Tag Archive | Tin Pan Alley

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

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

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

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

But more, oh! More than all I sigh,

That Fannie ever pleased my eyes;

Or that the charmer went away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

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

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

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

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

With the Broadway blues those Broadway blues.[40]

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

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

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

It’s “Pullman Porter Brush off my hat”

“Now look here porter someone stole my booze,”

I got the Pullman Porter Blues.[46]

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

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

I wasn’t broke but I was badly bent

I didn’t have a single dine to count

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

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

Better days are sure to come,

That’s plain to see

Uncle Sam will surely send it

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

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

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

Maybe I’ll return some day

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

Start your locomotive,

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Ibid, 17.

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

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

[22] ibid.

[23] Wyman with Havers, 15.

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

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

[26] Chase, 449.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Bekker,15.

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

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

[36] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[43] Bordman, 347.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[52] Morgan and Barlow, 49.

[53] Tirro, 61.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[67] Wyman and Havers, 15.

Dry Times: Songs and the Start of Prohibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people of this country Have another fight on hand,

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

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

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

Don’t you think that they will be sore

If we don’t show up no more?

Let us now united agree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Wills, 491.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[21] Marks, 199.

[22] Ibid.

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

[24] Sweet, Prohibition Blues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[48] Joyce and Cowan, Oh! Doctor.

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

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

[51] Berlin, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A.

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

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

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

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

[56] Lerner, 177.

[57] Behr, 87.

[58] Mabel Willebrandt qtd in Behr, 165.

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

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid, 178.

Exotic Numbers: Tin Pan Alley Daydreams about the Orient

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

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

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

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

There’s Egypt in your dreamy eyes

A bit of Cairo in your style

The shades of night are in your hair

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

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

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

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

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

There lives a lonesome maid, Armenian

By Dardanelles with glowing eyes.

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

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

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

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

The when the time is ripe,

He’ll fill your little pipe,

And then a light he’ll bring,

Gently you’ll float away

Far out on slumber Bay

And softly you will sing,[52]

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

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


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

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

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

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

Peerless Quartet’s recordings of Ching Chong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Phillips and Caddigan, Egyptian Moonlight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

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

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

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

[26] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

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

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

[29] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

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

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

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

[33] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

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

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

[36] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

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

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

[39] Hischak, 318.

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

[41] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

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

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

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

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

[46] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Changes: From Ragtime to Jazz

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

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

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

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

At the end of the rainbow there’s happiness

And to find it how often I’ve tried,

But life is a race just a wild goose chase,

And my dreams have all been denied.

Why have I always been a failure?[15]

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

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

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

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

Shake hands with Mister Jazz himself!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song List

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

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

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

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

Morris Music Co. 1916.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid, 67.

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

[5] Marks, 4.

[6] Freeland, 125.

[7] Ibid, 124.

[8] Jonnes, 299.

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

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

[11] Marks, 200.

[12] Chase, 179.

[13] Ibid, 193.

[14] Ibid, 148.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[27] Tirro, 170.

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

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

[30] Chase, 465.

[31] Stewart, 171.

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

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

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

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

[36] Teachout, 37.

[37] Tirro, 157.

[38] Marks, 200.

[39] Ibid, 200.

[40] Ibid, 199.

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

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

[43] Green, 214-215.

[44] Caldwell, 222

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

[46] Luis Russell qtd in Freeland, 157.

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/

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).

American One Hit Wonder: Charles K. Harris

          Creating hits is the backbone of the song writing industry; indeed hits earn money, set musical trends and create the inspiration for others to perpetuate the trade and make more music.  During the era when song writers had higher billing than recording artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, song writers like Harry von Tilzer, George M. Cohan, Paul Dresser and Irving Berlin composed numerous hits each.  Hit making then transitioned from the domain of the composer to performer during the 1920s, particularly when radio became popular entertainment, after which recording stars became the public image of a song.  Recording acts like Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and The Mills Brother and countless others over the decades have recorded numerous hits as well and this pattern continues into the twenty-first century with hit-makers like Rhianna, Eminem, and Katy Perry among others.  But for some writers and performers, their careers would be defined by a sole big hit.  In more affectionate, modern jargon, these are commonly known as one hit wonders.

          Such was the case for Charles K. Harris, whose ballad “After the Ball” not only was the first song to sell one million copies and become a mass produced hit but it also set the musical trends in style and promotion for a whole decade.  The song’s success, and Harris’s financial windfall from it, inspired other Tin Pan Alley songwriters into a hyperactivity of publishing and promotion with lyricists and composers clamouring to create their own big hits.  Harris’s contribution to the revolution in the song writing trade and Tin Pan Alley’s commercial ambition is enormous.  Yet, despite “After the Ball’s” commercial success, Harris’s later songs did not achieve the level of popularity of his big hit and eventually ragtime replaced the popularity of the sentimental ballad genre and left him without a market for his style of song writing.  Harris however, found success collaborating for musical theatre and advocating for copy write laws for music as a the inaugural secretary of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, where he served for a decade.  The man who wrote the song that commercialized Tin Pan Alley and became an advocate for intellectual property for the music business was the first one hit wonder.

The anatomy of “After the Ball” helps to explain why it became such a success.  One reason why it became a big hit was that the verses sparked emotion.  “After the Ball” is an example of one of the most popular genres of the 1890s:  the sentimental ballad, a sad song which told a story intended to excite emotion in the audience and consequently the potential consumer.  In the song, an old man recounts the story of how his heart was broken and why he had never married.  The central character describes the situation thusly,

“I had a sweetheart, years, years ago

Where she is now, you will soon know.

List’ to the story, I’ll tell it all.

I believed her faithless, after the ball.”[1]

The man explains how after fetching his sweetheart a glass of water, he found her kissing another man, after which his heart breaks and he “never wed.”  In the third verse, the audience learns that “long years have passed” and his sweetheart has now died; the man kissing her evidently was her brother.  The long, heart-rending and sometimes convoluted storyline was integral in a song’s popularity, the soap opera-like lyrics kept the audience’s attention to hear what happens in the next verse.[2]  However, lyrically, Harris notes that the song is not perfect and that there are some odd choices including odd word inversions to fit the meter like “I wish some water” and “List’ to the story, I’ll tell it all.”  However, according to Harris, in the final product, “defects are not so apparent.”[3]  The sentimental ballad was what audiences wanted to hear in 1892, despite the sometimes awkward wordings, and consequently, struck a chord with consumers willing to pay for sheet music.

            But beyond the storyline within the verses, Harris used the chorus to popularize the song.  A reason for the song’s success was that the title was used throughout the song in convenient ways so that the audience could remember it.  The song is a simple ABABAB structure, three consecutive verses, each one its own chapter of the story, each one followed by the same refrain summarizing the song.  It is this refrain which accomplishes the technique of popularization; it repeats a simply lyric that an audience would remember and strengthens the title of the song.  The chorus goes:

After the ball is over, after the break of dawn

After the dancers’ leaving, after the stars are gone

Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all

Many the hope that have vanished, after the ball.[4]

Not only does the title begin and end the refrain, it also ends each of the three verses which precede it.  It is an easily memorable title, which customers could see on the cover of the song in a music section of a shop and purchase later on.  Such techniques are even touted in modern methods of popular song writing in the twenty-first century, and according to one source, the objective of the chorus is to “summarize the idea of the song in a general way and to hammer home its title.”[5]  If an audience needed to remember one part of the song, it would have to be the chorus and Harris was one of the first composers to implement the refrain in popular song specifically for this purpose.   After the song’s success, the technique of making a song memorable via the refrain was standard practice throughout Tin Pan Alley in the 1890s.[6]

        Even though the song became the most popular song of the nineteenth century, it was almost a failure, but because of ruthless promotional techniques it became a tremendously popular hit.  During its debut performance in Milwaukee in 1891, the singer Sam Doctor was laughed off stage when he forgot the complicated lyrics mid-performance.  In order to get another chance for its public performance, Harris enticed the singer J. Aldrich Libby $500 and bribed an orchestra conductor with cigars to shoehorn the song into the popular musical farce A Trip to Chinatown, even though the song did not fit the plot in any way.[7]  After the performance the audience demanded an encore as soon as it ended.[8]  Marketing tactics of this merciless sort, even tampering with another’s music work by inserting one’s one song into it, would become common for pop songs of the era and for Harris, made “After the Ball” the first song to sell one million copies of sheet music.  In fact it went on to sell five million thanks to its continued inclusion in the musical; after all, A Trip to Chinatown, enjoyed 657 consecutive performances  on Broadway.[9]   The next year, John Philip Sousa performed it daily at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago[10] and Irish tenor George J Gaskin’s recordings on phonograph were best sellers of that year.[11]  What began as a bribed addition in a Milwaukee performance of a musical became a total moment of American pop hysteria in that year and set the standards of musical plugging that would overtake Tin Pan Alley later in the decade.

         The song created an instant gauge of not just how many copies a song could sell and how much money could earn a person money, but also how much fame a composer of pop songs could achieve.[12]  As the sole lyricist, composer and publisher, Harris was not obligated to share the song’s earnings, roughly $10 million, with anyone. [13] In New York’s Tin Pan Alley, the hub of American song publishing, Harris’s success must have inspired other songwriters to continue writing and to become successful composers and lyricists themselves.  After 1893, the noisy area of clanging pianos in New York City became the epicenter of a change in mentality for entertainment, from public amusement to profitable industry.  When asked where Tin Pan Alley is, Caesar Irving, writer of “Swanee” and “Tea for Two,” responded, “Closest to the nearest buck.”[14] Pop songs had gone from passive entertainment to business and industry and Charles K. Harris’s big hit is one of, if not the biggest, catalyst in this transformation.

          Harris continued to write and publish lachrymose story songs throughout the 1890s and early twentieth century without the great success of “After the Ball.”[15]  Known as The King of the Tear Jerker, Harris continued to publish ballads with such titles as “My Mama Lives Up in the Sky,” “’Tis Not Always Bullets that Kill,” “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them,” and “When Angels Weep,” among dozens of others.  However, few had the success of “After the Ball.”  Only 1897’s “Break the News to Mother,” about a dying soldier[16] and 1901’s “Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven,” in which a child tries to connect with her dead mother in Heaven via the new telephone, were even close to Harris’s previous success.  But by then, a new style of syncopated composition and vernacular lyrical styling known as ragtime was changing the aesthetics of writers in Tin Pan Alley; the popularity of Harris’s composition style faded with the sentimental ballad.  Charles K. Harris, however, continued to remain active in music writing and publishing until his death in 1930.  During the first decade of the twentieth century and in the 1910s, he collaborated with famous and celebrated Broadway composers and lyricists like Reginald de Koven, Oscar Hammerstein, and Victor Herbert.  Beginning in 1914, Harris was the first secretary of the Association of Songwriters, Composers and Publishers and he was a stalwart champion of the copy rights of song writers and composers.  Harris even worked with Warner Bros in the very earliest days of talking movies composing music for film.[17]  Charles K. Harris was even inducted in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1970.

            But the song was larger than he was and it is worth mentioning that Harris continued to relish in the success of the song for the rest of his life.  All of his other published songs subsequently included the tagline “Composer of ‘After the Ball’” above his name on the cover pages to help sell them.  He wrote a screen play for film of the song’s plot in 1910, but it was rejected and was never approved by any studio.  In an early talking video recording, Harris himself sang the tune for the camera.[18]  He even titled his autobiography After the Ball.  But the song has remained a culturally defining moment of the so-called Gay Nineties and is included in the 1927 musical Show Boat, which is partly set during this time.  It also appears in period motion pictures and musicals Lillian Russell (1940), The Jolson Story (1946), and There’s A Girl in My Heart (1950).  “After the Ball” had also been recorded by numerous musicians including Guy Lombardo and Johnny Cash.[19]  Not only did the song have great success, but few other such songs can claim the distinction of being a cultural symbol of an entire era.

            “After the Ball” has the dubious distinction of being an important song in pop history in the amount of change in the industry which followed its success, but also in its composer being the first true one hit wonder.  Within one year of a performance in which its words were forgotten, it became a nation hit that nearly everybody knew.  Thanks to Harris’s tenacity for promotion and the song writing skills he used to popularize the song, it became a big hit.  Although the song changed pop history in nearly every aspect from structure to promotion, Harris did not have another big hit, going on to other arenas of the commercial music industry including the stage and the legal aspects of copyright laws.  But his song continues to have relevance, and it remains a cultural benchmark for the 1890s that people recognize in popular culture.


Blume, Jason.  6 Steps to Songwriting Success:  The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hit Songs.  New York:  Billboard Books.  1999.

“Charles K. Harris – After the Ball.”  YouTube video, 3:16.  Posted by “adamgswanson,” on 26 November 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIXGlQdTDKY.

“Charles K. Harris:  Biography.”  Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Accessed on 24 January 2014. http://songwritershalloffame.org/exhibits/bio/C264

“Charles K. Harris:  Home Exhibit.”  Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Accessed on 24 January 2014. http://songwritershalloffame.org/exhibits/C264

“Chas K Harris:  King of the Tear Jerker.”  The Parlor Songs Academy.  Accessed on 1 February 2014.  Parlorsongs.com/bios/ckharris/ckharris.php.

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

Harris, Charles K.  “After the Ball.”  New York:  Chas. K. Harris & Co.  1892.

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

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

Whitburn, Joel.  Pop Memories:  1890-1955.  Menomonee, WI:  Record Research Inc.  1966.

[1] Charles K Harris, “After the Ball,” (New York:  Chas. K Harris & Co, 1892).

[2] Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley:  A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1990), 22-23.

[3] Charles K. Harris, qtd in Furia, 23.

[4] Harris, “After the Ball.”

[5] Jason Blume, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success:  The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hit Songs, (New York:  Billboard Books, 2001), 4.

[6] Furia, 24.

[7] Larry Stempel. Showtime:  A History of the Broadway Musical Theater, (New York:  W.W. Norton & Co, 2010), 152.

[8] Thomas S Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 2002), s.v. “After the Ball,.”

[9] Stempel, 69.

[10] “Charles K Harris:  Home Exhibit,” Song Writers Hall of Fame, accessed on 24 January 2014, http://songwritershalloffame.org/exhibits/C264.

[11] Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories 1890-1955, (Menomonee, WI:  Record Research Inc, 1986), 642.

[12] Furia, 23.

[13] “Charles K Harris:  Biography,” Song Writer’s Hall of Fame, accessed on 24 January 2014, http://songwritershalloffame.org/exhibits/bio/C264.

[14] Caesar Irving, qtd in Furia,19.

[15] Furia, 25.

[16] There are accounts which indicate that “Break the News to Mother” was originally written in 1891 about a dying firefighter, not a soldier.  See “Chas. K Harris:  King of the Tear Jerker,” contained on The Parlor Songs Academy, last modified February 2011, http://www.parlorsongs.com/bios/ckharris/ckharris.php.

[17] “Chas K Harris:  King of the Tear Jerker,” found on The Parlor Songs Academy.

[18] “Charles K Harris – After the Ball,” YouTube video, 3:16, posted by “adamgswanson,” posted on 26 November 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIXGlQdTDKY.

[19] Hischak, 4.