Tin Pan Alley's voracious appetite for music in the early 20th century resulted in millions of songs that played off thousands of themes and creative ideas. American song writers seemed to rarely run out of subjects for songs and often, just as American song influenced other countries' music, American song was often inspired by music from other places or other cultures in the world. We've seen that in several of our issues. For example, our popular issue about the influences of Native American music showed how songwriters interpreted Native American culture. As well, our issues about the influences of European music and Asian music demonstrated the cross cultural imprint on popular music in America. As we've pointed out in several of those issues, often the American songwriters got it very wrong and used stereotypes that inaccurately reflected the music of those cultures.
In this issue, we'll explore music about places South of our borders, Central America, Cuba, the Argentine Tango and Brazil with a major emphasis on Mexico. Our closeness to Mexico has generated a major influence on our music. As well, our kinship and sometimes rancorous relationships with the rest of the Americas has resulted in a variety of music that focuses on the area. Though a fair amount of music was written related to the Spanish American war and our exploits in Mexico, our focus this month is more on the positive aspects and the musical similarities and accuracy's of representation of those cultures through our music. We will include two excellent and entertaining genuinely Mexican works as a comparative basis for our look at American popular music as it goes, "South of The Border."
We begin our look at music about points South with Mexico. Though Mexico has a rich heritage of native music, her music from the colonial period, beginning around 1521 is what we are most familiar with today. That music, of course is also a reflection of Spanish music and though her music includes the influence of Aztec, Mayan and other pre Columbian cultures, it is the Spanish sound we most often relate to. Pre-Columbian music is similar to that in Native North America using simple instruments, mainly flutes and percussion. According to The New Grove, By 1527, Spanish missionaries began teaching Western music to the Indians of Mexico. Obviously, their focus was on the music of Spain and it seems the natives were quite receptive to this new music as it spread quite rapidly and was assimilated surprisingly fast. The friars were delighted by the native reception to their music and placed a great emphasis on it thinking that the music and musical activities provided a way to attract the natives to Christianity.
The Mexican affinity and skill with music grew rapidly and as early as 1540, native Mexicans were composing large scale musical works in the European style including one Mass by a singer in Tlaxcala. Within twenty years of the Conquistadores arrival Mexicans were composing, copying manuscripts and building European instruments under Spanish supervision. Though Spanish influences strongly directed the development of music in Mexico, their music still retained elements of their native heritage such as ubiquitous use of flutes, significant percussion and use of high pitched or falsetto singing.
With the movement towards independence in the 19th century, there was a period of rejection of everything Spanish and Mexican music gained influence from many other areas including France and later (after our squabbles) even American music. In spite of this, Mexican music has a quite distinct flavor and can often be identified by even the most unmusically trained listeners.
Music by: José Aviles
Arranged by: W.T. Francis
Cover artist: Unknown
Written for the New Orleans World's Exposition in 1885, this work is one of the most exemplar of Mexican popular and concert music from the period and to this day. While written during the independent period of development, the work is illustrative of the sound, rhythm and feel of Mexican music as we know it in America. This piece was originally written for a concert band and was transcribed for piano. It is a charming piece and uses many of the conventions of Mexican music we associate with it. A liberal use of triplets, plentiful use of intervals of thirds and sixths as well as regular jumps in octaves (one of native Mexican music's characteristics) the music is underpinned with an ostinato dotted rhythm that connotes a great deal of Latin music. The exposition took place from 1884 - 85 and was billed as the "World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition." The piece was performed at the Exposition at New Orleans by the Mexican Military Band of the 8th Regiment. This piano edition, is a reduction from the concert edition by an American and was dedicated to Señor Encarnacion Payen, Leader of the Mexican Band. The music is fabulous and enjoyable. Listen to it as a preface to the rest that follows. It can be used as a benchmark against which the American compositions can be compared.
Jose Aviles, the attributed composer appears to have been a priest based on the very little information I've been able to find. Even less seems to be known about the arranger of this edition, W.T. Francis.
Hear this great Mexican song Printable sheet music (scorch format only)
Lyrics (This work has no lyrics, it is for piano only)
On Sunday, September 2, 1906, The New York American and Journal published this song in their music section. The Journal published many songs in their music section from around 1900 to 1908 or so and their publications were perhaps the premier ones when it came to newspaper sheet music. Most newspapers published the sheet music as pages inside the paper, the Journal went to a great deal of trouble to provide full size sheet music complete with original cover art as an insert. A great deal of their wonderful sheet music has come down to us, but it is deteriorating badly, as newsprint often does. For more on this subject, see our issue about Newspaper music supplements published in October of 2000.
This is a fine song, by a fairly unknown and obscure composer that is about a Mexican beauty but as with many of the songs from Tin Pan Alley, the music does not at all reflect the music of Mexico. Instead, we have a song simply using a Mexican "Queen" as the subject, written in the American popular musical style of the period. Originally published by The American Advance Music Co that same year, the song is pleasant but unremarkable musically or lyrically. That was often the case with newspaper supplements. Publishers would rarely give up a blockbuster for free distribution via the newspapers and often the newspapers had to take the less popular offerings. Overall, the music has little connection to Mexico or Mexican music save a few references in the lyrics. Nonetheless, it is exemplar of the Tin Pan Alley penchant for writing songs about anything that might attract buyers.
Enjoy this wonderful old song Printable score! (Scorch format)
ca. before 1900
Not all music written by Mexican composers was in the Spanish style. As with any Western influenced country, other idioms abounded and Mexico has always had a rich classical and art music tradition. This song's publication date is not known for sure as it is not noted anywhere within the sheet music but it likely came from the late 19th or possibly early 20th century. The artwork implies a much earlier time period, perhaps as early as the 1860's. As such, it is likely a piece from the period of independence in Mexican music when Spanish music was eschewed in favor of other styles of Western music. Certainly that it is a Polka, further supports that idea.
The title translates more or less to "Full Steam Ahead" or "at full steam" and the railroad image provides the setting. The piece is pleasant and quite European in style though not particularly unique or stellar in its execution. It was interesting to me that this title appears in many songs from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries and there are currently a number of songs bearing that title by contemporary groups. Even if the music itself is not of lasting quality, clearly the title was. We offer this work mainly to illustrate the fact that not all Mexican music is the same and to demonstrate the wide variety of style and versatility of Mexican composers.
Unfortunately, I've been able to find nothing about the composer, Jose D. Romero.
Lyrics (This work has no lyrics, it is a piano only piece)
Words and Music by: E. Ray Goetz, Irving Berlin and Ted Snyder
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer
In 1911, when this song was written Irving Berlin was a virtual unknown. A few short months later, he'd be an American music phenomenon after the publication of his groundbreaking Alexander's Ragtime Band. After that Berlin rarely would share the billing with other writers. In this case however, there were two other writers involved and it is difficult to determine just what part Berlin's talents played in the creation of this song. Compared to the work by Waterbury, this team came closer to providing us with a taste of the Mexican sound, just barely.
It is in the verse that we are treated to some harmonics and rhythm that are reminiscent of "Media Noche" but the bass line is clearly the loping dotted rhythm of Mexico and the Spanish influence. We lose the rhythm in the chorus and the song morphs into just another American styled song. The artwork by Pfeiffer is excellent, perhaps one of his better ones and clearly conveys the stereotypical Senorita we would associate with Mexico.
E. Ray Goetz (b, 1886, Buffalo, NY - d. 1954 Greenwich, CT) Goetz was primarily a lyricist and producer and was responsible for some of America's greatest song hits. His most famous song was For Me And My Gal (1917, Scorch format) with Sam M. Lewis and Edgar Leslie and his most famous stage production, Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929) with the great Cole Porter. Among his other hit songs are Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula (from the 1916 production Robinson Crusoe Junior, MIDI format). Though many popular songs came from his pen, his main contribution was as a producer. During his career, he staged a large number of shows including the 1907 Ziegfeld Follies, two editions of George White's Scandals and two editions of Hitchy-Koo. His last major stage production was in 1929.
Hear this old "Mexican" song (Scorch format)
Neil Moret (b. 1878, Leavenworth KS. - d. 1943, Los Angeles, CA.) Moret was the pen name for Charles N. Daniels, a composer with a fairly limited output but whose works are significant in musical history. He collaborated with several of Tin Pan Alley's best including Harry Williams, Gus Kahn and Richard Whiting. He began composing at 17 and in 1904 co founded the Daniels and Russell Publishing Company in St. Louis. He also was an executive with Remick and later formed his own publishing house in 1915. He moved to Los Angeles in or around 1923 and then in Los Angeles formed Villa Moret publishers for whom he presided as President from 1924 - 31. Moret's most important works were; Hiawatha (1901, Scorch format), You Tell Me Your Dream (1908), On Mobile Bay (1910), Mickey (1918), Moonlight and Roses (1925) and Chlo-e (1927). The highly regarded Ragtime researcher, author and music lecturer Nan Bostick of Menlo Park, California is Daniels' grand niece and has written a biography of Daniels.
James O'Dea ( dates unknown at this time) was a composer, lyricist and writer most known for his stage productions and plays that include; Chin Chin (1914), The Lady of the Slipper (1912), Uncle Sam (Play, 1911), The Top o' th' World (1907) and Madge Smith, Attorney (Play, 1900). He collaborated with a number of Tin Pan Alley composers including Neil Moret and was Moret's collaborator on the famous song, Hiawatha in 1901. He also wrote the lyrics to Ragtime Temple Bells (1914) with Ivan Caryll.
Enjoy this classic "Mexican" song (Scorch format)
The Yucatan peninsula of course is a part of Mexico and the cradle of the Mayan civilization with numerous fantastic sites of temples and cultural centers such as Tuluum, Chichin Itza and Chacchoben. They also grow mosquitos the size of pelicans that can suck you dry in minutes. The music of Yucatan is the most influenced by Native culture in Mexico and was perhaps less influenced by Spanish missionaries because of its remoteness and dense jungles. Nonetheless, for American writers, it was all the same to them and Mexico was Mexico so many of the stereotypes applied, no matter what. In 1910, the composer S.R. Henry wrote a march titled Down In Yucatan that became quite popular. Later that year the work was reissued as a song with lyrics by Monroe Rosenfeld and the title became, Yucatana Man. Neither incarnation of the music has any relevance to anything Mexican, Mayan or Yucatan other than the title and the cover art. Again, we have an example of a piece of music (a really good one at that) that was apparently searching for a theme and somehow, Henry pulled the Yucatan our of his nether regions.
The music is undeniably good, a solid march with some innovative and creative writing such as the interesting "jungle" darker sounding passage using chromatic progressions. That section is quite reminiscent of many of the great "monkey" and jungle songs we featured last year. The practice of taking a popular piano solo work and reissuing it as a song with lyrics was a common one during the heyday of Tin Pan Alley and was a great revenue generator and way to breath life into a piece whose popularity was waning. In addition, some melodies (this is one of them) stick in your head and when it does, it begs for lyrics to be sung rather than notes only to be hummed.
S. R. Henry ( dates unknown) Little seems to be available about Henry's life or works but we do know that he also wrote Peter Piper, Down At The Huskin' Bee and I've Got The Time, I've Got The Place (1910) with Ballard Mac Donald.
Maurice H. Rosenfeld (b. 1861, Richmond, VA - d. 1918, New York)
Rosenfeld was more well known as a journalist than a composer and lyricist
and his main musical claim to fame was the 1886 song, Johnnie Get Your
Gun. However, his biggest contribution to America's musical heritage
was the naming of Tin Pan Alley. He was the journalist who coined the
term while writing a series of articles about America's popular music
industry in 1903. His other works include; Alabama Walk-Around (1891),
The New Berlin, The Virginia Skedaddle (1892) and A Mother's
Listen to this great old march based song (Scorch format)
We leave Mexico now and move on further South, beyond the Yucatan to Central America. With the building of the Panama Canal whose construction was almost completed when this song was written. The Canal was officially opened in 1914 so it appears the composer was thinking ahead, knowing that it would be an exciting event to capitalize on. In fact, for a very short period, Panama was the subject of a number of songs however almost all sung the praises of the Canal and none (that I know of) focused on the culture or musical traditions of Panama, the country.
The music of Panama is a conglomeration of the Spanish influence, it's own native music and a significant African influence as the result of an influx of African slaves during the Spanish colonial period of the Middle and South Americas. According to the New Grove, "These elements combined to form a new music rich in rhythmic and melodic variety." (New Grove, Vol. 14, p. 151) Today, what one hears in Panama is more a mix of international flavors in the major population centers however, Panama's folk music is still important and performed in the inland areas. As with many of the countries of the Americas, flutes, drums and simple guitars predominate as the instruments used in folk music. Panamanian native music uses a pan flute unique to the San Blas islands off the coast and comes in a "female" and "male" version. The "female" flute is tuned a minor second above the male. When played together they generally result in a melody line of parallel fifths. It is said that the flutes are not tuned to each other thus producing an unusual sonority. (New Grove, Vol. 14, p 152).
There is no such sonority or use of fifths in Faber's song, it is purely Tin Pan Alley in its construction and melodic basis. Not a great song but it is unique and certainly historically topical. What is unusual is the long story told by the lyrics, one that takes four verses plus repeats of the chorus to tell. In many respects, I found the lyrics clumsily unmatched to the music, as though Faber wanted to tell the story come what may and made lyrics fit regardless of the smoothness of fit. The music itself seems grounded in the 1880's rather than 1913 and is simple and somewhat boring. I find that the four verses just become tiresome and the melody not one I particularly care to hear over and over. The chorus is perhaps better and takes us on a virtual tour of the Central American area.
Lawrence Faber ( dates unknown) has disappeared fairly conclusively.
I can find no mention of him in any of my references and a search of the
web comes up empty.
Listen to this great old "Canal" song Printable sheet music! (Scorch format)
Rio! Brazil! Scenes of Carnaval and the girl from Ipanema instantly come to mind. It seems that Rio has always held an attraction to us and even in 1920, when travel over such distances was an adventure, people were attracted to Rio De Janiero. So why then should our music not reflect that exotic Southern place as well? Rio is a place that has been honored by American song for a century. In 1920, many songs about Rio and Brazil had already written and many more would follow.
Similar to other locations in the southern America's, Brazil's music was heavily influenced by Spanish culture, mainly related to missionary efforts and church music during the Spanish colonial period. It also carries a great African influence that adds to the rhythmic feel of her music. Her post Columbian music therefore has much the same Latin flavor of the rest of the Americas however Portuguese influences are more prevalent here than in other areas. Her own native music is rich and offers one of the widest inventories of native instruments and variations on basic instruments than many other countries of the Americas. Her large area also allowed for a wide variety of musical development both pre and post Columbian such that we find various predominant influences in different areas. In 1954, Corrêa de Azevedo, a Brazilian musical scholar, defined at least eight distinct musical areas within the country. Those areas include the Amazon, Samba, Fandango and Gaucho areas among others. Rio, falls within the Samba area, one whose music is rhythmically pulsating with complex harmonies and compound times that infect the listener with the desire to get up and move to the music.
Alas, if only Vincent had captured that rich feeling more completely in this song. Rather, he's given us a waltz song that is a hymn to Rio and it's romance but fails to give us any true flavor or feel for her music. However, as a waltz it is very, very good. Subtitled as "The Dreamiest of Dreamy Waltzes," the music is melodically memorable and does definitely have a dreamy quality to it. Though the waltz does not play a big part in Brazil's music, Vincent does give us a quite romantic take on her charms that makes for a wonderful song. His use of double dotted quarter notes adds a bit of dreaminess to it and though we've seen it in a few other songs, it is an unusual convention for a popular song.
Elmer Vincent ( dates unknown) Vincent has effectively vanished
except for this one work. Searches of the net, major archives and my research
library find no mention of him save this one fine work. As always, if
any of our readers can provide information we'd appreciate your help.
Listen to this great old song about Rio (Scorch format)
The Tango, often vilified as vulgar, loved by many as sensual but undeniably one form of music and dance that reaches the depths of one's musical soul. Although the origins of the Tango are in dispute among music scholars, Argentina (and to a lesser extent, Uruguay) has emerged as the undisputed home of the Tango. The Tango is clearly a Latin American song and dance genre and in the early 20th century, it captivated the attention of and swept the continents of Europe and North America in a way few other musical and dance forms had before and since. The question of origin seems to boil down to two possibilities, both unproved. One idea is that the word Tango, is of African origin and means simply, "African dance." The other theory is that the name originated from the Spanish word, taño, "to play" (an instrument). It is said that African slaves in Uruguay and Argentina used the word to designate their percussion instruments. (New Grove, Vol. 18, p. 563)
Regardless of word origins, the dance associated with it is purely Latin American and largely Argentinean. It was the Argentinean composers who gave us the majority of great Tangos in the early 20th century and the majority of popular tangos were noted as "Argentinean." However, Uruguay was also a driving force and the genre is considered today to be equally Argentinean and Uruguayan in ownership. The Tango has its origins in the Cuban habanera which had spread throughout Latin America by the middle of the 19th century. The dance (and music) evolved in South America into variants including the Maxixe and Tango Brasilerio but it was in the early years of the 20th century that Argentina produced and exported the Tango that we know today. According to the New Grove; "tango primarily designates the most popular Argentine urban dance of the 20th century. It is one of the most expressive and nationalistic symbols of the Argentine character." (New Grove, Vol. 18, p. 563) We'll provide more on Tango history with the next song.
Here we have an example of an Argentinean Tango in it's song form that I believe most of our readers will immediately recognize. The musical them for this song was often used in cartoons and some movies for action scenes and chases. Most of us probably never gave its origins a thought and moreover, probably never dreamed that it was a song with words. We've provided the lyrics, hopefully transcribed correctly (if not, please, any of our Spanish speaking readers, correct us.) The title translates to "The Masked One," according to the music and seems to tell a tale of romance and adventure. The tango has been classified into three forms by musicologists. The first, tango-milonga is an instrumental only work with a strong rhythm and may be the most common dance variant. The second variant, tango-cancion is a vocal-instrumental variety with a strong sentimental flavor while the third style, tango-romanza is more lyrical and melodic and can be either vocal or instrumental. This work would be probably classified as a tango romanza. This work became quite popular in America and was published here in 1916, its actual original publication in Argentina may have been much earlier. It is still perhaps the most recognizable and well known early Argentinean Tango in the repertoire. As a testament to its popularity, it is offered by a number of cell phone providers as a ringtone. It also appears on many past and contemporary recordings. It is a complex work with contrasting "movements" that would have been the devil to dance to but is an absolute delight to listen to.
G. H. Matos Rodríguez ( dates unknown) Despite the ubiquitous nature of Rodríguez's La Cumparsita and his frequent mention as composer, little can be found as to the details of his life. One Internet source gives his dates as 1900-1948, however that seems doubtful as according to Kinkle (see our resources list), the work was first published in the US in 1916. That would have made Rodriguez only 16 years old. I'll not completely discount the possibility as Rodríguez could well have been a musical prodigy however this piece is so complex, so well developed it implies the work of a mature composer. If any of our friends from Argentina or other Latin American locales can shed more light on Rodriguez's life, please do.
Listen to this great old Argentine Tango Printable sheet music (Scorch format only)
The wild success of the Tango all but guaranteed that American composers would try their own hand at creating them for popular consumption and many did. As with many attempts by Tin Pan Alley to create songs reflective of other cultures, many would try but few would succeed. By that I mean, our experience shows that whenever American composers have tried to emulate the music of other cultures, their own style seems to interfere in producing a pure result that is transparent to the listener. Among those who came close, Lew Pollack must be considered for his excellent Tango Toreador from 1910.
The Tango came to America (and the rest of the world as well) during the first years of the 20th century and reached it's peak of popularity in the period from 1915 - 1925. Paris was perhaps the place where it became most fashionable, with America a close second. The music struck us during a period when dance was emerging as a major social phenomenon and the American appetite for new and exotic dances was voracious. It also came at a time when social and sexual liberation, or at least a loosening of restrictions was taking place and displays of sensuality and sexuality was breaking out of the closets. At this same time, dance teams such as Vernon and Irene Castle were popular and their introduction of the Tango fired America's imagination and enthusiasm for the dance. The choreography of the dance itself has a very interesting origin and is worth quoting verbatim from Gerard Béhague's excellent article describing the Tango in the New Grove.
"The choreography of the tango is also symbolic of the arrabal culture, in that dance figures, postures and gestures reflect some of the mannerisms and style of the compadrito, a popular hero similar to Don Juan, and a pimp in the early Buenos Aires barrios (districts). Mafud (1966) interpreted the straight, immobile upper body of the make dancer as a reflection of the characteristic posture of the compadrito; he related the smooth pattern of steps to the same patterns in the Creole knife duels, and the forward tilt of the spine to the use of elegant high-heeled shoes. The major theme of the tango as a dance for embracing couples is the obvious domination of the male over the female, in a series of steps and a very close embrace highly suggestive of the sexual act. Characteristic of the dance is the contrast between the very active male and the apparently passive female. Taylor (1976) interpreted this as a danced statement of machismo (manly assertion), confidence and sexual optimism." (New Grove, Vol. 18, p. 564)
I think that is very interesting but it sort of takes the joy out of the dance and may be off-putting to many women who 'til now may have enjoyed dancing the tango! It certainly explains the views held by many that the dance is vulgar and suggestive, mainly because it is.
Pollack has given us a tango-milonga in the classical form, a three part structure in 2/4 time. A short introduction leads us to the first main theme a nicely done, tuneful and rhythmic section that uses staccato passages for emphasis. The theme repeats then we go to the second section, a more driving section, melodic but with a more rhythmic feel. Throughout both sections, the dotted bass accompaniment continues in a near ostinato fashion with breaks only for transitional emphasis. After the second section repeats, we enjoy a reprise of the first theme that carries us into the Trio which in my opinion is the best part of this work. Melodic and harmonically a delight, the themes in the Trio are perhaps the most idiomatic and entertaining sections of this piece. After the trio, we return again to the first theme and a short coda. The work is an excellent one and Pollack has nearly scored a perfect bullseye. In spite of that, I still hear a bit of Tin Pan Alley creeping into the piece.
Lew Pollack ( b. 1895, New York City - d. 1946, Hollywood, CA ) Pollack's musical career started at age 14 when he began singing with the Walter Damrosch choral group as a boy soprano. Not long after, he played piano in movie theaters and moved on to vaudeville as a singer-pianist. He was multi talented in that not only could he sing and play piano but he also was an accomplished writer of material for his own as well as other acts and wrote many popular songs, stage scores and movie scores. As a popular song composer, he collaborated with the best Tin Pan Alley had to offer including; Erno Rapee, Sidney Clare, Jack Yellen and Ray Gilbert. Though his song credits are impressive, it is his movie scores that produced the greatest of his compositions. Pollack wrote movie scores for Captain January (1936), One In A Million (1937), In Old Chicago (1938), My Son, My Son (1940) and Lady, Let's Dance in 1944. His most memorable songs include; Sing, Baby, Sing (1936), Charmaine (1927), Two Cigarettes in The Dark (1934) and One In A Million (1937)
Listen to this great old Tango Printable sheet music! (Scorch format only)
Lyrics (Sorry, this work has no lyrics)
Of course Argentinean music is much much more than the Tango and she has a wide range of music as a part of her rich and varied culture. Though not an Argentine song, this song by a nearly forgotten composer, sings the praises of Argentina and her people, at least one of them. Inspired by the Tango craze, this song was published as a different view and one that makes only a minor attempt at emulating the Argentinean musical style; overall it is pure Tin Pan Alley. The cover of this work is gorgeous and exceptionally well executed by De Takacs, one of the most prominent cover artists of the period with hundreds of covers to his credit. The lovely lady on the cover is unidentified but may well be Norma Gray, the songwriter and performer who wrote this work.
This song qualifies as one of the "about" songs rather than
one that provides any insights into Argentine music. It is a lovely and
beautifully melodic song that is one of the best love style songs I've
heard from the period. I'm a little surprised it has not lasted and established
itself in the permanent repertoire, I think its that good. Regardless,
the verse starts of in an almost dark and mysterious mood, much like some
tangos and sets the stage for the premise of the song. The lyrics speak
to the tango "fever" sweeping the land and introduces us to
the "lovely lady, my heart's delight," who "dances with
me most ev'ry night," his "Rose of Argentine." The melody
of the chorus is clearly the best part of this song, as it often is with
all songs. A sweet melody pervades the song that transcends the period
and the subject of tango. In fact, at this point Gray abandons the Latin
sound for a pure Tin Pan Alley experience that is outstanding. I think
you'll enjoy this one.
Norma Gray ( dates unknown)
Listen to this great old "Argentine" song (Scorch format)
Our final stop this month is the Caribbean and what was once America's playground in the islands, Cuba. We've already seen that Cuba contributed to the development of the tango, but what of her own music? Cuba of course, like most of the points south of the US was colonized by the Spanish and her modern musical development was guided by Spanish missionaries and the church. Though her post Columbian music was developed later than most of the other points in Latin America, she surpassed the others in many ways, especially in the larger forms such as symphonic and opera. Her more indigenous works include the habanera and the contradanza. In fact, the first music published in Cuba of Cuban origin was a contradanza in 1816. Ignacio Cervantes (1847 - 1905) is considered to be the driving force behind the development of Cuban nationalistic music. A pupil of the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (who studied Cuban music himself and wrote much music in the Cuban style), Cervantes developed the contradanza and other Cuban dances and combined them with many native musical influences to produce perhaps the most purely Cuban music up to that time. The habanera, and other Cuban dances such as the son, guaracha, bolero, rhumba and mambo all have an infective dotted rhythm and surging drive that can only be described as addictive and irresistible. Heavy reliance on percussion as well as melody only adds to the joy of this music. The primary percussion instruments of maracas and drums, particularly the conga drums played so exuberantly on TV by Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) are the basis for much of her music as well as that of many other Latin American areas.
Irving Berlin is not necessarily known for his ability to capture the true spirit of other cultures' music. In fact, in most cases, he manages to use stereotypes to simulate other styles. His methods of always maintaining that American style and popular appeal are what made him most successful, so why should he depart from the mold? This song is the best of his "other world" songs that I believe I've heard. Though still using the American popular music idiom, he infuses this work with more than enough of the Latin feel to make it very Cuban, and very entertaining as well. As surprised as I was that My Argentine Rose did not make lasting hit status, I'm even more surprised this one didn't. One reason may be that it is somewhat dated in the lyrics. The song was written shortly after prohibition was enacted and in some respects is a protest of that act (we plan on doing a feature sometime in the next few months on music related to prohibition). The song first appeared in the 1920 Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic and enjoyed a fairly good recording run afterward with recordings appearing on five different labels that include performances by Billy Murray and Ted Lewis and his Orchestra. After languishing for 25 years, it was revived in 1946 by Bing Crosby in the film, Blue Skies. It's a wonderful song and I would include it in a short list of Berlin's best. I hope you enjoy it too.
Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia,
in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published
his first work, Marie of Sunny Italy
(Scorch format) in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on
his hands. It was at that time he changed his name to Irving Berlin. His
total royalties for this first song amounted to 37 cents. In 1911 the
publication of Alexander's Ragtime
Band (MIDI) established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed
his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner
in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his
own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about
1500 songs. One unique fact about Berlin is that he was not able to read
or write music or play the piano except in one key (F sharp). He picked
out melodies or dictated them and had assistants fill in the harmonies
and accompaniment for him. Berlin never seemed to give credit for these
very talented people. In his later years, he had a special device attached
to his piano that allowed him to transpose any song into his "favorite"
key. His initial start in the music industry was as a singer and then
as a lyricist. It was only after great success in writing lyrics that
Berlin turned to melodies.
Listen to this great old "Cuban" song (Scorch format)Lyrics
This article published May, 2004 and is Copyright © 2004 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author.
We hope you've enjoyed our short tour of points "South of The Border," thanks for visiting us and be sure to come back again to read some or all of our over 100 articles about America's music. See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all other resources used to research this and other articles in our series.
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