How Tin Pan Alley transformed the popular music industry




Tin Pan Alley represents the apex of the sheet music industry in the United States. The term refers to publishers concentrated on 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. They raised marketing and commercialism to unprecedented sophistication. The popular music industry traces its history back to 18th century London. Thomas Arne and other composers wrote songs specifically for a mass audience. No one had cared so much about an unsophisticaled audience before. … Continue reading

Kid Ory, Trombonist, Businessman




Music history has no shortage of musicians with no business sense. In jazz, Jack Teagarden never led a successful band; he drank too much, was too generous with friends, and had no idea how to make contracts. Fletcher Henderson failed so miserably financially that he had to sell all of his arrangements to Benny Goodman just to get money. In contrast, Kid Ory, the legendary tailgate trombonist, displayed his business sense at the age of 8, the same time he started performing music. … Continue reading

Race relations, social change, and American music




Race relations in the US are probably better than at any time in history. The recent racially motivated mass murder at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina demonstrates that they are not good enough. Many simmering misunderstandings and controversies rooted in racial tension likewise show that we have a long way to go achieve racial harmony. Harmony. That’s a musical term. The history of American music reflects the history of race relations. Music has also played a role in bridging the racial divide. … Continue reading

Fiddler on the Roof: Celebrating 50 Years




The year 1964 saw the premieres of some of our most outstanding Broadway musicals, including Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler on the Roof is based on eight stories about Tevye the milkman by Sholem Aleichem written between 1894 and 1914. Tevye has extended conversations with a character named Sholem Aleichem. To what extent does this Sholem Aleichem speak with the author’s voice, and to what extent is he as fictitious as Tevye? Even his contemporaries couldn’t figure it out. Likewise, it is not clear how faithful the stories are to real historical conditions. Aleichem’s stories … Continue reading

Songs of September




September sees the beginning of the harvest of nature’s abundance, but then the fields stop growing. It displays flamboyant color, as the leaves turn from uniform green to variegated reds, oranges, and yellows. But then autumn turns a dull brown. Relief from the heat of summer invigorates for a while, but gives way to melancholy. September melancholy has inspired some wonderful songs. … Continue reading

Hello Dolly! Celebrating 50 Years




Hello Dolly! opened January 16, 1964 and closed after 2844 performances on December 27, 1970. No previous Broadway musical had such a long run. Carol Channing as Dolly Gallagher Levi led the cast. It also ran for 794 performances at London’s West End. The Broadway show won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and for Channing, Best Actress in a Musical. Not till 35 years later did another musical surpass Hello Dolly! … Continue reading

The musical warfare of Confederate ladies




During much of the nineteenth century, the piano in the parlor served as the home entertainment center. Families bonded around it by singing popular songs together. They entertained guests there, too. Women especially were expected to be accomplished musicians and performers entertaining whatever guests showed up. Americans also frequently serenaded outside each other’s homes, either singing or playing instruments, as a tribute or compliment. These practices became politicized during the Civil War. Publishers on both sides churned out patriotic songs. The homes that did not acquire and learn a significant quantity must have been a distinct minority. … Continue reading

D.P. Faulds: Border State music publisher




Louisville, Kentucky, located across the Ohio River from Indiana, was home to a thriving music publishing industry throughout the middle of the nineteenth century, D.P. Faulds being one of the more prominent. It issued music representing both sides of the Civil War, as did other Border State publishers. Four slave states, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware voted down attempts to secede from the Union. They became known as Border States. Pro-Union and pro-Confederate sentiment ran high in all of these states, and troops from all of them served on both sides of the war. Is it any wonder that music … Continue reading

Home, Sweet Home, by Henry Rowley Bishop




Home, Sweet Home” was the single most popular song of the entire 19th century, both in the United States and in England. Its success may owe more to the American poet who wrote the words than to the English composer of the tune. Henry Rowley Bishop was the most respected English musician of his generation. Contemporaries even called him the “English Mozart.” Almost single-handed, he kept the tradition of English opera alive. English opera and Bishop’s reputation. “Opera” seems highbrow nowadays. In the early nineteenth century it was the popular music of the upper class–that is, if it was in … Continue reading

John Williams at 80




This year marks the 80th birthday of one of the most successful, honored, and loved American composer in history. John Towner Williams was born on Long Island, New York on February 8, 1932. Probably no one ever sees the middle name unless they’re looking up biographical information, but it’s good to know. John Williams is a very common name, one he shares with other musicians. John Williams is also the name of an Australian classical guitarist. There is another American conductor named John McLauglin Williams. No longer with us are a Chicago blues guitarist and a notable jazz drummer both … Continue reading