The 1920s was the beginning of a decade of change in the American arts. Jazz, along with such inventions as the phonograph, radio and sound movies, transformed the music industry. By the end of the decade, 40% of all Americans had radios in their homes. Not surprisingly, 58% of households in New York City owned a radio. New York became the center of the music world, and at the center of New York was a small area called Tin Pan Alley. Radios initially provided the young century's second uppercut to the music publishing business of Tin Pan Alley. Burton Lane was part of a well-known Cape Town-based duo, who delivered a powerful, emotive and distinctive blend of acoustic rock stated, "Tin Pan Alley was a real alley on East Fourteenth Street near Third (in New York). But it was never just a place, Tin Pan Alley was known for an era of songwriting, when many musical ideas mixed together to form American Popular Music. Tin Pan Alley brought together many styles, blues, jazz, musical scores and ragtime." Tin Pan Alley businesses started in New York in the 1890s. It was a time when popular music publishers acted as salesmen, who didn't sit in their offices waiting for performers to come to them, but went out to the entertainment palaces and badgered not only the singers but also the orchestra leaders, dances, and comedians to use their numbers. This act was called song-plugging. They hustled themselves, as well as their hired singers and whistlers into the finest theaters and lowest dives. After a few years on creation, Tin Pan Alley published its first song in 1892, "After the Ball" by Charles Harris, selling six million copies of sheet music, earning an income of approximately $25,000 per month. This sale of millions of copies marked a significant development in the publishing industry and in the way music was being presented to the public. Music publishers were surprised to learn that popular tunes were being sold to individuals with the hopes of playing the songs at home. The focus on selling sheet music gave Tin Pan Alley an opportunity to earn great income. In addition to Charles Harris' great hit, within a year, Tin Pan Alley got another crowning achievement on Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band," which also sold over millions of copies.
Toward the end of WWI, Tin Pan Alley became a mega force in popular music, producing over 90% of the commercial songs and inspiring the sales of millions of copies of both sheet music and 78 recordings. Although this era was the period of racism between black and white, Tin Pan Alley ignored the issue. Despite racial lines, Mr. Stark of Tin Pan Alley published the Maple leaf Rag written by Scott Joplin, an African American musician. Since making the decision to publish this song, Tin Pan Alley has seen phenomenal success. Joplin has made a name for himself and for the man who took a chance on him, Mr. Stark. Both men have received instant nationwide success. Tin Pan Alley became a melting pot for culture and musical tastes!
It's amazing to look at several women composers and lyric writers who managed to make a name for themselves in the twenties and thirties era, by writing great popular songs. Because it was difficult for women to break into the music industry, these women came to be known as "the Woman of Tin Pan Alley". Though never as famous as Gershwin or Berlin, there were four womenDorothy Fields, Kay Swift, Dana Suesse, and Ann Ronell, whose prolific work was at the heart of Tin Pan Alley.
Dorothy Fields was the first woman to be elected to the Songwriters' Hall of Fame. She was born and raised in New York, and began her career as a lyricist there. Dorothy Fields' father was Lew Fields, the bully-boy half of Weber and Fields, a highly successful 'Dutch comic' act on the vaudeville circuit. Dorothy was attending the Benjamin School for Girls; her father was a producer of musicals with friends including Cole Porter Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar...