Tin Pan Alley: Music Publishing
This month we continue our journey in search of American popular song by looking at the evolution
of the music publishing business as defined by Tin Pan Alley. Believe it or not, even though the
term came to symbolize the American music publishing industry in general, there really was a place
called Tin Pan Alley.
As you will see in this month's
essay on Tin Pan Alley, the American music
publishing industry in many respects was one of the first industries to use market research and
marketing to define their own products and increase sales. They also had a lot to do with the kind
of music that was composed and distributed. Though we might all like to think that creative composers
such as Irving Berlin and others defined music for us, it was the publishing houses who directed
many composers as to the style of music to compose. It was also the publishers who determined what
would be published and what would not.
This is not intended to paint a
picture of an evil empire, indeed, we owe a great deal to the music publishing industry for bringing us music that has gone down in history as some of the greatest popular music ever composed. Who can deny the lasting beauty of the songs that emerged during those years?
Come with us now to explore Tin Pan Alley through a sampling of some of the music published by the most prominent, and not so prominent publishers of the golden age of song. And, to learn more about Tin Pan Alley, please be sure to read this month's essay on Tin Pan Alley's history.
Nobody Knows Where John Brown Went1909
Music by: Arthur Longbrake
Cover artist: "James"
As you will read in our essay this month about
Tin Pan Alley
, the American popular music publishing industry was largely scattered around the
country before homing in on 28th street in New York. Many of the publishers who existed in other
commercial centers continued to publish music well into the 20th century however they found it
increasingly difficult to compete against the New York group. One such publisher was Joseph Morris,
of Philadelphia. Actually, there were quite a few publishers in Philadelphia if our collection is
any indication and Morris seemed to be one of the more successful. However, like so many of the
publishers from this era, Morris seem to be long gone. A search of the net comes up empty.
This song is a very upbeat and fast paced song written by Arthur Longbrake
who is listed as having written other songs such as "Preacher and the Bear" and "Brother Noah"
neither of which seem to have stayed long in the repertoire. The song is a novelty song in that it
has some rather humorous lyrics. The refrain is as follows:
"The first thing I saw when I look'd ar-round,
Listen to this Philadelphia publisher's work
On a mon-u-ment read 'Here Lies John Brown',
And right be-low his name I could see,
'Pre-pare ye all to fol-low me'
I said to my-self, If I don't eat soon
I'll follow John if there's a-ny room,
Bit I look'd a-gain and was con-tent
For no-bod-y knows where John Brown went"
Music & Lyrics by: Paul J. Knox & Harry S. Marion
Cover artist: unsigned
As mentioned in our essay this month, T.B. Harms was one of the very first of the publishing powerhouses to establish themselves in New York and as such, Harms was one of the seminal publishers to establish Tin Pan Alley. Harms were established in 1881 and could
be considered the very first of the Tin Pan Alley publishers. Our collection has quite a few Harms
pieces and we have featured a number of them over the years. Harms, along with Whitmark were among
the first publishers to use market research and marketing techniques to control the market and gain
It is clear that from this cover, Harms was interested in all markets, including African Americans who were often ignored as an economic force. The cover art (as well as some others featured this month) prominently display African American images in a positive light, thus targeted towards that market segment. This is of course in comparison to the racist images more often encountered on sheet music from this period.
The song is quite pleasant and simple and the lyrics also treat the subject in a much more respectful way (even though very politically incorrect in today's environment). Here is a bit of the opening lyrics:
"You my sing a-bout your lil-ies
Hear this interesting song.
Of your pinks and ro-ses fair,
I know a col-ored la-dy; She's a win-ner ev'-ry-where!
It aint no spec-u-la-tion
When I say she b'longs to me,
There ain't no flow-er grows as sweet as she!"
(He's Just Plain Ordinary Man But, sic.) Lord How He Can Love1909
Music by: Leo Edwards
Lyrics by: Ed. Madden
Cover artist: E. Herrington
Even though the powerhouse publishers of Tin Pan Alley were controlling much of what was being published, there still existed a large number of independent publishers who joined in to get a piece of the pie. One of the most common practices seemed to be that successful composers would break away and establish their own house. I imagine they did so for two reasons. First, as stated in our essays this month and last, there were enormous amounts of money to be made through the music business, million sellers were not uncommon during these days. Secondly, I think a large number of composers wanted more personal control over what they composed and what was ultimately published.
One of the many composers who helped
establish a publishing house was Gus Edwards. Gus Edwards b. Aug. 18, 1887, Hohensalza, Germany d.
Nov. 7, 1945 Los Angeles, CA. nee: Gus Simon. Gus is remembered today not only as a songwriter, but
as one of our greatest vaudevillians. Gus' life is, perhaps, the quintessential story of an
entertainer's career. His family emigrated to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY when Gus was
just 7 years old. During the day, he worked in the family cigar store, and in the evenings, he
wandered looking for any sort of show business job. He found work as a singer at various lodge halls,
on ferry boat lounges, in saloons, and even between bouts at the athletic clubs. He worked as a
song plugger at Koster and Bial's; Tony Pastor's and the Bowery Theater. In 1898, while performing
in a vaudeville act, Gus wrote his first song, to a lyric by Tom Daly, "All I Want is My Black Baby
Back". Gus couldn't write music at that time, so he hired Charles Previn to write down the notes.
1905 Gus formed his own music publishing company. Over the years, Gus scoured the country looking for
new, young talent to star in these revues. He found such future stars as Lila Lee; Groucho Marx;
Eddie Cantor; Eddie Buzzell; George Jessel; The Duncan Sister; George Price, and many more. He
became known as "The Star Maker". In 1940, Paramount Pictures starred Bing Crosby in a film
biography of Gus' life, 'The Star Maker'.
Here we have another song
appealing to the African American market that is both humorous and treats racial issues with respect.
This song was composed by Gus' brother Leo.
Listen to this great Edwards song
Music by: Harry Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Andrew B. Sterling
Cover artist: unsigned
Another of the great composers of this period to establish his own publishing house was Harry Von Tilzer
b. July 8, 1872, Detroit, MI, d. Jan. 10. 1946, New York, NY nee: Harry Gumm. Harry, one of five children, was to find a career in music as did his younger brother Albert. When still a child, his family moved to Indianapolis, IN, where he father acquired a shoe store. A theatrical company gave performances in the loft above the store, and that's where Harry learned to love show business. His career really started in 1886 when, at age 14, he ran away from home and joined the Cole Brothers Circus. By 1887, he was playing piano, composing songs, and acting in a traveling repertory company. He changed his name at that time. His mother's maiden name was Tilzer, and he 'gussied' it up by adding the 'Von'
. Thereafter he would be called Harry Von Tilzer, and later his younger brother Albert would adopt
the name also. Harry met Lottie Gilson when the burlesque troupe with which he was working reached
Chicago. The popular vaudevillian took an interest, and induced him to go to New York. In 1892,
Harry, working as a groom on a trainload of horses, arrived in New York, with just $1.65 in his
pocket. He rented a room near the Brooklyn Bridge and became a $15.00 per week saloon pianist. He
left New York briefly to work in a traveling medicine show, but returned to again work in saloons
and later as a vaudevillian in a 'Dutch' act with George Sidney. At this time, Harry was writing songs
, literally hundreds of songs that were never published. He would sell them outright to other
entertainers for $2.00 each. But the tide was about to turn for Harry. One of his songs was
published, "My Old New Hampshire Home", lyric by Andrew B. Sterling. William C. Dunn, owner of a
small print shop, purchased it outright for $15.00, and issued it in 1898. It was a hit that sold
more than 2 million copies. In 1899, three more of Von Tilzer's songs were published: "I'd Leave My
Happy Home for You", lyric by Will A. Heelan "I Wonder If She's Waiting", lyric by Andrew B.
Sterling "Where The Sweet Magnolias Grow" The success of "My Old New Hampshire Home" induced Maurice
Shapiro of Shapiro-Bernstein Music Publishers to make Von Tilzer a partner, and the firm was re-named
'Shapiro, Bernstein and Von Tilzer'. Harry then wrote his next hit in 1900. 1900 "A Bird In A
Gilded Cage", lyric Arthur A. Lamb. In 1902, Von Tilzer quit the partnership and formed his own firm
'Harry Von Tilzer Music Company'.
(The above biographic information was used, with permission
requested from Murray L. Pfeiffer's Tunesmiths page at his very useful website
Big Bands Database website.)
interesting variation on the urban legend related to the naming of Tin Pan Alley
(see our essay this month) was contained in
this biography: "There is an interesting historical note connected with Harry Von Tilzer. In the
Early 1900's, Von Tilzer kept an upright piano in his publishing firm. Harry kept pieces of paper
stuffed between the strings of the piano's harp. It gave the piano a tinny sort of sound to which
Von Tilzer was partial. One day, the lyricist and newspaper journalist Monroe Rosenfeld was in
Harry's office and heard him playing the tinny sounding piano. The sound suggested a title for a
piece he was writing, - Tin Pan Alley."
This song, though not one of Von
Tilzer's blockbusters, is nonetheless, a good solid and entertaining song and very typical of his
Hear " Knock Wood" now.
I'm From Missouri (And You Gotter Show Me)1902
Music & Lyrics by:
Fred W. Vanderpool
Cover artist: "J.H."
One of the other most influential publishers
who established Tin Pan Alley was M. Whitmark & Sons. Founded by Isadore Whitmark around 1885,
Whitmark was one of the most prominent publishers during the next 40 - 50 years. Interestingly,
I have been unable to find any biographical information on Whitmark or the company. Like so many
others from the period, they seem to have simply disappeared. The same goes for the composer of this
work. Though I have several works by Fred Vanderpool in my collection, I was not able to find out
anything about him either.
For what it is worth, I did find out from the
state of Missouri why it is called the "show me state" and offer to you the official
explanation from the Missouri state web site.
"There are a number of stories and legends behind Missouri's sobriquet "Show-Me" state.
The slogan is not official, but is common throughout the state and is used on Missouri license plates.
The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Missouri's US Congressman Willard Duncan
Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member
of the US House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia.
In a speech there, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and
Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got
to show me." Regardless of whether Vandiver coined the phrase, it is certain that his speech helped
to popularize the saying. Other versions of the "Show-Me" legend place the slogan's origin in the
mining town of Leadville, Colorado.
There, the phrase was first employed as a term of ridicule and
A miner's strike had been in progress for some time in the mid-1890s, and a number of
miners from the lead districts of southwest Missouri had been imported to take the places of
the strikers. The Joplin miners were unfamiliar with Colorado mining methods and required frequent
Pit bosses began saying, "That man is from Missouri. You'll have to
However the slogan originated, it has since passed into a different meaning entirely, and is now
used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, noncredulous character of Missourians."
Yet another novelty song, this one is less humorous in its use of offensive
racial stereotypes and language in the opening stanzas. However, the chorus is cheerful enough.
"I'm from Mis-sou-ri And you got-ter show me
This song will "show ya"
what a li-cense you have got to be so
You think all the gals of this yer place are all dead stuck on your home-ly face
Just take a slope and let me be, for
I'm from Missouri and you got-ter show me."
Shine On Harvest Moon1908
Music by: Nora Bayes-Norworth
Lyrics by: Jack
Cover artist: "Parry"
Jerome Remick was born on Nov. 15, 1868 and died
July 15, 1931, he is buried in Detroit Michigan. He founded, Jerome H. Remick & Sons in Detroit
and established an office in New York in the heart of Tin Pan Alley. Remick was another of the most
influential publishers of Tin Pan Alley. Oddly enough, hours of searching Detroit Newspaper archives
and the New York Times archives (on-line) turned up nothing more than a photo of Remick's headstone
in a Detroit cemetery. Remick along with the other pioneering publishers have seemed to disappear of
the face of the earth. We do know that Remick's played a key role in the development of popular
music and that many of America's greatest composers got their start there. One of the luminaries was
George Gershwin who when he was fifteen, persuaded his skeptical mother to allow him to leave school
and he took a job as a song-plugger at Remick's in the heart of Tin Pan Alley. George learned the
business quickly, and just as quickly became bored with the ordinary quality of the material he had
to play all day. He even had a song published, "When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em," for which he
received the grand sum of $5.
For our final featured work this month we
have a song that is one of the classics of American Popular song. A rather sexy cover for its times,
this song features Ruth Etting whom we were able to find plenty of information about. Ms. Etting,
rose to fame in the twenties and early thirties. She was renowned for her great beauty, her gorgeous
voice and her tragic life. She starred on Broadway, made movies in Hollywood, married a mobster,
had number-one-hit-records, fell in love and was known as America's Sweetheart of Song. For much
more information on her and her life, visit the very well done Ruth Etting website for photos and other information about her.
One thing I learned in preparing this song for this issue was that the words to the refrain are different, just slightly, from what I had always learned. In the refrain line, "I ain't had no lovin since..", I had always sung "Jan-u-ary, Feb-ru-ary, June or July". Did you? Well, the line is actually, "A-pril (rest), January June or July" . Ok, that seems trivial perhaps but musically it is a big difference and the flow of the song is very different with that minor deletion of a sung note replaced by a rest. Listen and see if you don't agree, we will provide the full refrain text for you to sing along.
"Oh, shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky.
Hear this great American classic song
If you have not already visited our essay on Tin Pan Alley, now is a great time to do so. Thanks for stopping by this month.
I ain't had no lov-in' since April, January June or July,
Snow time ain't no time to stay out-doors and spoon,
So, shine on, shine on, harvest moon, For me and my gal."
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