Tin Pan Alley Songs on Stage and Screen before World War II

Raymond Knapp and Mitchell Morris

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Tin Pan Alley Songs on Stage and Screen before World War II

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This article provides detailed information on the extensive overlapping before World War II of Tin Pan Alley with Broadway vaudeville, and post-1927 Hollywood. A quick survey of any large list of songs performed in musical plays and revues on the New York stage at the turn of the century reveals an amazing concentration of numbers that project clusters of racial and ethnic stereotypes. “Coon songs”, in particular, owe the majority of their musical and lyrical styles and their customary performance practices to minstrelsy, but over and above their ways of imagining the appearance and habits of African Americans, they also decisively shape the ways that other minorities appear in the popular music of the time. The lavish array of social (stereo) types was perhaps especially important because of the milieu in which they were generated. The ethnic songs that focused on more recent immigrant ethnic groups referred back to minstrelsy for their primary strategies of masquerade. The mature American musical emerged from the interweaving of, and competition between, two separate strands of theatrical music-making that include adapted European operetta traditions and a number of traditions that shared the practice of staging popular song, deriving in part from the English music hall and similar traditions. The vast majority of Tin Pan Alley songs use a verse-chorus structure, in which the “verse” either narrates a story or establishes a dramatic situation, and the “chorus” either acts as a punctuating refrain or represents the song promised by the dramatic setup.

Keywords: coon songs; Tin Pan Alley; verse-chorus structure; operetta-based nostalgia; 32-bar song form

Article.  8314 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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