Hawaiian language was often imitated as nonsensical lyrical filler. These means were not universally accepted within the music business, in fact, there are a select few songs in which the Hawaiian song fad was addressed with exasperation. The Hawaiian song fad may have faded with the First World War on the horizon, but its inclusion in pop song history is a study of music marketing in fad form of supplying an in-demand product to music-hungry consumers.


“Albert S. ‘Sonny’ Cuhna.” Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. Accessed 18 August 2014. http://www.hawaiimusicmuseum.org/honorees/1996/cunha.html.

Bolante, Ronna and Michael Keany. “50 Greatest Hawaiian Songs.” Honolulu Magazine. 1 June 2007. http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/June-2007/50-Greatest-Songs-of-Hawai-8217i/?cparticle=1&siarticle=0#artanc.

Cooper, Catherine R. Bridging Multiple Worlds: Cultures, Identities and Pathways to College. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011.

Diamond, Heather A. American Aloha: Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press. 2008.

The Exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. San Francisco, CA: Press of H.S. Crocker Co. 1915.

Emmons, Keith. “The Covers: 1915-1919.” Hulapages.com. Accessed 14 August 2014. http://www.hulapages.com/covers_2.htm.

——-. “The Covers: 1930-1939.” Hulapages.com. Accessed 14 August 2014. http://www.hulapages.com/covers_4.htm.

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

Keany, Michael. “100 Years of Hawaiian Music.” Honolulu Magazine. November 2010. http://www.honolulumagazine.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=8151&url=/honolulu-magazine/november-2010/100-years-of-hawaiian-music/&mode=print

Ruymar, Lorene. The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and Its Great Musicians. Lorene Ruymar, ed. Amaheim Hills, CA: Centerstream Publishing, 1996.

Song List

Armstrong, Tom. Rose of Honolulu. New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co. 1911.

Baskette, Billy and Joseph Santly (music) and Geo. A Little (lyrics). Hawaiian Butterfly. New York: Leo. Feist Inc. 1917.

Berlin, Irving. I’m Down in Honolulu (Looking Them Over). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1916.

——-. My Bird of Paradise (My Honolulu Girl). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1915.

——-. That Hula Hula. New York: Irving Berlin Inc. 1915.

Burtnett, Earl and Joseph A Burke (music) and J.E. Dempsey (lyrics). Down Honolulu Way. New York: Jerome H Remick & Co. 1916.

Cox, Eddie, Grant Clarke and Jimmie V. Monaco. Honolulu, America Loves You (We’ve Got to Hand It To You). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1916.

Edwards, Gus (music) and Will D. Cobb (lyrics). I Lost My Heart in Honolulu. New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc. 1916.

Goetz, E. Ray, Joe Young and Pete Wendling. Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula (Hawaiian Love Song). Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1916.

Gottler, Archie (music) and Bert Kalmar (lyrics). The More I See of Hawaii, The Better I Like New York. New York: Kalmar, Puck & Abrahms Consolidated Inc. 1917.

Johnson, Lee. The Belle of Honolulu. San Francisco, CA: Sherman, Clay & Co. 1898.

——-. My Honolulu Lady. London, UK: The Zeno Mauvais Music Co. 1898.

Lange, Arthur and F. Wallace Rega’ (Music) and Edgar T. Farran and Jeff T. Branen (lyrics). Dear Old Dreamy Honolulu Town. New York: Joe Morris Music Co. 1916.

McCarron, Chas and Nat. Vincent. When Old Bill Bailey Plays the Ukalele. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1915.

Meyer, George W (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics). Yaddie Kaddie Kiddie Kaddie Koo. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1916.

Murphy, Stanley, Arthur Lange and Alfred Solman. My Lonely Lola Lo (In Hawaii). New York: The Joe Morris Music Co. 1916.

Penn, William H. (music) and Jas. O’Dea (lyrics). My Honolulu Queen. Chicago, Il: Sol Bloom. 1899.

Schwartz, Jean (music) and Bert Kalmar and Edgar Leslie (lyrics). Hello, Hawaii, How Are You? New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1915.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Stanley Murphy and Chas. McCarron (lyrics). Oh! How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1916.

[1] For a look at this essay, see Morgan Howland, “Hibernian Numbers: Irish Identity in Popular Song in the Early Twentieth Century,” Pop Song History (blog), https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/hibernian-numbers-irish-identity-in-popular-song-in-the-early-twentieth-century/.

[2] Hapa Haole is a phrase commonly given to people or things, including songs, which have mixed white and Hawaiian elements, in the case of songs, Hawaiian songs written by white composers.

[3] Michael Keany, “100 Years of Hawaiian Music,” Honolulu Magazine, November 2010, accessed 14 August 2014, http://www.honolulumagazine.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=8151&url=/honolulu-magazine/november-2010/100-years-of-hawaiian-music/&mode=print.

[4] “Albert R. “Sonny” Cuhna,” Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, accessed 18 August 2014, http://www.hawaiimusicmuseum.org/honorees/1996/cunha.html

[5] Lorene Ruymar, The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and it Great Hawaiian Musicians, Lorene Ruymar, editor, (Anaheim Hills, CA: Centerstream Publishing, 1996), 31.

[6] Lee Johnson, My Honolulu Lady, (London, UK: The Zeno Mauvais Music Co, 1898).

[7] Lee Johnson, The Belle of Honolulu, (San Francisco, CA: Sherman, Clay & Co, 1898).

[8] William H. Penn (music) and Jas. O’Dea (lyrics), My Honolulu Queen, (Chicago, Il: Sol Bloom, 1899).

[9] Tom Armstrong, Rose of Honolulu, (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1911).

[10] Map of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, San Francisco Photo Collection, San Francisco Public Library, accessed 11 August 2014, http://sfpl.org/html/libraries/main/sfphotos/ppie/ppiemap.htm.

[11] The Exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, (San Frasisico, CA: Press of H.S. Crocker Co, 1915), 107-108.

[12] Heather A. Diamond, American Aloha: Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition, (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), 23.

[13] Michael Keany, “100 Years of Hawaiian Music,” Honolulu Magazine, November 2010, http://www.honolulumagazine.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=8151&url=/honolulu-magazine/november-2010/100-years-of-hawaiian-music/&mode=print

[14] Ruymar, 30.

[15] Keith Emmons, “The Covers: 1915-1919,” Hulapages.com, accessed 14 august 2014, http://www.hulapages.com/covers_2.htm.

[16] For an in-depth look at the annexation of Hawaii see Tom Coffman, Nation Within: The History of America’s Annexation of the Nation of Hawaii, (Kane’ohe, HI: Epicentre, 1999).

[17] For a gallery of cover art images of songs written during this era, see Keith Emmons, “The Covers: 1915-1919,” Hulapages.com, accessed 11 August 2014, http://www.hulapages.com/covers_2.htm.

[18] Earl Burtnett and Joseph A Burke (music) and J.E. Dempsey (lyrics), Down Honolulu Way, (New York: Jerome H Remick & Co, 1916).

[19] Stanley Murphy, Arthur Lange and Alfred Solman, My Lonely Lola Lo (In Hawaii), (New York: The Joe Morris Music Co., 1916).

[20] Irving Berlin, I’m Down in Honolulu (Looking Them Over), (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1916).

[21] Arthur Lange and F. Wallace Rega’ (Music) and Edgar T. Farran and Jeff T. Branen (lyrics). Dear Old Dreamy Honolulu Town. New York: Joe Morris Music Co. 1916.

[22] Burtnett, Burke and Dempsey, Down Honolulu Way.

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

[24] Billy Baskette and Joseph Santly (music) and Geo. A Little (lyrics), Hawaiian Butterfly, (New York: Leo. Feist Inc, 1917).

[25] Gus Edwards (music) and Will D. Cobb (lyrics), I Lost My Heart in Honolulu, (New York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co Inc, 1916).

[26] Irving Berlin, My Bird of Paradise (My Honolulu Girl), (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1915).

[27] Jean Schwartz (music) and Bert Kalmar and Edgar Leslie (lyrics), Hello, Hawaii, How Are You?, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1915).

[28] Baskette, Santly and Little, Hawaiian Butterfly.

[29] Eddie Cox, Grant Clarke and Jimmie V. Monaco, Honolulu, America Loves You (We’ve Got to Hand It To You), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1916).

[30] Catherine R. Cooper, Bridging Multiple Worlds: Cultures, Identities and Pathways to College, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68.

[31] Cox, Clarke and Monaco, Honolulu, America Loves You (We’ve Got to Hand It To You).

[32] Chas. McCarron and Nat. Vincent, When Old Bill Bailey Plays the Ukalele, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1915).

[33] Irving Berlin, That Hula Hula, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc., 1915).

[34] Cox, Clarke and Monaco, Honolulu, America Loves You (We’ve Got to Hand It To You).

[35] E. Ray Goetz, Joe Young and Pete Wendling, Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula (Hawaiian Love Song), (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1916).

[36] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Stanley Murphy and Chas. McCarron (lyrics), Oh! How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1916).

[37] Thomas S. Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 412.

[38] George W Meyer (music) and Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young (lyrics), Yaddie Kaddie Kiddie Kaddie Koo, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1916).

[39] Archie Gottler (music) and Bert Kalmar (lyrics), The More I See of Hawaii, the More I Like New York, (New York: Kalmar, Puck & Abrahms Consolidated Inc. 1917).

[40] Keith Emmons, “The Covers: 1930-1939,” hulapages.com, accessed 14 August 2014, http://www.hulapages.com/covers_4.htm.

Mechanical Reproductions, Pt 2: The Player Piano as Musical Instrument

During the 1910s and 1920s, the mechanical player piano became a popular and technologically forward-thinking form of entertainment. Like the Phonograph or the Victrola, the player piano gave their owners access to instant musical entertainment without the fuss of actually learning how to play a musical instrument or how to read sheet music. Consequently, the mechanical piano as a domestic appliance partly aided in the cultural collapse of home piano playing. On the other hand, the player piano gave consumers, some of whom were completely unable to play a musical instrument, the opportunity to enjoy live music in the home, albeit reproduced mechanically through the guise of a musical instrument. The idiosyncrasies of fewer people learning to play the piano with a growing interest in piano music cannot be more blatant during this transitional period from Ragtime Era to the Jazz Era in the late 1910s and early 1920s. The former asserts that the manual piano was falling out of fashion, while the latter shows that there was still a considerable consumer market for piano music. As a machine, the player piano was a brief fad that had transformative effects on piano culture in America; as a musical instrument, it expanded the reach of piano music in the home.

The results of mechanical reproduction of piano music were widely varied from context to context, but most of piano culture had been affected by the player piano. Within the home, the piano roll transformed musicianship of piano playing into musical ownership of mass produced piano rolls, passive music that anybody with the financial means of purchasing a player piano could enjoy. This change also happened in commercial settings like restaurants and saloons to provide background music, as well as movie theatres to provide a soundtrack to early, otherwise silent films. The piano roll medium also had influence on classical composers eager to tap the experimental potential of a machine that lacked the limitations of human play. For pop song history in the United States, mechanically reproduced piano music and lushly arranged piano rolls helped to popularize stylized ragtime novelty piano pieces during an era when ragtime was already out of fashion in favour of the orchestras of the early Jazz Era. Finally, there was one significant cultural change incurred by the sheer anonymity of the player piano roll. African American musicians, who were oftentimes segregated from white mass commercial audiences, found that they could record their own piano performances and earn commercial success without their audiences knowing they were listening to black musicians. Despite the fad of the player piano, the medium had diverse effects on American musical culture.

Throughout the Ragtime Era, the Victorian-age ethos of domestic piano playing had declined but with the player piano, a new, more accepting attitude about mechanisation and modernisation in music was taking hold with music purchasing consumers. The attitudes of many Americans at the time had shifted to positively embracing mechanical reproducing music. Machines which produced music like talking machines and mechanical pianos were considered part of the musical future, and according to James Haskins, “time is money, and if a middle-class family could afford a Pianola[1] and piano rolls, then they did not have to waste time learning to play on a standard piano.”[2] This new attitude towards mechanically reproduced music changed the culture surrounding the domestic piano away from musicianship and art form and towards music ownership of an entertaining consumer commodity; where music was consumed passively rather than engaged actively on the keyboard. While mastery of the keyboard took months and sometimes years to produce good music, the owner of the player piano could easily operate it and provide entertainment in the home without substantial musical expertise. Many popular titles throughout the 1900s were becoming widely available on piano rolls for consumers. This new passive form of entertainment also meant that player piano owners could also gain wider access to classical music, some compositions of which had been beyond the skill level of even more experienced players. Many titles of the classical music canon consequently became must-have piano rolls, compositions that showed one’s knowledge of cultured music within the home music library.[3] With attitudes towards music changing, the player piano became the latest machine to own, ownership of which created the opportunity for anyone to enjoy live musical experiences in the home.

Passive piano music as entertainment was not confined to domestic environs, it was also available as a commercial venture and business found that they could earn revenue with a coin-operated player piano. Coin-operated music was nothing new to the public; in fact coin-operated Phonographs had entered public spaces as early as 1890.[4] As soon as standardized player pianos became widely available for purchase in the early 1910s, there were restaurants, saloons, cafes, train stations and even grocery store interested in purchasing special, more decorative coin-operated player pianos. These machines could provide business owners with a steady stream of revenue with each drop of a coin of a customer curious about the machine and so live, playerless music became public entertainment, passive background music and commercial investment. Businesses were even instructed by piano roll makers to keep up with the latest popular piano roll titles of to ensure that consumers got the freshest music possible, so customers would not become bored with stale music selections.[5] As well, during the 1910s when the early film industry operated without sound, movie houses and theatres found that they could incorporate a player piano to provide accompanying music, sometimes with piano rolls supplied directly by the movie studio with music synched with the action shown on screen, thus circumventing reliance on a human piano player. Complex player machines had been manufactured specifically for movie theatres to include any sound effect needed for a movie. The Link Piano Company advertised a player piano equipped with four tracker bars and roll mechanisms to facilitate “the right music at the right time,” along with a host of sound effects ranging from footsteps, to gun shots, to sirens and alarms to go along with the action happening before the audience’s eyes.[6] As soon as the mechanical piano became part of the music environment of America, there were also applications of passive music in commercial and industrial settings.

Of course, whenever a new technological development for music comes to the public’s attention, there are vocal critics to oppose it. Such was the case of the player piano, whose mechanical music worried some groups about the status of art in music while others worried that it would destroy their own musical occupations. One of the earliest groups to criticize the mechanisms of the player piano were the Music Teachers National Association, who feared that the widespread popularity of the player piano could lead to fewer people learning proper musical technique.[7] Although player pianos were often advertised and marketed for educational and instructional purposes, “it did not turn people into pianists,” according to Michael Chanan.[8] More opposition came from barbershop quartets, brass bands and orchestras, who saw coin-operated player pianos fitting into hotel lobbies, brothels, restaurants and train stations, places where they would generally be hired to provide background music. After all, bands had to be paid, but a player piano fitted with a coin slot could easily earn money for the proprietor. Composers were also alarmed at the player piano and the piano roll, since copyright law did not include mechanical reproduction; as a result, piano roll makers could produce any popular title they wanted without paying a royalty. Record companies had, in fact, worked closely with sheet music publishers and composers for years to promote sales of popular titles,[9] but piano roll companies that published titles without consultation with publishers, were on the fringes of musical publication. A new copyright law in 1909 had to be passed to include mechanical reproduction, including piano roll.[10] While the new technology allowed easier access to live piano music and ease of piano roll reproduction, there were detractors fearful about the changes in the music culture in America as a result from the player piano.

The music business also changed to include freshly arranged compositions and recordings for famous composers, all available in the paper piano roll format. Traditional manual piano composition and play was restricted to ten fingers, but the mathematical nature of piano roll production changed this considerably with its slits and perforations dictating the action of the piano keys. From the inception of the player piano industry, manufacturers could create perfectly, technically masterful performances, albeit with the lack of heart that a musician could play a composition.[11] As a mechanically produced product, the possibilities for the music contained on a piano roll were boundless; consequently, mechanical reproduction of the music on a paper piano roll could emulate harmony, rhythms and range that human hands could not. Staff arrangers at piano roll companies used this to their advantage, enriching the sounds of already produced titles by adding flourishes to music rolls including “counter melodies, double octaves, tremolos, rapid chromatic runs…all impossible to play by hand.”[12] In 1912, new technology which reproduced more artistic nuances in music for the player piano brought another dimension to the player piano by transcribing live performances on paper roll by ink ready for perforation.[13] A wide range of renowned Romantic composers recorded their own playing on piano rolls, including Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Artur Rubenstein; piano roll recording subsequently becoming an “adjunct of musical culture.”[14] Ragtime composer Scott Joplin got into the commercial recording industry with his own piano playing transcribed to piano roll, even though his original performances from 1916 had been heavily edited and arranged to include new, humanly impossible playing.[15] Not only could the new recording mechanisms record the ways in which composers interpreted the piano, it also captured all their playing mistakes on paper roll, all of which could easily be repaired on the final version of the piano roll.[16] The medium of the piano roll could do much more than any single person could possibly perform on a piano.

The boundless world of player piano music gave inspiration to Modernist composers who, throughout the 1910s and 1920s, were eager to push the expanding boundaries of modern music. Perhaps the first composer to create a composition specifically for the player piano was Igor Stravinsky, producing the Étude pour Pianola in 1917. For Stravinsky, interest was in the “whimsicalities of the unexpected melodies of the mechanical piano” to emulate a pianist with “sixteen arms and no feelings.”[17] Claude Debussy also found similar inspiration in player piano. Perhaps the most notorious use of the mechanical piano composition was George Antheil’s La Ballet Mécanique, which had originally been scored to include sixteen simultaneous player pianos, sirens, tam tams, and aeroplane propellers.[18] Composer Conlon Nancarrow has composed over fifty studies specifically for the player piano to explore the “complex simultaneous sounding rhythms along with such impossibly wide reaches for the pianist’s hand.”[19] But composers quickly learned that concert application of the player piano was limited despite the futuristic idea of a piano that could play itself. In 1921, Stravinsky had planned on including a number of synchronized mechanical pianos into a performance of the ballet Les Noces, but due to time constraints and observed difficulties in synchronizing the machines, he abandoned the project in favour of an arrangement that opted for wind instruments and percussion.[20] At the well publicized 1927 debut of Ballet Mécanique at Carnegie Hall, synching four player pianos was too difficult for Antheil and the result was a lot of noise and riotous protest from the audience, along with a number of attendees loosing their hats due to wind from propellers; one critic expressed derision at the performance by quipping “don’t make a mountain out of an Antheil.”[21] But despite the difficulties of bringing to work to the stage, Ballet Mécanique was so futuristic that MIDI technology in the 1990s finally allowed a first perform the piece as planned by Antheil.[22] For composers, the player piano offered possibilities of realising futuristic sounds without interaction by human hands.

Even though there were few pop song consequences of the player piano as a musical instrument, but there was one pop area that did enjoy tremendous success, specifically linked to the popularity of the player piano. By 1917, when Tin Pan Alley composers were looking towards the war in Europe as a topic for commercial songs, a new musical trend was coming out of the piano rolls of music consumers, that of the novelty ragtime piano piece. “The most important medium in terms of the instrumental rag, however, was the player piano,”[23] according to Terry Waldo, a musical genre developed from new mechanical methods of arrangement and ornamentation.[24] During the late 1910s, the ragtime genre was on the decline, but the possibilities unleashed by piano rolls actually helped to produce a whole body of popular ragtime piano work. During the height of player piano popularity, piano techniques of accomplished ragtime pianists of sliding block chords and dizzying syncopated rhythms had found themselves on the pop market and the player piano was the preferred medium for hearing such pieces. The compositions of Zez Confrey like “Kitten on the Keys” (1921), “My Pet” (1921), “Dizzy Fingers” (1923), and “Stumbling” (1922) were well suited for the player piano of this new novelty piano style and becoming big selling hits for piano rolls. Other composers like Roy Bargy had novelty hits like his 1919 piano rag “Knice and Knifty.[25] There is a plausible reason for the upsurge in novelty piano at a time when pop audiences were more embracing the orchestration of Jazz. When these titles had been published between 1919 and 1921, the player piano was experiencing the zenith of sales and more people than ever were buying the instrument and the piano rolls played on them. As a new, rhythmic music on a popular medium, it makes sense that novelty piano enjoyed popularity at a time when Ragtime was out of fashion.

But there are other, more culturally significant aspects of the music of the player piano that changed the musical scene in the United States. Even though there had been successful African musicians and composers during the Ragtime era like recording artist George Washington Johnson, stage performer Bert Williams, and composers James Reese Europe and James P. Johnson, most music coming out of Tin Pan Alley and the recording studios were created by white composers and musicians. It had been a well-established tradition to “black-up” for stage and studio. Singer Al Jolson originally performed his vaudeville act and popular songs in blackface throughout the 1910s and Arthur Collins’s recordings in African American dialect were so successful that in 1905 Edison Records released a disclaimer proclaiming that “Mr. Collins is not a Negro.”[26] During the 1910s, African American pianists learned that they could record their piano playing and earn money selling performances, spread their reputations by quick distribution of paper piano rolls, all unbeknownst to the white consumers purchasing the new novelty piano rolls.[27] Perhaps the first black musician to record a piano roll was John “Blind” Boone in 1912 and stride piano player Eubie Blake made numerous paper roll recordings throughout his career. The piano roll was a revelation for some piano players. When he learned through the pages of The Etude magazine that a contraption called the Leabarjan Perforator could allow home dictation of piano playing “for pleasure or profit,”[28] J. Johnson Cook saved the advertisement for so long that “it began to yellow” for the hopes that he could buy such a mechanism.[29] In the late 1910s, aspiring pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller had practiced on the player piano to learn how to play music, consequently winning a contest and becoming hired to accompany movies at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem in 1919.[30] Piano roll recording was a source of delight for Waller; his son, Maurice, recounts that his father was so proud of his player piano recordings that he carried a piano roll of his most recent effort in his coat pocket.[31] Recording on a piano roll allowed black musicians to earn a living recording music for white audiences who may not know they were listening to black people play the piano.

Although the player piano had a brief overall popularity, after all, throughout the 1920s, radio broadcasts and Jazz Era music did their part in the decline of the piano, its musical capabilities had a diverse influence. Within the home, mechanical pianos allowed owners of any skill level to perform live music, albeit at the expense of actual musicianship. Businesses created a new stream of revenue by coin-operated player piano and the latest piano roll titles, and mechanical pianos player a part of the early years of silent film during the 1910s. The player piano, or more specifically the limitless capabilities of the piano roll, allowed classical composers an outlet for rhythmic and sonic experimentation. But for American pop song, the player piano introduced novelty ragtime piano piece and the playing styles of African American musicians to a mass commercial audience. This was not an insignificant development, considering the amount of segregation in the music industry during this era. The music of the player piano, a quaint distant memory of music history, certainly impacted numerous areas of the music industry.


Antheil, George. The Bad Boy of Music. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co. 1945.

Chanan, Michael. “The Player Piano.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 72-75.

Cheek, Joshua.   Liner notes to George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique. Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. NAXOS, 8.559060. CD. 1999.

Dolan, Brian. Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origin of an American Musical Industry. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 2009.

Fabrizio, Timothy C. and George F. Paul. The Talking Machines: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. 1997.

Haskins, James. Scott Joplin: The Man Who Made Ragtime. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. 1978.

Kirby, F.E. Music for Piano: A Short History. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press. 1995.

“‘Mr. Collins is not a Negro’—Edison Takes on the Rumor Mill.” The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog). Posted 8 March 2013. http://78records.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/mr-collins-is-not-a-negro-edison-takes-on-the-rumor-mill/.

Roehl, Harvey. Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press. 1973.

Roell, Craig H. The Piano in America, 1890-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1989.

Sumner, William Leslie. The Pianoforte. London, UK: MacDonald. 1966.

Tancs, Linda. Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide. New York: Oceana. 2009.

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

Waller, Maurice and Anthony Calabrese. Fats Waller. New York: Schirmer Books. 1977.

Walsh, Stephen. Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934. New York: Alfred A Knoff. 1999.

[1] The brand name Pianola is often used as a synonym for the player piano.

[2] James Haskins, Scott Joplin: The Man who made Ragtime, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978), 109.

[3] Brian Dolan, Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origins of an American Musical Industry, (New York: Rownman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 138.

[4] Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul, The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1997), 24.

[5] Craig H. Roell, The Piano in America, 1890-1940, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 59

[6] Roell, 51-52.

[7] Ibid, 55.

[8] Michael Chanan, “The Player Piano,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Hartford, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 74.

[9] Roell, 59.

[10] Copyright Law of 1909, contained in Linda Tancs, Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Sect 78(e).

[11] Terry Waldo, This Is Ragtime, (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1976), 83.

[12] Waldo, 84.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Chanan, contained in Piano Roles, 73.

[15] Haskins, 193-194.

[16] William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, (London, UK: MacDonald, 1966), 195.

[17] Igor Stravinsky, qtd in Stephen Walsh, Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934, (New York: Alfred A Knoff, 1999), 282.

[18] Joshua Cheek, liner notes to George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique, Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, NAXOS, 8.559060, CD, 1999.

[19] F.E. Kirby, Music for Piano: A Short History, (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1995), 381.

[20] Igor Stravinsky, qtd in Walsh, 323-324.

[21] George Antheil, The Bad Boy of Music, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Co, 1945), 195-196.

[22] Dolan, 172-3.

[23] Waldo, 82.

[24] Ibid, 84.

[25] Ibid, 85-86.

[26] “Mr. Collins is Not a Negro,” Edison Phonograph Monthly, June 1905, found on The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog), posted 8 March 2013, accessed 25 July 2014, http://78records.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/mr-collins-is-not-a-negro-edison-takes-on-the-rumor-mill/

[27] Dolan, 94.

[28] Advertisement for the Leabarjan Perforator, contained in Harvey Roehl, Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Player Piano, (Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press, 1973), 189.

[29] J. Johnson Cook, qtd in Dolan, 135.

[30] Dolan, 136.

[31] Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrese, Fats Waller, (New York: Schirmer Books, 1977), 46.

Mechanical Reproductions, Pt 1: The Player Piano as Domestic Machine

The player piano owns a particularly strange place in the milieu of not only the Ragtime era, but also of the modern era of musical history generally. The player piano is not an instrument of the traditional sense; it is a machine that just happens to play music, and, like the Phonograph or the Victrola, was another domestic appliance used for entertainment in the home. But with the addition of a new contraption to the home, a new technology which sometimes replaced the traditional manual piano, also came changes in the culture of the piano during the 1910s. The manual piano, after all, required years of training and practice, while the mechanical piano merely was a machine that mechanically reproduced music through the guise of a piano. Playing the mechanical piano only required basic mastery of a few rudimentary controls for tempo, tone and volume as well as the operation of foot pedals to activate pneumatic bellows. While the player piano did not significantly or directly impact the course of pop song history in America, as a new piece of domestic machinery and coin-operated entertainment, it took away the culture of work necessary to play the piano, and instead made live music mechanized, more user-friendly and more available for music consumers in the early twentieth century.

Mechanical instruments which did not require artistic interaction from a musician had long been a tradition in Europe for centuries, but in the 1900s and 1910s, the player piano would capture the attention of music consumers in America. By combining the domestic tradition of the piano with the mechanical spirit of the industrial revolution in the United States, player piano companies built a large business during the 1910s based partly on marketing the ease of using their products. What would eventually become the complete player piano containing the pneumatics and piano action into a single instrument, was far from perfect, and in the business of piano companies and piano roll makers, there had been a complete lack of unity in format, causing a chaotic business environment which hindered growth. But after standards for piano rolls and keyboard range had been approved by manufacturers in 1910, the player piano quickly took a large market share from traditional piano makers, who were themselves eager to get into the suddenly popular mechanical piano trade. As the player piano became the newest domestic appliance to own, the American attitude towards the piano had transformed, so much so that learning to play the instrument, a task cherished by Victorian Age society, fell by the wayside. The player piano eventually fell out of favour as the Jazz Era and eventually the Great Depression drastically reduced relevance in domestic ownership of the instrument. But revived interest in ragtime music during the 1960s and 1970s brought resurgent enthusiasm in the player piano and in the twenty-first century, player pianos have a lucrative place in the American antiques market. The player piano as a machine has had great effects on the musical culture regarding the place of the piano in the home during the 1910s.

By the time mechanical pianos in the United States had been patented and marketed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, automated mechanical musical instruments had been in existence for centuries, if not a millennium. Automated organs partly powered by water had been used as far back as eighth century Byzantium.[1] In Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, various forms of peg and pin systems, in which raised protrusions rhythmically strike tuned pegs, became popular including the barrel organ, a mechanical instrument for which famous composers like Mozart, Haydn, Handel and Beethoven wrote compositions specifically for mechanical reproduction.[2] In addition to mechanical instruments, there was a decorative niche for smaller mechanical music automata, music boxes and key-wound trinkets becoming the latest fashionable home accessory including musical snuff boxes, chiming clocks, coin operated peg and pin disc machines, carillon bells, and mechanisms featuring singing birds.[3] The concept of a piano that could play itself was also not new in the 1890s, in fact the slow evolution in developing the complex pneumatic components of the mechanical piano would take decades. Numerous patents had been filed for “self-acting” piano internationally throughout the nineteenth century. Muzio Celementi filed a patent in Britain in 1825, JB Napoleon Fourneaux filed a French patent in 1863 and John McTammany filed an American patent in 1881.[4] Long before the invention and production of player pianos, mechanical music not requiring a musician had already been a well-established pop culture phenomenon.

What would eventually become the player piano as remembered in the twenty-first century, would take over two decades of evolutionary development in America. No single inventor can claim to fully invent the player piano; its complex system of pneumatic components developed slowly and the list of patented pieces of the early mechanical piano player is lengthy.[5] A small sampling of important components include the piano roll and tracker bar function patented by Elias Parkman Needham in 1865, a cam which internally depressed the piano key patented by Merritt Gally in 1881, and the “slide valve wind motor” which allowed the rotation of the paper piano roll developed by George B Kelly in 1886.[6] Early machines using pneumatic systems like the relatively successful Aeolian Pianola, developed by Edwin S Votey in 1897, were separate machines powered by the operator, machines whose owners pushed to the keyboard and whose operation involved pneumatic system activating wooden fingers that physically depressed the keys of already-owned pianos.[7] Early modern self-contained pianos came onto the market in the early 1900s, and as the decade progressed, they surpassed the push-up machines in popularity. Even though initial sales were slow, there was a substantial buzz in music circles and by advertising as the newest thing to have, advertising the “beauty and fashion” captured by the new machines and how such machines “double the value of the piano player” with the addition of new player pianos to the home.[8] Not all opinions were positive for the player piano, the Music Teachers National Association was particularly vocal in opposition to the mechanical piano.[9] The development of the mechanisms for the player piano would take decades to come to maturity by many different inventors, when the new machines came to the market it was another futuristic technological marvel.

With these early machines, there certainly was room for improvement in both the mechanics for the pianos and the business model for compatibility between paper piano rolls and pianos. The Aeolian Pianola had created substantial advertising buzz and some commercial success between 1900 and 1905, but a separate cabinet proved delicate and bothersome. The Pianola and other push-up piano players like the Wilcox and White Angelus oftentimes were cumbersome and clumsy, taking up too much space in the home or even forgotten about entirely and falling into disuse.[10] If the fingers of the machine were not lined up precisely with the keyboard, the result would be an atonal sonic mess. The delicate external fingers sometimes snapped off when moving it back and forth, consequently rendering some notes unplayable. The complete piano which contained the piano, the pneumatic functions and the paper roll tracker bar alleviated the difficulties of the mechanical piano player, but the array of new companies getting into the trade of a new technology brought a lack of cohesion to the industry. With little organization between piano and piano roll companies, there was frequent consumer confusion about which piano rolls to purchase. In addition to the format difficulties, much to the shock of many consumers, not all player pianos produced a full keyboard worth of playability, and while some played all eight-eight notes of a standard keyboard, others produced as few as fifty-eight notes with many other variations on the keyboard range of the player pianos.[11] Sound was also a problem since, as a machine, it reproduced music as one would expect a machine would, without the expression and interpretation of a musician. Even with control functions available on player pianos, many owners of these new mechanical pianos used them like phonographs as passive music, just activating the pneumatic controls or eventually electric start functions and letting the piano play without tending to the tone functions.[12] Despite the technological development of a piano which played itself, there were issues with the early machines and the compatibility between rolls and pianos.

Without a standard for piano rolls, it was not possible to play one company’s piano roll on another company’s machine and, according to Harvey Roehl, “it was an obvious hindrance to the health and progress of the industry.”[13] And so, in 1908 in Buffalo, New York, an agreement had been reached on standards for perforation spacing on the piano roll and key range, consequently, with a unified system of piano roll publications, consumers could purchase any piano roll and play on any machine.[14] After standardization, the player piano swelled in popularity during the 1910s. Between 1909 and 1914, sales jumped from 30,000 player pianos to over 90,000, rising again between 1914 and 1919 to nearly 200,000.[15] Piano roll sales were also brisk, it has been reported that in 1918, 75,000 rolls sold in Philadelphia each month.[16] Various new companies clamoured to produce their own player pianos and a bevy of new models came on the market during the 1910s, each with various themes on other brand names mimicking the famous Pianola. The Technola, Interiola, Concertola, Autotone, Concrtone, Dulcitone, Auto-Grand, Auto-Player and Autola are just some of the names of mechanical pianos. The ways the player piano sounded also improved with reproducer functions provided by companies like Ampico and Duo-Art which automated the sorts of controls including hammer velocity, sustained pedalling and artistic expression, and paper rolls subsequently had the ability to reproduce a live performance recorded on paper piano roll.[17] Following standardization in compatibility and improvements in sound reproduction, a sales boom throughout the 1910s created a big business which translated into sales.

Other than giving music-purchasing consumers a new product to buy, the player piano, and even the push-up piano player of early in the 1900s, changed the relationship between the owner and the keyboard. The player piano, after all was a machine which played live music and in the home it was usually treated as such. While music had been played through the familiar medium of the sounds of the traditional, manual piano, the player piano depresses the keys for the operator, leaving the owner of the instrument to master tone, treble, bass, tempo and pneumatic foot pedals rather than the techniques of piano mastery. There was relatively little skill to operate a player piano and its easy operation was used for the purpose of marketing and advertising. The famous advertising campaign of the Gulbransen Company showed a baby at the foot pedals, suggesting that it was so easy to use that an infant could do it.[18] Even the femininity of the piano was challenged with direct advertising to men, after all, if playing the piano was considered feminine, then operating a machine was considered masculine. During a boom in sales during the 1910s, as player piano sales increased, fewer people were learning the instrument that had been at the heart of Victorian age domestic values. Harvey Reohl observes that “the ease with which even poor-sounding music could be made destroyed the incentive to want to learn to play by manual means”[19] and James Parakilas notes that, “the technology of the player piano could obliterate that obstacle [of learning the piano], eliminating even the choice between learning to read notes and learning to play by ear.”[20] With the popularity of the player piano increasing, it was a futuristic technological step and advertising as an easy machine to operate, leaving the tiresome practice of the Victorian piano culture in the past with more consumers opting for the player piano.

While the player piano changed the owner’s relationship to the piano, its overall popularity was brief. Despite Alfred Dolge’s assertion in 1911 that the player piano is “destined eventually to displace the piano as the musical instrument in the home,”[21] sales actually peaked between 1919 and 1921, and thereafter dropped precipitously for the next decade; by 1930, the player had become a footnote in the musical history in America.[22] There are a number of plausible reasons why the player piano fell out of fashion. New technology certainly played a part in the mechanical piano’s drop in sales when inventions like radio and electrically recorded music became the latest technology to have in the home during the 1920s. After all, in 1903, the player piano itself was the latest invention in a culture feeling the effects of pop culture in an age of rapid technological change. But there was a change in the piano in culture as well. The changing nature in popular music and musical culture aided the player piano’s drop in sales. During the 1920s, in the thick of the orchestrated band sounds of the Jazz Era, the piano was not necessarily the centre of attention of entertainment that it had been during the Ragtime Era; it should be noted that manual piano companies also experienced decrease in sales. By the 1930s, when the Great Depression gripped American business and American pop culture tuned into the growing number of many popular radio programmes and variety shows,[23] many piano companies, both mechanical and manual had gone out of business.[24] While the player piano did at one time had been the newest technology to have, it was just a fad and by the mid-1930s, the player piano market was a shell of what it had been only a decade before.

Even though the financial crises caused by the Great Depression left many piano manufacturers, both manual and mechanical, bankrupt, a few companies managed to not only survive, but also change with the technology as time progressed. When the American economy recovered at the end of the second World War, a select few piano companies such as Aeolian, Duo-Art and Wurlitzer continuing to sell and market player pianos. Even in 2014, in the heart of the big beats and hip-hop features of the Club Banger Era, there are still companies producing player pianos using digital files to activate the piano action[25] and QRS Technologies, a company in the music business since 1900,[26] still continues to manufacture new paper piano rolls.[27] The player piano also invokes nostalgia for the Ragtime Era and machines have become priceless antiques along the way. During the 1960s and 1970s, when Ragtime had experienced a upsurge in popularity in Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack to the movie The Sting (1973) and pop culture expressed by E.L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime (1975), so did the player piano, which had suddenly become a symbol of the culture of the early twentieth century.[28] In the twenty-first century, the player piano still has popularity with a certain crowd as part of the reminiscence for the era; collectors, restoration hobbyists and businesses enjoy their own part of the lucrative antiques trade in mechanical pianos, some restored player pianos fetch prices in the tens of thousands of dollars.[29]Although the player piano has been artifact of the past, it enjoys popularity and value in the twenty-first century.

The purely mechanical functions of the player piano greatly affected the musical ethos of the Ragtime era. Oftentimes, the player piano is remembered most for its raucous piano pieces of irregularly rhythmic music and this sort of nostalgia fuels a greater demand for the instrument among avid collectors and antiques enthusiasts. However, during their time, the player piano, and even the push-up piano player, were revolutionary in their treatment of piano play, redirected from beneath the fingers of many a Victorian Age lady, and placed directly under the direction of an operator who could pump the pedals and thread the paper piano roll across a tracker bar. Consequently as the 1910s progressed, sales of the player piano rose to their zenith while sales in manual piano slowed until, by the time the American economy was in the depths of the Great Depression during the 1930s, both industries were lesser part of the domestic entertainment than, say, record players or radio shows, which were available over the airwaves for free. But, the player piano remains a small part of the music industry, undergoing both modernization in digital technology and older antiques are loved among enthusiasts for its connection with the past of American musical culture, even in the twenty-first century.


Antique Piano Shop. “Player Piano Showroom.”Accessed 10 July 2014. http://antiquepianoshop.com/products/player/.

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

Chanan, Michael. “The Player Piano.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 72-75.

Dolge, Alfred. Pianos and Their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano. New York: Dover Publications. 1972.

Good, Edwin M. “The Digital Revolution.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 70-72.

“Gulbransen Exhibits at Pageant of Progress.” The Music Trades. 16 September 1922.

“An Introduction to the Aeolian Push Up Pianola.” YouTube video, 7:48. Posted by awardaudio, 24 March 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiYKpUSfC6c.

Isacoff, Stuart. A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2011.

Parakilas, James. “Expanding Markets.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 283-303.

Pfirrmann, John A. “The Age of the Music Box.” The Passaic County Historical Society. Accessed 14 July 2014. http://www.lambertcastle.org/musicbox.html.

QRS Music Technologies. “The History of QRS Music Technology.” Accessed 13 July 2014.http://www.qrsmusic.com/history.asp.

Roehl, Harvey. Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America. Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press. 1973.

Roell, Craig H. The Piano in America: 1890-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1989.

Sumner, William Leslie. The Pianoforte. London, UK: MacDonald. 1966.

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

[1] William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, (London, UK: MacDonald, 1966), 194.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John A. Pfirrmann, “The Age of the Music Box,” The Passaic County Historical Society, accessed 14 July 2014, http://www.lambertcastle.org/musicbox.html.

[4] Stuart Isacoff, A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and everything in Between, (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011), 459

[5] For a basic introduction on the mechanical functions of the player piano’s pneumatic systems, see William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, 194-195.

[6] Harvey Roehl, Piano Player Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America, (Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press, 1977), 4-5.

[7] For a look at the operation of a push-up piano player, see “An Introduction to the Aeolian Push Up Pianola,” YouTube video, 7:48, posted by award audio, 24 March 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiYKpUSfC6c.

[8] Advertisements for the Behr Piano Player and the Apollo Piano Players respectively, contained in Roehl, 12 and 9.

[9] Craig H. Roell, The Piano in America: 1890-1940, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 53.

[10] Ibid, 41.

[11] Roehl, 12

[12] Roell, 43.

[13] Roehl, 12.

[14] Michael Chanan, “The Player Piano,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 73.

[15] Sales figures found in “Production of all Types of Player Piano in the United States from 1900 to 1931,” contained in Roehl, 53.

[16] Roell, 52.

[17] Ibid, 43.

[18] “Gulbransen Exhibit at Pageant of Progress,” The Music Trades, 16 September 1922, 30.

[19] Reohl, 10.

[20] James Parakilas, “Expanding Markets,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 290.

[21] Alfred Dolge, Pianos and Their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano, (New York: Dover, 1966), 131.

[22] Roehl, 53.

[23] David F. Burg, The Great Depression: An Eyewitness History, (New York: Facts on Files, 1996), 74-75.

[24] Roell, 219.

[25] Edwin M Good, “The Digital Revolution,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 70.

[26] “The History of QRS Music Technology,” QRSmusic.com, accessed 13 July 2014, http://www.qrsmusic.com/history.asp.

[27] Isacoff, 160.

[28] Terry Waldo, This is Ragtime, (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc, 1976), 183.

[29] Based on price lists of restored player pianos featured at “Player Piano Showroom,” Antique Piano Shop, accessed 10 July 2014, http://antiquepianoshop.com/products/player/.

Love Songs Throughout the Decades, Pt 2: The 1910s

Throughout the history of commercial pop songs, love songs have undoubtedly had the greatest overall popularity and longevity. Well before the commercial pop business of American Tin Pan Alley, love has been a popular topic of music reaching from Renaissance times of fifteenth century Europe[1] through to the grand operas of the nineteenth century. While the general theme of love songs has not significantly changed in their sentiment, the modernizations of attitudes towards gender relations certainly have. Note the following big pop hits from female artists on the relatively modern musical cousin of love songs, the hook-up song where there is relatively little concern for emotional attachment beyond a sexual encounter. Compare the first song, Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson’s “Friends and Lovers” from 1986 in the Modern Pop Era to Missy Elliot’s “Work It” from 2002 during the Club Banger Era:


What would you think if I told you

I’ve always wanted to hold you

I don’t know what we’re afraid of

Nothing would change if we made love[2]


Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa

Phone before you come, I need to shave my chocha

You do or you don’t or you will or won’tcha

Go downtown and eat it like a vulture[3]

The latter can seem risqué and provocative and the former can seem dated and antiquated, even though there are less than two decades apart in age; the two songs are about the same time, sex, but in completely different styles and vocabulary. The common expression in song lyrics from the 1970s and 1980s, “making love,” is not commonly heard during the current era of pop songs during the twenty-first century. As time progresses, certain varieties of love songs, have the same sorts of general subjects and how love affects the relations between people, but these aspect slowly change to fit the relative social era. Such was the case of the love song during the 1910s, when the sentimental love songs of the 1900s remained, but with new and novel ways in which the genders interact.

The love song of the 1910s has a number of lyrical styling and themes leftover from the previous decade, but also a few innovations.[4] Sentiment, sadness and nostalgia, emotional content which had been popular in songs of the 1890s and 1900, were common; along with the sorts of grandiose expressions professing one’s love which were also common throughout the previous decade.[5] Song lyrics also continued to include the subject of courtship and describing amusing situations that could arise is there are miscommunications between the sexes, and consequently what men have to do to console their girls. However, as American society was continuing to mature in the twentieth century, so were the topics in the lyrics of love songs. The dance floor proved to be a place of courtship where the girl determines the choice of partner. Silly baby talk songs became popular as well as some songs expressing annoyance or derision towards baby talk. A more risqué development began to manifest itself in suggestive lyrics and euphemistic song titles that suggest or at least acknowledge the existence of sex. The love song during the 1910s retained many features of the 1900s, but with a new modernism as lyricists and songwriters included more risqué content and titles.

Emotion plays an important part of music’s popularity throughout history, and this is particularly true with love songs in which emotion is the main focus of the genre. During the first decade of the twentieth century, love songs commonly included sad sentiments of nostalgia, loneliness, pining and dreaming, included in a number of hits like “Love Me and the World Is Mine,” “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” and “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.” This method of sentimental lyricism continued into the 1910s in many popular love songs from the decade. The plotlines of “Down By the Old Mill Stream” (1910) and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet” (1909), songs which describe the nostalgic feelings of ageing couples, conclude when the respective couples surrender to nostalgia by recreating poignant moments of the past, either by visiting the old mill where they met[6] or by completely re-enacting a wedding.[7] Sadness is also a feature of “The Girl on the Magazine” whose central character “does nothing else but pine”[8] when he realizes that the girl he’s in love with is an illustration and cannot be directly addressed. “Where Did You Get That Girl?” from 1913 tells the story of “lonesome Johnnie Warner” who begins to cry when his loneliness and jealousy overwhelms him and he eventually begs for someone to introduce him to a girl.[9]  The domestic situation of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1913) produces sad emotion even though most of the plot details a man’s heart-warming feelings while returning to his cabin, where his girl is “lonesome too, longing fills her eyes” while she waits for him.[10] Many love songs of the 1910s use similar sorts of sentimental sadness as those of the 1900s, to capture the longing feelings of their characters.

Not all love songs of the era contained stories of heartbreak and loneliness; some are quite expressive of happiness and loving sentiment with purely emotional songs professing one’s love and those that celebrate domesticity. The lyrics of “Let Me call you Sweetheart” (1910) give grand gestures of “longing for you all the while more and more/Longing for the sunny smile, I adore”[11] before asking permission to call him or her sweetheart. The 1911 Ernest Ball and George Graff hit “Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold” is big and bombastic with biblical references, professing one’s endless love while standing alone in a desert, “Hot sand burning, Fire my veins with passion bold/Love, I love thee, Till the sands grow cold!”[12] In “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” the main character has heart-warming feelings for the natural surrounds and landscapes of his Blue Ridge Mountain home when returning to his girl “in the pale moonshine our hearts entwine.”[13] “Smiles” from 1918 details all the ways in which a girl’s variety of smile “fill my life with sunshine” and that “life’s sadness turns to gladness when you smile on me.”[14] There are songs however, that do not necessarily celebrate love, quite the opposite, celebrating one’s alone time when a spouse leaves. When Mrs. Brown leaves for the country in “My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” from 1909, Mister Brown is so excited and happy to have peace and quiet while his wife and children are away that he informs the papers about it.[15] The male character from “I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles,” (1912) cries tears of happiness when his wife departs, even though she thinks he is mourning her eventual absence.[16] While the happy sentiment of love and domesticity is proclaimed and celebrated in some love songs, so is time alone without a spouse.

Besides songs which contained lyrics of sentiment, joy or loneliness, some songs of the 1910s were silly and nonsensical, using baby talk or babble to relay cute, quaint scenes of loving couples. The plots of these love songs can seem innocent enough to be pulled directly from an illustrated children’s book. “The Aba Daba honeymoon” (1914) chronicles the story of a chimpanzee and monkey falling in love, including silly playing in a coconut tree.[17] The song “Be My Little Baby Bumblebee” (1912), a song that is actually about bees, relates cutesy sentiment by relating a nonsense plot of apiary courtship,

Be my little baby bumble bee

We’ll be just as happy as we can be,

Honey keep a-buzzin’ please,

I’ve got a dozen cousin bees,

But I want you to be my baby bumble bee.[18]

The cutesy sentiment of these two songs is partly expressed by outright baby talk. The monkey and chimp in “The Aba Daba Honeymoon” chatter back and forth in loving babble with “aba daba daba daba daba daba dab” as part of the refrain.[19] “Be my Little Baby Bumble Bee” could have effectively produced a term of endearment for couples to use as a catchphrase. Not all songs with such cute lyrics demonstrate approval for such baby talk; the 1913 Irving Berlin novelty song “Snooky Ookums” expresses the derision of neighbours in an apartment building when a cooing couple do nothing but baby talk to each other in a “mushy song” type way,

All night long he calls her snooky ookums, snooky ookums,

All night long the neighbors shout, ‘cut it out cut it out cut it out!’

They cry, ‘For goodness sake! Don’t keep us awake

With your snooky ookey, ookey baby talk!”[20]

Other than the serious emotions of sad sentiment or the bold professions of love, some silly love songs used baby talk, even as a form of derision for such terms of endearment.

Of course, not all love songs detail the emotions of love and during the 1910s, kissing couples and coy euphemisms for sex were becoming part of the pop song market. Physicality had been central characteristics of love songs for years with kissing and numerous songs involving spooning like “Come Take a Trip in My Air-Ship,” “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon,” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” a trend which continued into the 1910s, in some bolder ways. The main character in “He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile)” from 1914 has numerous mechanical difficulties while in the cab of his car kissing, not one, but two different girls.[21] During the 1910s when new social dances like the grizzly bear or turkey trot became popular, some songs used dancing as double entendre for sexual relations. In the song “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,” (1910), the first verse sets the scene “Cupid am a-callin’ ev’ry Jack and Jill/It’s just about time for making love” and then in the refrain, used dancing as a new exciting outlet for physical closeness, “Put your arms around me, honey, hold me tight/Huddle up and cuddle with all your might.”[22] “Everybody Two-Step” from 1912 explains the excitement of dancing with a “girly-girl” to do the “twirly-whirl.”[23] Although sex is not specifically mentioned within the lyrics of more gentile numbers, songs with suggestive titles like “Some Girls Do, And Some Girls Don’t” (1916) “Everbody’s Doin’ It Now” (1912) and “Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo” (1915) began to appear as well, the latter with spicy yet nonsense lyrics, “beneath the banyan parasol she couldn’t talk my talk at all/But oh how she could yacki hacki wicki wacki woo.”[24] Love songs of the 1910s contained descriptions of physical closeness like kissing and cuddling continuing a trend from the 1900s, but euphemisms for sex in dance descriptions and suggestive titles were part of some of the most popular songs of the decade.

A large majority of love songs, however, have lyrics in which couples address each other by directly expressing love for one another and during the 1910s, there are not only songs involving a suitor attracting the attention of a girl through verbal means, but also on the dance floor. But in order for a couple to exists, one party, usually the male suitor as described in lyrics, must convince the girl that being a couple of a good idea, and so courtship becomes an important topic in love songs. In the 1909 Harry Von Tilzer and Junie McCree song “Carrie (Marry Harry),” even though she is annoyed the suitor constantly flirts with every girl in sight, is promised that “You’ll be my bride in June” and that “There’s not a minute that another is in it.”[25] Jimmy the soldier in 1918’s “K-K-K-Katy” by Geoffrey O’Hara nervously tries to get Katy’s attention after seeing her watching “all the boys on dress parade.[26] Characters in both “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet,” after years or decades of marriage, need to affirm their continued love to prevent sad feelings in their spouses. But courtship does not always include verbal proclamation; in the song “Every Little Moment,” knowing the latest dance moves on the dance floor is suggested as a prerequisite for courtship,[27] a message which is also given in “Everybody Two-Step.”[28] But there is a catch in courtship by dancing, that it is the girl who selects the dance partner. In “Some Girls Do and Some Girls Don’t,” the speaker has reservations about asking a girl for a dance because he never knows how girls choose dance partners.[29] Communicating and courtship are common themes in many love songs, including knowledge of the latest dance steps and courtly communication on the dance floor.

However, whenever the sexes are involved with each other, there usually is a fair amount of miscommunication between the genders. In song lyrics, misunderstanding is accomplished in numerous and sometimes-humorous ways, including language barriers to bad etiquette on the dance floor. There are also songs from this time when communication is completely lost between the two parties. For example, the couple in “Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo” cannot speak each other’s language; the man speaks English while the girls speaks Hawaiian. The Irving Berlin song “The Girl on the Magazine” describes a man who has a crush on a girl appearing an magazines, but communication never actually happen since the girl is in print, not in person. The main character Jimmy in “K-K-K-Katy” has a troubling stammer when he asks out Kate before heading off to fight in World War I, proclaiming “K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy/You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore.”[30] Consolation also becomes an important part of songs by correcting sad feelings or misunderstanding. In “When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy,” the girl does not believe that the man will return to her,

Said Marie, “It’s clear to me, Tho’ sincere you seem to be,

I was afraid of the promise made. You may not come back to me.

By the wishing well today, I shall wish that you will stay.”[31]

But the man consoles her, keeps his word and returns to marry her by the end of the song. Another example of consolation can be found in the song “Melancholy,”[32] where the suitor tries to console his girl directly by saying that her sadness, even when it is his fault, affects “the very heart of mine.”[33] “Song Girls Do, And Some Girls Don’t” explores the mysteries of gender relations by describing the frustration of the fleeting and fickle tastes of girls in selecting a dance partner.[34] While courtship and marriage are common themes, so are songs where communication between the sexes is misguided, the consequences of which require the male to console his girl.

The 1910s also offered songs that detailed the emotional damage and baggage of a relationship’s end, however, a new innovation was coming into use, that of the happy break-up song. Break-up songs of the 1910s frequently reflect the sorts of sad sentiment and nostalgia of love songs of the time, after all, ending a relationship can cause some fragile emotions in song lyrics. “After You’re Gone” from 1918, one character pleas with the leaving party,

You know I’ve loved you for these many years,

Love you night and day

Oh honey baby can’t you see my tears?[35]

In Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You” (1912) gives a detailed list of all the things that used to give the character pleasure, like sunshine and bird songs, things that had been ruined because of a break-up.[36] Not all break-up songs have tear-jerking sentiment; some songs of the 1910s are actually quite celebratory in the couple’s break-up by empowering one party over the other. The character in “After You’ve Gone” reminds the other how sad he or she will be for leaving,

You’ll feel blue, You’ll feel sad.

You’ll miss the bestest pal you’ve ever had

There’ll come a time, now don’t forget it,

There’ll come a time, when you’ll regret it,[37]

The same notion is given in the lyrics of Shelton Brooks’s “Some of These Days” (1910), an early hybrid of jazz and blues rhythms and harmonies that Alec Wilder calls “a landmark in popular music, perhaps the landmark.”[38] In “I Used to Love You But Its All Over Now,” instead of a slower ballad-like tempo, the song has an up-tempo rhythm, and the lyrics in “Good-Bye, Good Luck, God-Bless You” (1916) read like a formal, emotionless parting rather than expressing the melancholy sensations expected in a break-up song.[39] What is interesting about break-up songs from this era is that there are few instances where gender-specific lyrics are used. This androgynous feeling could have universal appeal and popularity, regardless of the audience’s gender, and create ease when bringing a particular song to the stage or in the recording studio since any performer of any gender can perform them effectively. During the 1910s, songs that end a relationship started to have an impact on song history by including songs which produced sad emotion and also those which celebrated the end of the relationship.

While there were some elements of love songs which remained the same between the 1900s and the 1910s, there were also some novel innovations in song. Sadness, loneliness and nostalgia were certainly still used throughout the decade for emotional effect of describing love. Expressions of joyful love and the lofty language of ballads also continued into the 1910s, as do songs with subjects of courtship and communication to repair a relationship. The changes were in some of the new ways in which people were interacting during the time. Social dancing was popular and so some where the actual act of dancing was a part of courtship appear, and so did songs where there is male confusion on how to interact in these new social situation. While kissing and cuddling continued into the 1910s, some songs had suggestive and risqué lyrics and song titles in which sex is alluded to, a feature which was not truly present in the more gentile songs of Victorian Age Tin Pan Alley of the 1900s. However, the break-up song was maturing, and along with sad and sentimental feelings directed at the ending of a relationship, song celebrating the end of a relationship became hits, indicating a change in which men and women interacted with each other. During the 1910s, love song, no matter the changes in form and function, continued to be part of the mainstream subjects in pop songs.



“Friends and Lovers—Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson.” YouTube Video. Posted by nelson sunico. 20 September 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZIyY0JzfKA.

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

Goldberg, Isaac. Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket. New York: The John Day Company. 1930.

“Renaissance Love Songs.” Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/renaissance-love-songs/

Songs Cited

Abrahams, Maurice (music) and Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie (lyrics). He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile). New York: Maurice Abrahams Music Co. 1914.

Ball, Ernest (music) and J. Kiern Brennan. Good-bye, Good Luck, God Bless You (Is All That I Can Say. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1916.

Ball, Ernest (music) and George Graff (lyrics). Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1911.

Berlin, Irving. The Girl on the Magazine. New York: Irving Berlin Inc. 1913.

——-. Snooky Ookums. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1913.

——-. When I Lost You. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1912.

Brooks, Sheldon. Some of these Days. Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter. 1910.

Burnett, Ernie (music) and George A Norton (lyrics). Melancholy, or My Melancholy Baby. Denver, CO: Theron C Bennett. 1912.

Carroll, Harry (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics). The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. New York: Shapiro Music Co. 1913.

Fields, Arthur and Walter Donovan. The Aba Daba Honeymoon. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1914.

Friedman, Leo (music) and Beth Slater Whitson. Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Chicago, IL: Leo Friedman. 1910.

Herzer, Wallie (music) and earl C. Jones (lyrics). Everybody Twostep. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

Hoschna, Karl (music) and O.A. Hauerbach (lyrics). Every Little Moment. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1910.

Johnson, Howard, Alex Geber and Harry Jentes. Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1916.

Kalmar, Bert (music) and Harry Puck (lyrics). Where Did You Get That Girl? New York: Kalmar & Puck Music. 1913.

Layton, Turner (music) and Henry Creamer (lyrics). After You’ve Gone. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1918.

Marshall, Henry I (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics). Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

O’Hara, Geoffrey. K-K-K-Katy. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1918.

Robert, Less S (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics). Chicago, IL: Lee S Roberts. 1917.

Snyder, Ted (music) and George Whiting and Irving Berlin (lyrics). My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!). New York: Ted Snyder Co. 1909.

Taylor, Tell. Down By the Old Mill Stream. New York: Tell Taylor. 1910.

Trevor, Huntley, Harry Gifford and Tom Mellor. When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Stanley Murphy and Carles McCarron (lyrics). Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu). New York: Broadway Music Co. 1915.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Junie McCree (lyrics). Carrie (Marry Harry). New York: The York Music Co. 1909.

——-. Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey. New York: The York Music Co. 1910.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ed Moran (lyrics). I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles. New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing. 1916.

Wenrich, Percy (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics). Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1909.


Missy Elliott. “Work It.” Contained in the album Under Construction. Elektra Records. 2002. Mp3 File.


[1] “Renaissance Love Songs,” The Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed 29 June 2014, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/renaissance-love-songs/.

[2] “Friends and Lovers—Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson,” YouTube Video, 3:47, posted by nelson sunico on 20 September 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZIyY0JzfKA.

[3] Missy Elliott, Work It, contained on the album Under Construction, Elektra Records, 2002, mp3 file.

[4] It should be noted that, with the plethora of songs coming from Tin Pan Alley, or as Isaac Goldberg calls it, “the musical factory” of America, there was no way of analyzing the multitude of love songs published and recorded during this decade. And so, this is just a brief, descriptive essay rather than an authoritative research paper on the breadth of titles during the 1910s.

[5] For an introduction on love songs from the first decade of the twentieth century, see Morgan Howland, “Love Songs Throughout the Decades, Pt 1: The 1900s,” The Pop Song History Blog, 1 April 2014, https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/1900s-pop-trend-love-songs-in-the-era-of-ragtime/.

[6] Tell Taylor, Down By the Old Mill Stream, (New York: Tell Taylor, 1910).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Irving Berlin, The Girl on the Magazine, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1913).

[9] Bert Kalmar (music) and Harry Puck (lyrics), Where Did You Get That Girl?, (New York: Kalmar & Puck Music Co, 1913).

[10] Harry Carroll (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, (New York: Shapiro Music Co, 1913).

[11] Leo Friedman (music) and Beth Slater Whitson (lyrics), Let Me Call You Sweetheart, (Chicago, IL: Leo Friedman, 1910).

[12] Ernest R Ball (music) and George Graff (lyrics), Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1911).

[13] Carroll and MacDonald, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.

[14] Lee S Roberts (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics), Smiles, Chicago, IL: Lee S Robert, 1917).

[15] Ted Snyder (music) and George Whiting and Irving Berlin (lyrics), My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!), (New York: Ted Snyder Inc, 1909).

[16] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ed Moran (lyrics), I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles, (New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing, 1916).

[17] Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1914).

[18] Harry I Marshall (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics), Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee, (New York: Jerome Remick & co, 1912).

[19] Fields and Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon.

[20] Irving Berlin, Snooky Ookums, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1913).

[21] Maurice Abrahams (music) and Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie (lyrics), He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile), New York: Maurice Abrahams Co, 1914).

[22] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey, (New York: The York Music Co, 1910).

[23] Wallie Herzer (music) and Earl C Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).

[24] Albert Von Tilzer, (music) and Stanley Murphy and Charles McCarron (lyrics), Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1915).

[25] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree (lyrics), Carrie (Marry Harry), (New York: The York Music Co, 1909).

[26] Geoffrey O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[27] Karl Hoschna (music) and O.A. Hauerbach, Every Little Moment, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1910).

[28] Herzer and Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step.

[29] Howard Johnson, Alex Gerber and Harry Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1916).

[30] O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy.

[31] Huntley Trevor, Harry Gifford and Tom Mellor, When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).

[32] This song is also published as My Melancholy Baby.

[33] Ernie Burnett (music) and George A Norton (lyrics), Melancholy, or My Melancholy Baby, (Denver, CO: Theron C Bennett, 1912).

[34] Johnson, Gerber and Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t.

[35] Turner Layton (music) and Henry Creamer (lyrics), After You’ve Gone, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).

[36] Irving Berlin, When I Lost You, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1912).

[37] Layton and Creamer, After You’ve Gone.

[38] Alec Wilder, qtd in Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 33.

[39] Ernest R Ball (music) and J. Kiern Brennan (lyrics), Good-Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You (Is All That I Can Say), (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1916).

Intellectual Products: Copyright and the Founding of ASCAP

In August 2013, a state of emergency was issued by none other than Mother Monster herself, “A pop music emergency is underway,” read Lady Gaga’s Twitter feed, “911 summon the Monster troupes.” [1] The situation involved a disruption in the traditional business model for getting pop songs to the consumer market; highly anticipated new music from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga had been leaked by hackers for public preview online, months before their new albums, Prism and ArtPop respectively, went on sale. Consequently, singles like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Lady Gaga’s “Applause” were immediately released to the public ahead of their originally scheduled dates.[2] For Lady Gaga, the leaks all but ruined plans for a high-profile, tightly scheduled and choreographed multimedia build-up to the ArtPop album. This self-described “emergency” is only one of many difficulties affecting the commercial pop song trade throughout its history and the business of getting music to a wider audience. A century ago, songwriters, composers and publishers were dealing with their own pop music emergency: they were not getting paid royalties for some public performances of their music.

Besides the musical trends, tech changes and the celebrity associated with pop songs over the years, it is fundamentally a business intent on getting a creative product to the musical market, getting customers to pay for it, while also paying those who produce the product. However, music is not a physical product, but rather an intellectual one that requires special protection under copyright law. Musical copyright law in America has functioned as a protection against unauthorized musical reproduction since 1831, but as technology and culture have changed music in America, so have the laws which control rights to publish titles. However, copyright law does not advance as quickly as technology or culture does, leaving loopholes in protection. After composers and publishers had lobbied Congress heavily for revised laws which would keep apace with technology in 1907 and 1908, Congress passed new copyright laws in 1909, but certain aspects of the new law left their products without certain protections regarding live performance. By 1914, composers and publishers had grown impatient with constant infringement of copyright and a society formed to protect their copyrights, the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers, better known as ASCAP. The society changed the commercial music business forever by creating a system of collecting and distributing royalties while also policing musical performances. ASCAP did not change the law, but rulings from the Supreme Court allowed the society to collect royalties on performances not protected under copyright statutes. If it were not for the actions of founding ASCAP, I doubt there would be a modern business of pop music.

In 1914, the expanding music culture in America had increased the demand for all kinds of music products. American culture was awash in music; even though musicologist Charles Hamm notes that “Tin Pan Alley songs were for white, urban, literate, middle- and upper-class Americans,”[3] rural sales of home pianos and cylinder recordings were increasing. With sales of sheet music brisk and piano sales at their peak, there was not just a vibrant culture of pop music in America, but also feelings that music was a healthy form of recreation; many factories even provided a piano for their employees as a morale booster.[4] By 1910, piano production was at its zenith and instruments were readily available for purchase in the showrooms of department stores and also by catalogue, alongside the latest popular sheet music titles. The theatre provided a plethora of new musical experiences. Broadway musicals were becoming popular, the Vaudeville circuit often featured many new songs and annual revues like Ziegfeld’s Follies and the Passing Show at the Winter Garden Theatre had become spectacular forms of musical entertainment by 1914. A new ragtime dance craze brought a demand for music in urban restaurants, dancehalls, cabarets and nightclubs and the Victrola and its disc records were selling briskly for the home. Silent movies gave even more opportunities for composers to score accompaniments as well. In the early 1910s, a growth in musical products and culture allowed more people in more areas to experience new music.

While music was becoming more and more in demand, the earnings of famous composers and publishers also increased with the popularity of their songs. Having a piece of music popularized and made famous, had some tricky legal repercussions, particularly on how the parties involved get paid for the music’s use. Most composers earned a living through sales of sheet music songs which were readily introduced to the public via the stage. But music is not solely a consumer product, and it is an intellectual and artistic one and copyright law dictates the ownership of its intellectual property. Copyright law allows artists control of how their work is used and reproduced in not just musical products, but also for book publishing, film and even choreography.[5] If a theatre owner, for example, wants to include a particular song in a show, he or she must pay the copyright owner, usually the publisher, the composer or both, a fee, or royalty, to use it. If this exchange does not happen, the theatre owner is in violation of copyright infringement, a crime punishable by law. Copyright for musical composition and sheet music did not exist in America until 1831, but as musical culture and technology changed, so did copyright laws. Copyright law had been amended in 1897 to include public performances in theatres and overhauled completely in 1909, to include sound recordings provided by increasingly popular piano roles, cylinders and records on the market. It seems as though with so much music in American culture and all the legal bases covered, composers and publishers would be content with the legal status of their work and the royalties they were receiving from their songs.

Even though music was experiencing a tremendous growth in popularity and copyright owners were receiving royalties, there were loopholes which rendered the system imperfect. Copyright laws from the beginning had always been slightly behind the times in American musical culture; the 1831 law that included musical compositions did not include public performance or require royalties for composers for example. In fact, popular composer Stephen Foster, whose songs are still remembered fondly in the twenty-first century, died in destitution in 1864 after he sold off the rights for all the songs that were included in the minstrel shows for which he wrote.[6] The updated copyright law from 1897 included provisions for public performances but only for venues that charged a fee for entry such as musicals or vaudeville shows which sold tickets; the law did not include music played in public places which did not charge audiences to hear it like outdoor concerts or dance halls.[7] The system worked well for theatrical settings where copyright was regularly obeyed and royalties paid, the songs of which were well publicized to encourage sheet music sales. Even from their inception, copyright law in America for music had been imperfect to cover all instances where a musician’s work could be used.

Copyright had been behind the times again in 1907, only a decade after Congress had approved an updated law and music publishers were starting to demand a newer law. Mechanical reproduction by talking machines and player pianos was changing the musical culture in America and record companies and piano role manufactures used copyrighted music with abandon, without legal repercussions. In 1907, a lawsuit whose outcome had the potential to change copyright law reached the Supreme Court involving music publisher White-Smith, who argued that player piano company Apollo was producing unauthorized piano roles of their titles, potentially in violation of copyright law. But since copyright did not include mechanical music, the Supreme Court ruled in Apollo’s favour, the decision saying, “we cannot think that [mechanical reproductions] are copies within the meaning of the copyright act.”[8] Existing law was upheld, the music publisher lost the case and the system of copyright continued. Tin Pan Alley musicians, composers and publishing firms led by Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa actively lobbied Congress for a new updated law following the decision.[9] Composer Charles K. Harris even visited the White House to discuss the matter with president Theodore Roosevelt.[10] Meantime, piano manufacturers and the American Musical Copyright League opposed a new copyright law.[11] The issue was divisive; Senator Alfred Kittridge bitterly described record companies and the like “seize the musical child of the composer’s brain and devote it to their own selfish purposes.”[12] The resulting legislation, the Currier-Smoot Act of 1909 was a compromise; it included mechanical reproduction, but if a composer allowed mechanical reproduction of a certain title, then other companies could also reproduce the same music.[13] The issue of copyright had become so difficult by 1907 that not only was it the focus of a Supreme Court decision, but also congressional debate and a new copyright law.

By 1913 it seemed as though copyright law had still not caught up to music culture in America and the legal technicalities this time were on the intent of establishments to profit on performances of copyrighted music. The copyright law from 1897 did not include venues that did not charge an entry fee like the restaurants, dancehalls and cabarets that were increasingly using music as part of the ambience with the rising demand for social dancing in the 1910s. A theatre for example charges theatre-goes for tickets to see a show or musical and therefore, the venue profits from providing music; royalties then paid to composers dictated by the 1897 copyright law. However, if a business does not charge a fee and played a publisher’s music, copyright law does not cover this scenario since proprietors of such places were not receiving profits directly from music and therefore royalties were not owed to copyright holders. Paul Goldstein notes that such laws would be unenforceable because “to police each infringing performance and file lawsuits against them would likely cost more than any damages that might be recovered.”[14] When popular composer Victor Herbert, a staunch champion in copyright protection, overheard a musician playing a piece of his music in public, for which he knew he did not receive a royalty,[15] he knew that something had to be done by organising a society.

During a time when more and more businesses were building dance floors and hiring orchestras as part of the environment, copyright holders were growing increasing impatient with the public performance copyright situation, and in Progressive Era America if any improvement in society were needed, there were organizations formed to address such issues. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People founded in 1909 is a well-known example of such a society. The Progressive Party Platform from Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 election bid reads like a labour movement manifesto, calling for an end to child labour, an eight-hour work day, a day off from work, and social insurance,[16] just to name a few social issues of the time. Even the national pastime, baseball was organized with the short-lived player-centric Federal League.[17] It was in this kind of setting where the concept of a society to protect ownership of copyright grew necessary to ensure that proper royalties get paid to the proper people. On 13 February 2014 at the Claridge Hotel in New York City, a group of songwriters, publishers and artists gathered and founded what would eventually become the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers, better known as ASCAP, whose goal was to be “the most powerful organization in the world” as announced from the front page of the New York Times.[18] The early association was a who’s who of influential music industry names like publishers J. Whitmark, Joseph Stern, Walter Waterman and writers like Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, Gus Edwards, Victor Herbert, and Harry B. Smith, and the society immediately offered “several hundred applications for immediate membership,”[19] annual membership costing $10.[20] Even though African-American composer James Weldon Johnson was a founding member, Thomas Morgan and William Barlow note that many other African American composers were excluded from ASCAP.[21] With the need for action regarding outdated copyright law, ASCAP had been founded as part of the organizational culture of the Progressive Era to address the concerns.

The goals of the new society were straightforward, to ensure that public performances would be monitored for use of copyrighted music and to create a method of collection and distribution of royalties from all sources, whether profitable public performance or mechanical reproduction. An earlier licensing organization, the Authors’ and Composers’ League of America, failed partly because its president Victor Herbert and vice-president Reginald de Kovan despised each other.[22] Spokesman for the new organisation, George Maxwell said that, “the Society has not been formed to make a fight upon any one or to stir up trouble…now we are going to enforce [or rights].”[23] Licensing societies had been in existence for decades in Europe already, in France, an organisation had been established in 1851;[24] in America, members of ASCAP looked to the European system for guidance. The scheme involved licensing music, collecting fees and paying copyright owners for intellectual products. By selling “blanket licenses” to cover entire catalogues of a composers or publishers works, for example, cabarets, dancehalls and other such public places could purchase a whole catalogue of music for a flat fee and their establishments could use any songs from these catalogues they wished. Once these fees for public performance had been collected, along with those collected from record companies, the royalties are then divided up among the members. While copyright law remained somewhat out-of-date for the times, composers and publishers took their own initiative to create a system of royalty payments and copyright enforcement.

But ASCAP’s founding did not change the law; the original 1897 copyright law specifically mentions “performance[s] and representation be wilful and for profit”[25] and that only such places would be responsible for paying a royalty. This left the question of whether or not the society could technically sue such places for copyright infringement. Victor Herbert had learned that the expensive and well-known restaurant Shanley’s, “The World’s Wonder Cabaret,”[26] had been playing selections from his comic opera Sweethearts and, with support from John Philip Sousa, filed a test lawsuit against the restaurant in 1914. After a couple of years of legal limbo and initial defeats, Herbert and his lawyer Nathan Burkan appealed enough times to reach the Supreme Court. In the decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that “The object is a repast in surroundings that to people having limited powers of conversation, or liking the rival noise, give a luxurious pleasure not to be had from eating a silent meal. If music did not pay, it would be given up. If it pays, it pays out of the public’s pocket.”[27] Meaning, music was a selling point of attracting the public’s attention regardless of entry fee and therefore, the business had financial gains due to music in the environs and should pay royalties. By decision of the Supreme Court, ASCAP officially was able to ensure that the owners of copyright were paid royalties for publically performed pieces of music in venues that did not charge patrons an entry fee. The Herbert v Shanley decision remained the standard for public play lawsuits for over half a century, according to Glynn Lunney.[28]

With the legal precedent set, the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers quickly became influential in the music industry and popular among those involved in it. It also changed the business structure by unifying the royalty system under a single organization and ensured that intellectual property would be protected under copyright law. During the 1920s and 1930, when broadcasting became the new technology for consumers, ASCAP and a rival organization, Broadcast Music Incorporated or BMI, guaranteed royalties for music played over radio. In 2014, ASCAP had more than 400,000 members of all levels of the music industry and all genres ranging from classical to hip-hop to country. ASCAP fees are collected to give permission for popular music such as background music at stores, television commercials, symphonies, all of which pay fees. In 2013, ASCAP paid out royalties totalling about $851M[29] its to members. The consequences do not just affect pop song history, but all of music industry generally, ASCAP and the licensing structure provides continued protection of the intellectual property of popular music and created the foundations of modern musical business structure.

Even though copyright law may not appear like it is a part of pop song history, its inclusion is paramount in understanding the nature of the product, how song is viewed legally and how these legal issues reflect music’s presence in popular culture. While songs can be sold and purchased, their actual intellectual property remains in the hands of those artists and publishers who hold the right of publication and reproduction under copyright law. The various changes in these laws, no matter how outdated some can seem, reflect the ways in which the public is exposed to music whether on stage, in a dance hall or by recordings. But when it seemed as though some composers were not receiving the royalties they felt they were entitled, they took the Progressive Era approach and in 1914, formed their own society, ASCAP, to regulate the performances and royalty structures that were part of their rights as holders of copyright, rights which were affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United states. The ramifications of this structure and the society reach well into the twenty-first century and continue to be influential in the modern music industry with hundreds of thousands of members from all strata of the music business and nearly a billion dollar exchanged in royalties.


“ASCAP Reports Strong Revenues in 2013.” The American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers. ASCAP.com. 12 February 2014. http://www.ascap.com/press/2014/0213-2013-financials.aspx.

Emerson, Ken. Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1997.

Goldstein, Paul. Copyright’s Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2003.

Gould, Neil. Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life. New York: Fordham University Press. 2008.

Lady Gaga. “Pop Music Emergency.” ladygaga.com. http://www.ladygaga.com/news/pop-music-emergency.

Lunney, Glynn. “Copyright Collective and Collecting Societies: The United states Experience.” Contained in Collective Management of Copyright and Related Rights, Daniel J Gervais, ed. Boston, MA: Wolters Kluwer. 2010. 339-380.

Monde, Chidereah. “Katy Perry’s New Single, ‘Roar,’ Leaks Online Ahead of Official Release.” NY Daily News. 11 August 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/listen-katy-perry-new-single-roar-leaked-online-article-1.1423927.

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.

“Progressive Party Platform” (1912). Contained in The Annals of America, vol 12, “1905-1915: The Progressive Era.” Toronto, ON: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1976. 347-355.

Rader, Benjamin G. Baseball: A History of America’s Game. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. 2008.

Roell, Craig. The Piano in America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1989.

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

Tancs, Linda. Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

“Today in History: February 13.” Library of Congress. Last updated 15 October 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/feb13.html.

“Trust for Control of Music Business,” New York Times, 14 February 2014.

Waters, Edward. Victor Herbert: A Life in Music. New York: Macmillan. 1995.


[1] Lady Gaga, “Pop Music Emergency,” ladygaga.com,accessed 12 June 2014, http://www.ladygaga.com/news/pop-music-emergency.

[2] Chidereah Monde, “Katy Perry’s New Single, ‘Roar,’ Leaks Online Ahead of Official Release,” NY Daily News, 11 August 2013, http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/listen-katy-perry-new-single-roar-leaked-online-article-1.1423927.

[3] Charles Hamm, qtd in Larry Stempel, Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010).

[4] Craig Roell, The Piano in America: 1890-1940, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 27.

[5] Linda A Tancs, Understanding Copyrights Law: A Beginner’s Guide, (New York: Oceana, 2009), 29.

[6] Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 264.

[7] Glynn Lunney, “Copyright Collective and Collecting Societies: The United states Experience,” contained in Collective Management of Copyright and Related Rights, Daniel J Gervais, ed, (Boston, MA: Wolters Kluwer, 2010), 345.

[8] White-Smith Music Publishing Company v Apollo Company, 209 U.S. 1 (1908).

[9] Neil Gould, Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 214.

[10] ibid, 216.

[11] Edward Waters, Victor Herbert: A Life in Music, (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 338.

[12] Senator Alfred Kittridge, qtd in Gould, 214.

[13] The Copyright Act or 1909, or An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Acts Respecting Copyright, 60th Congress, 2nd Session (1909) contained in Linda Tancs, Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[14] Paul Goldstein, Copyright’s Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 54.

[15] “Today in History: February 13,” Library of Congress. Last updated 15 October 2010, accessed 13 June 2014, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/feb13.html.

[16] “Progressive Party Platform” (1912), contained in The Annals of America, vol 12, “1905-1915: The Progressive Era,” (Toronto, ON: Encyclopaedia Britannica, IN, 1976), 348-349.

[17] Benjamin Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s Game, (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 112.

[18] George Maxwell, qtd in “Trust for Control of Music Business,” New York Times, 14 February 2014, 1.

[19] ibid.

[20] Ledger book, 1914, ASCAP foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Digital ID #as0001, accessed 13 June 2014 http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ascap-100-years-and-beyond/early-years.html.

[21] 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 Publishers, 1992), 49.

[22] Gould, 318.

[23] George Maxwell, qtd in “Trust,” New York Times.

[24] Gould, 317.

[25] Copyright Act (Public Performance of Musical Compositions,) Washington, DC (1897), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L Bently & M. Kretschmer, contained on The University of Texas Tarlton Law Library, accessed 15 June 2014, http://copy.law.cam.ac.uk/cam/tools/request/showRecord?id=record_us_1897.

[26] Booklet advertising Shanley’s restaurant (1917) qtd in Gould, 216.

[27] As federal judge Oliver Wendell Homes asserted in Herbert v Shanley Co, 242 U.S. 591 (1917), found on FindLaw for Legal Professionals, Thomson Reuters, ip.findlaw.com, accessed 14 June 2014, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=242&invol=591.

[28] Lunney, contained in Collective Management of Copyright and Related Rights, 346.

[29] “ASCAP Reports Strong Revenues in 2013,” The American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers, ASCAP.com, 12 February 2014, accessed 15 June 2014, http://www.ascap.com/press/2014/0213-2013-financials.aspx.

1910s Pop Trend: The Ragtime Dance Craze

As long as music has existed, even from the mists of antiquity, there have been dances to accompany it. The period of the pop song in America has had some dance trends which define entire musical eras. The popularity of “The Charleston” (1923) “perfectly reflected the defiance, freedom and turmoil of the Jazz Era,”[1] Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” (1961) partly defines the sounds and styles of the Rock ’n’ Roll Era and Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” (1975) helped to usher in the Disco Era of the 1970s. Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” (1996) was not only the most popular song of the year,[2] but it also launched a manic dance fad of that summer thanks to the choreography of its music video. The Club Banger Age of the twenty-first century has experienced its own dance fads like the Chicken Noodle Soup (2006), the Soulja Boy (2007), the Dougie (2010), the Harlem Shake (2012) and the Twerk, a word so popular that it was a runner up the word of the year in 2013, as selected by none other than the Oxford English Dictionary.[3] Songs of the era like ‘Nsync’s “Bye Bye Bye” (2000), Britney Spears’s “Oops…I Did It Again” (2000), Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” (2008) and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” (2012) became dance floor phenomena partly due to the influential choreography featured in their music videos. During a wave of new dance fads during the 1910s, the foxtrot, perhaps the most popular social dance after the waltz was becoming its own cultural phenomenon during the Ragtime Era.

During the second half of the Ragtime era in the 1910s, social dancing had suddenly consumed American culture, and numerous new ragtime dance crazes become fashionable and trendy. The new American dancing fads brought popular culture away from the Victorian age ideals of perpetual toil, work and duty and into the Progressive Age of the twentieth century. New dance floors in cabarets, night clubs and restaurants were abuzz with dozens of new dances and a revived pulse of the Ragtime era. But the new dance steps were not without controversy; in some places certain dances were outlawed and dancing became restricted to permitted areas. But by 1917, most dance crazes faded out of memory, but one dance, the foxtrot, whose rhythms reflected a new blues influence on ragtime music, became part of the American dance canon and part of the musical lexicon for decades. The foxtrot not only became one of the few such dances to continue to have popularity beyond the Ragtime Era, but also lent its name to a musical genre on sheet music and on record labels.

Dancing had been popular in America long before the trend in social dancing happened in the early 1910s; the American public had been introduced to a number of dance fads in the nineteenth century, albeit presented from the theatre stage. People were not necessarily partaking in social dancing in public until well after the Civil War, and even then, most dance occasions like balls were held in private homes.[4] Some theatrical shows of the nineteenth century prominently featured new dance steps, for example, the “Victorian Extravaganza” The Black Crook from 1866 created a sensation with its popular, yet critically maligned, combination of song, dancing and statuesque show girls. By 1895, it had been revived eighteen times in New York alone.[5] Minstrel shows introduced theatre-goers to the cakewalk dance step which concluded such shows and when Coon Songs became a pop trend in the 1890s, the cakewalk consequently became marketing fodder for music publishers indicate the genre on the covers of the plethora of rags during the time. The song “Chocolate Drops” from 1902 had been advertised as “Harry Von Tilzer’s great Cake Walk hit” and “Suitable for March, Cake Walk or Two Step.”[6] The technologically advanced stage of the New York Hippodrome Theatre, opening in 1905, featured a unique theatrical and sensational dance experience with grandiose ballets and legions of up to 150 chorus dancers to entertain audiences.[7] Before the ragtime dance fad began, American had already been exposed to numerous iterations of spectacular theatrical dancing in the pop culture of Victorian Age America.

The 1910s would see spectacular changes in not just dance as an art form in America, but also American attitudes towards social dance. In an era when American culture was beginning to shake off the notions of constant toil and prudence of the Victorian Age, the entire nation began to embrace novelty dances in social situations. The waltz was an older style of dance by this time and was falling out of favour; the public’s reception of new dance style was high. Many trace the beginning of the ragtime dance craze to saloons and beach resorts of San Francisco; at the club Parcell’s, dances like the Texas Tommy and the Turkey Trot were fashionable as early as 1910.[8] Mark Knowles points out that insurance money from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake disaster helped to rebuild the city with new dancehalls and amusements.[9] The George Botsford and Irving Berlin song “Grizzly Bear” from 1910 references the popularity of dancing in San Francisco.[10] New animal ragtime dances were becoming socially diffused and fashionable on a national scale, including the Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug, Bunny Hop, and the Camel Walk as well as variations on old themes like the oddly-metered Hesitation Waltz and exotic dances like the Brazilian Maxixe and eventually the Tango. Almost immediately, the country was swept up in dance fever; so much so that there are reports of throngs of couples dancing the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear in public along sidewalks of cities.[11] It was a time to shake off the Victorian ideals and the waltz and embrace dances that were new, fresh and daring during the “Age of Progress,” capturing Americans’ spirit of the early 1910s.

While the American public were embracing social dancing trends, of course there were also record companies and Tin Pan Alley composers encouraging and capitalizing on the new dance trends by producing a new wave of fashionable ragtime music detailing instruction of new dances. In 1909, composer Harry von Tilzer and lyricist Vincent Bryan published “The Cubanola Glide,” a forerunner of the dance craze, and a song whose raggy and dialect lyrics offer dance step instructions by “rag-a-dag to de left den to de right/Shake it up, shake it up, side by side.”[12] Botsford and Berlin’s instructional song “The Grizzly Bear” (1910), created its own Grizzly Bear dance craze when popular actress Sophie Tucker introduced the song and dance on the vaudeville circuit in 1911.[13] Other Irving Berlin songs from 1911 also perpetuated the growing enthusiasm for dancing. “Everybody’s Doin’ It Now,” a song whose lyrics describe seeing a new dance performed by “a couple over there, Watch them throw their shoulders in the air,”[14] is a song whose sole purpose is to describe a dance fad; its title subsequently became a catch-phrase for the dance fads. Berlin’s tremendously influential song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was about specifically seeing ragtime entertainment, and revived the ragtime name that had been in a slow state of decline. Talking machine and record companies were also marketing to consumers for dance purposes, one advertisement claims that “nothing will aid to your dancing ability more than practice at home to the music of Victor Records or Rythmodik Piano roles.”[15] In 1911, Ragtime was enjoying a revival in its popularity when it had become marketed for dancing purposes rather than just “novelty music”[16] that it had been classified in the early 1900s.

One dance in particular, the foxtrot, would become the most popular dance of not only the 1910s, but the entire first half of the twentieth century. Animal dance fads fell out of fashion when songs slipped from popularity, and new dances came at such a fast pace that oftentimes it was tough work to keep with the new steps.[17] But by 1915, the foxtrot became the dance that represented both popularity of Ragtime Dances and changes in ragtime music. The history of the Foxtrot is disputed. According to Thomas L. Morgan and William Barlow, the foxtrot originated when James Reese Europe’s adapted W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues” for Vernon and Irene Castle to perform a new choreographed dance.[18] Other sources give credit to Vaudeville actor Henry Fox, whose surname lends its name to the dance.[19] But Eve Golden notes that an early form of the foxtrot had already been in existence as a syncopated trot step as early as 1905.[20] By 1914, the foxtrot became the latest popular dance craze in a long line of social dances but something else was also happening with the foxtrot name—it was beginning to appear on sheet music as an indicator of musical genre to advertise dance music. Names like waltz and two-step had been used as musical genre in the past, but foxtrot genre shows changes in the rhythms of ragtime music. By 1913, ragtime music was changing from a syncopated style to a more swinging style of “dotted ragtime” partly influenced by the growing popularity in numerous blues songs of the early 1910s.[21] Many blues songs like W.C. Handy’s “The St. Louis Blues” were labelled as rags, after all, and not constituting their own genre in this early stage. An early example of the foxtrot genre, “Ballin’ the Jack” has, in fact two versions of the sheet music, the first, published in 1913 and credits James Reese Europe with composition and only features the title of the song without a genre, while a second vocal version from 1914 indicates that the song is a “Fox Trot” and the cover features dancing couple Arria Hathaway and Joe McShane in a foxtrot dance pose.[22] Other Fox Trot songs and “dotted ragtime” followed, The James Reese Europe composition “The Castle House Rag” from 1914 is labelled both as a rag and as a foxtrot.[23] The foxtrot became the brand of ragtime with a unified dance and a genre for the changes in ragtime music.

The dance fads of the 1910s had a number of repercussions in American society. Dancing not only revitalized the popularity in ragtime music, but provoked a growing demand for social spaces like night clubs, restaurants and cabarets, which could allow people to practice the newest dances. Julie Malnig notes that originally, cabarets were a “wholly American phenomenon that combined dinner, drinks and floorshow.”[24] Restaurants and clubs began offering afternoon thé dansants to entice customers with a new dance floor, no matter how small and unable to accommodate many people. Stylish ballroom dance couples like Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton and Vernon and Irene Castle became celebrities admired for their grace, forward-thinking fashions and elegance. Vernon and Irene Castle had their own critically and commercially successful Broadway show Watch Your Step in 1914 which featured their dancing style.[25] The new dance trends also changed American fashion, the Victorian style of long dresses, corsets and wide hats limited movement on the dance floor. New styles like the hobble dress with shorter hemlines and plunging necklines, shoes with “Louis heels” and taller ostrich feather hats became the fashion styles during this era.[26] The new dance craze was changing many areas of American culture from celebrity to entertainment to fashion.

But the dances of the times had created a divisive culture war between those embracing a new cultural development and those who found the dances too provocative. In a time when it was law to remain nine inches away from your dance partner, if found dancing too close, a bouncer would eject dancers from the dance floor by a bouncer, according to Irene Castle,[27] songs which encourage “snug up close to your lady,”[28] and “Get away closer hon, Squeeze me tight”[29] were shocking and their associated dances were considered by some to be immoral. There was a grave fear that particularly single American women would lose their morals to the social new dances. Race may have also played a part in the hysteria, since many of these new dances had black origins and Reynolds and McCormack note that “as ragtime and jazz invaded ballrooms and the stage…black style became the basis for a bevy of new social dances.”[30] Social Reformers during the Progressive Era began to push back against the new and provocative dances, looking to change municipal laws for dancing by outlawing some of the animal dances and regulating where dance could happen. So-called “wiggly dances” were banned in places like New Haven, Dallas and Chicago[31] and in New York, dancing became illegal in establishments which did not hold special cabaret licenses. The reaction against the ragtime dances was even international. In 1913, the New York Times reported an Austrian soldier in Geneva Switzerland challenged an American man to a duel after the soldier found his daughter performing the Turkey Trot in a hotel that had banned “American dances.”[32] While the changes brought on by ragtime era dancing had been part of a new form of entertainment, there were genuine concerns that such provocative dancing could lead to loosening morals.

While the Foxtrot as both dance fad and musical genre was approaching its zenith, social changes were bringing the ballroom trend to an abrupt hiatus and musical tastes transitioned from Ragtime to a new style called Jazz. In 1917, the United States entered the Great War in Europe and two million American servicemen travelled across the Atlantic to participate in the war effort.[33] Vernon Castle had begun training as a pilot as early as 1915 and American bandleader James Reese Europe became involved in the war 1918 by providing music to the troops on the battlefield.[34] The war left American culture focused on war production, sales of war bonds and thrift and less on amusements like social ballroom dancing and dance fads. American pop song performers and songwriters reacted by producing patriotic and rousing songs about the War, departing from novelty songs in ragtime tempos in favour of marches like George M Cohan’s “Over There,” Irving Berlin’s “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” and Jean Schwartz’s “Hello, Central! Give Me No Man’s Land” and sentimental songs like M.K. Jerome’s “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There).” By 1920, the disruptions in American social life had begun to resolve themselves, including social adjustment following a devastating Flu Epidemic in 1918 and recent Prohibition Laws outlawing alcohol. By the time Americans returned to pop culture, a new style of music was on the rise, Jazz, and the various popular orchestras of Paul Whiteman, Art Hickman, Ted Lewis and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band became popular, leaving the pop song styling of the Ragtime Era behind.

Despite the rapid changes in American society after the First World War, by 1920, the other animal dances faded but the Foxtrot dance and the Foxtrot genre would continue to evolve and take their modern forms. Many records like Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” and “The Japanese Sandman” (both from 1920) and Ben Slevin’s Novelty Orchestra’s “Dardanella” (1919) were classified as Foxtrots. The Foxtrot would become a favoured dance of the Swing years of the Jazz Era, taking a slower form for the lush, orchestrated sounds of Big Band Music. The foxtrot label as a musical genre continued until the early Rock ’n’ Roll Era beginning in the mid-1950s In fact, 45s of Bill Haley and His Comets’s “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” of 1955 were labelled as a “novelty foxtrot,” when it was clear that Decca Records did not know what to call the music. The record sold 25 million copies, making the song, technically a Foxtrot, the most successful Foxtrot in American history,[35] four decades after its introduction. While the Ragtime Era faded and the Jazz Era began, the foxtrot continued to be popular in dance and in music for decades afterwards, even included the popular television show Dancing with the Stars. The dance fads of the 1910s had permanent contributions to American culture in not only Americans’ interest in dance, but also in the music which encouraged dancing’s popularity.


Berlin, Edward A. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1980.

Billboard Magazine. “The Hot 100—1996 Archive.” Billboard.com. http://www.billboard.com/archive/charts/1996/hot-100.

Castle, Irene. Castles in the Air. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. 1958.

“Challenges a ‘Trotter.’” New York Times. 10 July 1913.

Golden, Eve. Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 2007.

Knowles, Mark. The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage and Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. 2009.

Kynaston, David. Family Britain: 1951-1957. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2009.

Malnig, Julie. “Two Stepping to Glory: Social Dance and the Rhetoric of Social Mobility.” Contained in Moving History/Dancing Culture: A Dance History Reader. Ann Dills and Ann Cooper Albright, editors. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. 2001. 271-287.

Mendes, Valerie and Amy de la Haye. Fashion Since 1900. 2nd edition. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 2010.

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

Oxford University Press. “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013: Runners-up.” Ofxordwords Blog (blog). Published 19 November 2013. http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/11/word-of-the-year-runners-up/.

Reynolds, Nancy and Malcolm McCormick. No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2003.

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

Waldo, Terry. This is Ragtime. New York: Jazz at Lincoln Center Library Edition. 2009.

1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue: A Treasured Replica from the Archives of History. Northfield, IL. 1971.

Songs Cited

Berlin, Irving. Alexander’s Ragtime Band. New York: Ted Snyder & Co. 1911.

——-. Everybody’s Doin’ It Now. New York: Ted Snyder Co. 1911.

Botsford, George (music) and Irving Berlin (lyrics). The Grizzly Bear. New York: Ted Snyder & Co. 1910.

Europe, James Reese. The Castle House Rag. New York: Jos Stern Co, 1914.

Von Tilzer, Harry. Chocolate Drops (A Darktown Improbability). New York: Harry von Tilzer Music Publishing. 1902.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Vincent Bryan (lyrics). The Cubanola Glide. New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Pub. Co. 1909.


[1] Mark Knowles, The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2009), 135.

[2] Billboard Magazine, “The Hot 100-1996 Archive,” Billboard.com, http://www.billboard.com/archive/charts/1996/hot-100, (accessed 8 June 2014).

[3] Oxford University Press, “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013: Runners-up,” Oxfordwords Blog (blog), published 19 November 2013, http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/11/word-of-the-year-runners-up/, (accessed 2 June 2014).

[4] Knowles, 36.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Harry Von Tilzer, Chocolate Drops (A Darktown Improbability), (New York: Harry von Tilzer Music Publishing, 1902), contained in Terry Waldo, This is Ragtime, (New York: Jazz At Lincoln Center Library Edition, 2009), 48.

[7] Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormack, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 676.

[8] Knowles, 63.

[9] Ibid.

[10] George Botsford (music) and Irving Berlin (lyrics), The Grizzly Bear, (New York: Ted Snyder Co, 1910).

[11] Irene Castle, Castles in the Air, (Garden City, NY: Double Day & Company, 1958), 85.

[12] Harry von Tilzer (music) and Vincent Bryan (lyrics), The Cubanola Glide, (New York: Harry von Tilzer Music Pub. Co, 1909).

[13] Terry Waldo, This is Ragtime, (New York: Jazz at Lincoln Center Library Edition, 2009), 130.

[14] Irving Berlin, Everybody’s Doin’ It Now, (New York: Ted Snyder Co, 1911).

[15] Julie Malnig, “Two Stepping to Glory: Social Dance and the Rhetoric of Social Mobility,” contained in Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader, Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright, ed, (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 279.

[16] “List of Columbia P Records,” Sears Roebuck Catalogue, Catalogue No 117 (1908), reprinted as 1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue: A Treasured Replica from the Archives of History, (Northfield, IL: DBI Books, Inc, 1971), 200.

[17] Knowles, 71.

[18] 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), 71.

[19] Knowles, 99.

[20] Eve Golden, Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution, (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 101.

[21] Edward A Berlin, Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, (Los Angeles, AC: University of California Press, 1980), 160.

[22] Based on a search of Ballin’ the Jack on Johns Hopkins University Library, JScholarship, Levy Sheet music Collection, https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/search?scope=%2F&query=ballin+the+jack&rpp=10&sort_by=0&order=DESC&submit=Go, (accessed 7 June 2014).

[23] James Reese Europe, The Castle House Rag, (New York: Jos. Stern Publishing, 1914), contained in Terry Waldo This is Ragtime, 105.

[24] Malnig, contained in Moving History/Dancing Culture, 282.

[25] Golden, 126

[26] Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye, Fashion Since 1900, 2nd ed, (New York: Thames & Hudson Inc, 2000), 40-41.

[27] Castle, 85

[28] Botsford and Berlin, The Grizzly Bear.

[29] Von Tilzer and Bryan, The Cubanola Glide.

[30] Reynolds, 678.

[31] Knowles, 93.

[32] “Challenges a ‘Trotter,’” New York Times, 10 July 1913, 7.

[33] George Brown Tindal and David Emory Shi, American: A Narrative History, 8th ed, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 998.

[34] Morgan and Barlow, 71.

[35] David Kynaston, Family Britain: 1951-1957, (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009), 605.

78 Revolutions per Minute, Pt. 2: The Decline of the Wax Cylinder

Technological changes in the music industry and the ways in which consumers culturally embrace these changes are important yet overlooked components of pop song history. Depending on consumer tastes, popular formats replace each other time and time again. In more recent times, specifically in the past decade and a half, the mp3 digital file has replaced the popularity of the compact disc, a format which enjoyed tremendous commercial success during the 1980s and 1990s. This is partly due to technological changes and availability of computers and electronic methods of purchase like iTunes. But the consumer culture and changing attitudes towards music technology in the current Club Banger Era have aided in this transition. In the twentieth century, consumers of pop songs had to purchase a hard copy album of music from a retailer. In the twenty-first century, consumers can purchase popular music one song at a time with the click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone, onto which it is downloaded for immediate play. This change in culture has led to a precipitous fall in sales of the CD format; according to Nielsen SoundScan, a leading tracker of album sales, the CD album in 2013 was at its lowest levels since records had begun in 1991.[1] American culture has also become more portable and with mp3 files and the various devices that play them, consumers can fit an entire music collection in their pockets, unlike CDs in whose physical dimensions prohibit such portability. This sort of cultural shift happened in popular music history with the decline of the wax cylinder and the Edison Phonograph during the 1910s.

Not only did cultural shifts leave the wax cylinder out of favour for the music purchasing consumers, it also led to the downfall of Edison Records, one of the first big record companies in the United States. While the 78 rpm disc record had been standardized by Victor and Columbia, the wax cylinder format needed improvement, including the materials with which it had been produced and the amount of music that the cylinder could contain. But it becomes evident that technological progress and innovation do not equal changes in consumer culture and sentiment, influenced by the decorative and functional disc-only Victor Victrola. By 1915, the cylinder format was essentially exclusive to Edison Records, a company that had taken pride in producing cylinders and yet had commenced manufacturing their own disc format. However, such an innovation in their disc technology would not translate to sales and consequently led to Edison’s marketing campaign of infomercial-like Tone Tests demonstrating the format to live audiences. By the middle of the 1920s, with new technologies of radio and electrical recording slowly making advancements in the music industry, the wax cylinder and Edison Record had fallen behind the times during the Jazz Era and eventually out of business in 1929.

During the first few years of the twentieth century, the market for commercial music, apart from sheet music sales, was dominated by the wax cylinder. The business environment for companies producing cylinders and the machines which played them had been relatively stable by 1903. The sort of litigious business environment which would consume the disc market between 1907 and 1909, had already been settled for the cylinder format during the 1890s, leaving two large companies in the cylinder trade, Edison Phonograph and Columbia Graphophone as well as some other smaller firms like National Phonograph and Lambert.[2] By this time, consumers had had exposure to and familiarity with the cylinder as a form of music entertainment for nearly fifteen years, unlike the disc record, which had been standardised as recently as 1901. For Edison, the Phonograph brand name was so popular and famous that it became a synonym for any talking machine on the market, regardless of manufacturer or format. The manufacturing process for cylinders had improved and a new, easier moulding method[3]decreased consumer costs by 1902. Sales and manufacturing of cylinders were doubling every year during this time. In its 1902 fiscal year, the National Phonograph Company alone, manufactured nearly four and a half million wax cylinders; a year later, this figure nearly doubled to over seven and a half million.[4] According to one estimate, the cylinder outsold the disc record four to one in 1903.[5] During the first decade of the twentieth century, a stable business environment and lower cost products had increased sales of wax cylinders to great success.

But there were glaring disadvantages of the wax cylinder compared to the new disc record,including the cylinder’s materials, length of media and basic compatibility between machines. The materials composing the wax cylinder were fragile. Wax cylinders during the early twentieth century were made with a wax coating surrounding a cardboard tube and reinforced with some metal wiring or plaster of Paris. If dropped on the floor, they could crack; and if exposed to high enough heat, they could melt, rendering the cylinder unplayable. The disc on the other hand had been made of a much stronger shellac material. The amount of music on a cylinder also left the format lacking, standard cylinders issued by Edison and Columbia measuring two inches in diameter, four inches in length and 100 threads per inch on its surface, just over two minutes worth of material.[6]The 10” standard disc record produced by Columbia and Victor could play just over three minutes of material on each side with a total of around six minutes worth of music. Since the cylinder was three-dimensional rather than the two-dimensional record, there were geometric difficulties regarding compatibility between machines, leaving consumers to upgrade or update their machines. Standard cylinders had a two-inch diameter, while others like various “Opera” or “Concert” brands had a five-inch diameter and there was often no compatibility between machines; some unusual sizes of cylinders were unique to certain machines,[7] leaving consumers to play specific brand cylinders on specific machines. If consumers wished to purchase larger diameter cylinders, then either a new machine or an adaptor for the mandrel of the existing machine would have to be purchased.[8] Records, on the other hand, no matter which brand or length of disc, could be played on machines of other manufacturers. Despite their popularity, there were numerous areas upon which cylinder companies could improve their products.

Companies had looked for ways to make improvements on their products, addressing the amount of musical material their cylinders contained and the materials from which cylinders had been manufactured. The disc record contained more music and cylinder companies had to increase space to compete with discs. Once method of increasing the amount of the cylinder’s musical capabilities involved physically increasing the length of the cylinder from four to six inches. Columbia was the first to attempt to lengthen the cylinder in this method with its new “Twentieth Century” line of Graphophones in 1906. But lengthening the cylinder produced greater fragility of an already delicate format and the six-inch cylinder added a mere one minute of additional material.[9] In 1908, Edison Phonograph thought that they had the solution to increase content, by increasing the number of threads per inch from 100 to 200. By making the grooves of the cylinder thinner, record companies could effectively double the amount of material on the cylinder without increasing its size. But another trend was happening with the growing interest of using celluloid by cylinder companies. Durability was an issue as early as the late 1890s, when cylinders had undergone a change from a soft brown wax material to a more durable black wax format that could more easily be mass-produced by moulding. Celluloid would have the advantage of easier mass production as well as adding strength for the new finer 200 TPI format. Even though there were comparative difficulties with cylinders in relation to discs, record companies were working on product development to improve them.

Despite the potential improvements in the cylinder product, there were challenges in adapting them to machines including litigation about the use of celluloid material so desired by record companies. One such challenge was that new technological improvements of the cylinder required consumers to frequently purchase updated repeaters and styli and in some cases, entirely new machines in order to play new cylinders. For example, consumers had to purchase brand new Twentieth Century Machines which retailed for $100 in 1906,[10] with longer mandrels to accommodate Columbia’s “Half Footer” cylinder. The 200 thread per inch cylinder which pushed content to four minutes also caused difficulties with talking machine companies since there were many 100 TPI cylinders and machines already on the market requiring upgrades. Edison Phonograph adapted by providing machines with interchangeable repeaters which could play both cylinder formats. Columbia Graphophone standardized the stylus in its machines to accommodate both 100 and 200 TPI cylinders.[11]However, regarding the stronger celluloid material, there were challenges in bringing the material to market, particularly for Edison Phonograph.The much smaller Lambert Talking Machine Company owned the celluloid patent since 1900 and it was consequently unavailable to other manufacturers to use in their cylinders until Lambert went bankrupt in 1906,[12]after Lambert went out of business, the Indestructible Talking Machine Company filled the void by producing the “Albany Indestructible” celluloid cylinders. But for the Edison, celluloid would be out of reach; the entire stock of Albany Indestructible cylinders had been perpetually purchased by Columbia who were intent on recording celluloid cylinders as well,[13] leaving Edison out of the market for celluloid cylinders. Instead, Edison Phonograph produced a harder metallic soap material and a new “Amberol” brand cylinder, but the new material was simply a much more brittle and fragile, version of the wax cylinder.[14] Even though there were advancements in the cylinder format in length and materials, there were compatibility issues with machines and business difficulty of rights to use celluloid.

The Victor Victrola, a hornless cabinet machine, however, had caused an abrupt cultural change in the talking machine world and in the culture of the cylinder market, causing both Columbia and Edison to react to a change rather than produce new wares to advance cylinder technology. By 1910, the Victrola’s sales were increasing after four years of availability and so were sales in disc records. Between 1907 and 1911, sales in the Victrola blossomed from 3500 to 93,700[15] and more and more consumers were beginning to opt for hornless cabinet machines and increasingly the disc record. Columbia, at this time, began issuing and recording more discs and fewer cylinders releasing its own hornless cabinet machine in the Grafanola, a hopeful rival to the Victrola. However, Edison was left behind in this cultural transition. Although Edison, according to Fabrizio and Paul, had produced some of the “finest cylinder machines for collectors” with the cygnet line of machines in 1911,[16] Edison reacted to the cultural trend of the Victrola by eliminating external horn machines entirely in 1912 and focusing their attention on a new line of Amberola cabinet machines. Like many of the competitors’ machines, the Amberola was initially a higher-end product, but soon, a confused product line and inferior machine parts would plague Edison and its introduction of the Amberola cabinets.[17] While the Victrola had a cohesive look and an established brand, the Amberola line of products lacked such cohesion and many of the machine parts were upcycled from cheaper machines, leaving quality to the wayside. While Columbia and Victor were focusing on cabinet products which featured play of discs, Edison lost footing with their own line of machines to keep up with the trend.

With the cylinder market deflating, Edison had been essentially alone in cylinders, but Thomas Edison himself was looking for new and better methods of sound reproduction no matter the geometry of the format, cylinder or disc. After Columbia had ceased its use of cylinders entirely in 1912, the celluloid record became available for Edison. A new product, the Edison Blue Amberol cylinder, of course, available after the consumer purchased updated compatibility technology for older machines,was stronger and provided better reproduction than other cylinder models.[18] The Blue Amberol reproduced sound much better than the Amberol, but during the first half of the 1910s, it had become evident that cylinders were losing to the disc records of Columbia and Victor. Even at this stage, Edison was beginning to look for alternatives to the cylinder and began experimentation with its own disc format in 1910, even dropping the Phonograph brand name, synonymous with the cylinder, and reorganizing the brand as Thomas A Edison Inc.[19] But in developing a disc format, Thomas Edison wanted nothing to do with the 78 rpm format and believed that he could produce a product which could reproduce sound much better than other records and retain consumer loyalty to the Edison brand.[20] Edison worked on his own format, the vertical cut, which had reproduced sound by hill-and-dale movements rather than side-to-side movements of lateral cut disc records, the result was the Edison Diamond Disc.Edison’s innovative vertical cut record became briefly influential with companies like Pathé converting to vertical cut in 1915 and Emerson Records issued their own Universal cut records in 1916 which could be played on both formats. Despite being a leader in cylinder machines, Edison was adapting to consumer trends by producing discs, but relied on their own method for playback technology.

By 1915, the cylinder format was falling out of favour while the disc was growing in popularity, which led to ambivalent times at Edison who had thrown all of their resources at the Diamond Disc. The consumer culture had shifted to the disc, the Victrola and the famous recording stars of Columbia and Victor, which left Edison Inc behind the consumer tastes of the the middle of the 1910s.Edison himself was frequently befuddled by consumer tastes, he even had a disdain in the popular music Edison Records was recording during the Ragtime era, regarding popular music as “trash.”[21] As well, other companies like Brunswick were producing their own popular cabinet disc machines by 1916, showing that new companies were favouring discs over cylinders. But for Edison personally, music was not just a consumer product bought and sold, he thought that he could perfect recreating sound and began marketing the Diamond Disc for its ability to reproduce music. Edison took to showmanship and marketing to demonstrate the power of the Diamond Disc and brought it to theatres across the country through so-called Tone Tests, theatrical infomercials for the Diamond Disc in which a performer competed with the machine in front of an audience, to experience the similarities between the Edison disc and a live performance. Between 1915 and 1925, millions of American’s participated in Edison Tone Tests, according to David Morton.[22] A program from one of these Tone Tests not only advertises that it is “impossible to distinguish” between the machine and the singer’s voice, but also its back page offered advertisements for the performer’s new recordings on Edison Diamond Disc.[23] But the diamond disc and Amberola machines failed to sell and by 1920, it was evident that the heyday had not only come and gone for the wax cylinder, but also for the Edison Company.

Edison continued to produce the Diamond Disc as well as the wax cylinder until going out of business in 1929 with music in another transition to radio. The collapse of the popularity of the wax cylinder shows that, no matter how much change went into progressing and improving the technology, there were no technological methods of changing consumer sentiment and culture of what they want to buy. When faced with the longer playing disc record, Columbia issued a lengthier cylinder that was more fragile and required consumers to purchase new machines. The 200 TPI format which doubled the content on a cylinder required thinner styli in machine and the celluloid material released by Columbia between 1908 and 1912, also required consumers to acquire new repeaters and styli. For Edison, their Amberol records were brittle and failed expectations and the Amberola machines in response to Victor’s Victrola had substandard machine parts from cheaper models of Phonograph. Eventually, with Edison alone in the cylinder market and heavily promoting the reproduction benefits of the poorly-selling the wax cylinder format, which continued to be marketed to rural customers, slowly disappeared throughout the 1920s.


“A Test of Tone Re-Creation given by Mr. Glen Ellison and the New Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph.” Nipperhead.com. http://www.nipperhead.com/old/tonetest01.htm.

Aldridge, Benjamin and Frederic Bayh. The Victor Talking Machine Company. Camden, NJ: RCA Sales Corporation. 1964.

Baldwin, Neil. Edison: Inventing the Century. New York: Hyperion. 1995.

Bruderhofer, Norman. “Lambert Cylinders.” Norman Bruderhofer’s Cylinder Guide. http://www.cylinder.de/guide_lambert-cylinders.

“Columbia ‘Twentieth Century’ Cylinder Ads (1906).” 78RPM Records, Cylinder Records & Phonographs: The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog). 14 August 2013. http://78records.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/columbia-twentieth-century-cylinder-ads-1906/.

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. Department of Special Collections. University of California Santa Barbara. “Edison Amberol Cylinder (1908-1912).” http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-amberol.php.

——-. “Edison Gold-Moulded Cylinder (1902-1912).” http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-goldmoulded.php.

——-. “Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder (1912-1929).” http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-blueamberol.php.

DeGraaf, Leonard. “Confronting the Mass Market: Thomas Edison and the Entertainment Phonograph.Business and Economic History, 24, (1995): 89.

“Edison Amberol Cylinder (1908-1912).” Found on Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, Department of Special Collections, Donald C. Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-amberol.php

Fabrizio, Timothy C. and George F. Paul. The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishers. 1997.

Klinger, Bill. “Cylinder Records: Significance, Production and Survival.” Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Library of Congress. 08 March 2007. http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/pdf/klinger.pdf.

Milner, Greg. Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc. 2009.

Mokoena, Tshepo. “Album Sales Fall to Lowest Even in US.” The Guardian (London). 16 January 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jan/16/physical-album-sales-fall-lowest-ever-level.

Morton, David. Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2000.

Rutgers University. The Thomas Edison Papers. “Edison Companies.” Last updated 20 February 2012. http://edison.rutgers.edu/list.htm.

Stross, Randal. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers. 2007.


[1] Tshepo Mokoena, “Album Sales Fall to Lowest Even in US,” The Guardian, (London), 16 January 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jan/16/physical-album-sales-fall-lowest-ever-level (accessed 23 May 2014).

[2] Timothy C Fabrizio and George F. Paul, The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishers, 1997), 44.

[3] Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, Department of Special Collections, University of California Santa Barbara, “Edison Gold-Moulded Cylinder (1902-1912), http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-goldmoulded.php, (accessed 22 May 2014).

[4] “Phonographs Manufactured by the National Phonograph Co., 1896-1904,” contained in Leonard DeGraaf, “Confronting the Mass Market: Thomas Edison and the Entertainment Phonograph,Business and Economic History, 24, (Fall 1995), 89.

[5] Bill Klinger, “Cylinder Records: Significance, Production and Survival,” Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Library of Congress, 08 March 2007, http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/pdf/klinger.pdf.

[6] “Edison’s Gold-Moulded Cylinders (1902-1912),” http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-goldmoulded.php.

[7] Fabrizio and Paul, 108.

[8] Ibid, 142.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Columbia’s ‘Twentieth Century’ Cylinder Ads (1906),” 78RPM Records, Cylinder Records & Phonographs: The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog), 14 August 2013, http://78records.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/columbia-twentieth-century-cylinder-ads-1906/.

[11] Fabrizio and Paul, 150.

[12] Norma Bruderhofer, “Lambert Cylinders,” Norman Bruderhofer’s Cylinder Guide, http://www.cylinder.de/guide_lambert-cylinders, accessed 22 May 2014.

[13] Fabrizio and Paul, 150.

[14] Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, Department of Special Collections, University of California Santa Barbara, “Edison Amberol Cylinder (1908-1912),” (accessed 22 May 2014), http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-amberol.php.

[15] “Victrola Sales Figures,” contained in Benjamin Aldridge and Frederic Bayh, The Victor Talking Machine Company, (Camden, NJ: RCA Sales Corporation, 1964), 60.

[16] Fabirio and Paul, 177

[17] Greg Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, (New York: Faber and Faber, 2009), 46.

[18] Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, Department of Special Collections, University of California Santa Barbara, “Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder (1912-1929),” (accessed 22 May 2014). http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/history-blueamberol.php.

[19] Rutgers University, The Thomas Edison Papers, “Edison Companies,” last updated 20 February 2012, http://edison.rutgers.edu/list.htm.

[20] Neil Baldwin, Edison: Inventing the Century, (New York: Hyperion, 1995), 318.

[21] Thomas A. Edison qtd in Randall Stross, The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World, (New York: Crown Publisher, 2007), 223.

[22] David Morton, Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 22.

[23] Program from “A Test of Tone Re-Creation Given by Mr. Glen Ellison and the New Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph,” Nipperhead.com, http://www.nipperhead.com/old/tonetest01.htm, accessed 25 May 2014.