Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alexander's Ragtime Band

Today is the day of the woman - which commemorates the tragic fire in NYC on this date that killed over 100 women.   To learn more about this event - click here.

Today I wanted to feature the most popular song of that year.

1911 was the year of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" - introduced on stage by  Emma Carus - a "cheerful revolt against the prejudices of Victorian America" (Rosen, p. 91). But Victorian America was of course still alive. Two major hits served as a kind of counter model to the new music from the streets of New York. Nostalgia for the good ol ' days was the other answer to urban life: "I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)" and "Down By The Old Mill Stream". That year also saw for example a revival of "Silver Threads Among The Gold" (Rexford/Danks), a song first published in 1873. Listening to other hits of the year it becomes clear how much "Alexander's Ragtime Band" stood out against the rest:

"What Alexander succeeded in doing was to take a style already in vogue and make it a national passion. Alexander sold one million copies within a few months; before the end of the year it was the most frequently heard popular song in the country. [...] With everybody in tin-pan alley writing ragtime songs, the former emphasis upon formal, stilted melodies was nowplaced on comparatively less formal and less stilted rhythms. This change of emphasis made it possible for a new vitality to enter the writing of popular song" (Jablonski, quoted in Furia, p. 43)

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