Global Music Week 2
popular music before WW2 in
Britain and America
General Course Books
Fletcher, P. 2001. World Musics in Context (Oxford: OUP)
Frith, S. Straw W. 2001. The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock.
Middleton, R. 1990. Studying Popular Music. (London: Open UP)
Shuker, R. 2001. Understanding Popular Music. (London: Routledge)
Books for this Lecture
Donald Clarke, The Rise and Fall of Popular Music, Penguin, 1995.
Dave Russell, Popular Music in England, 1840-1914 A Social History,
Manchester University Press (1987)
Paul Oliver, Black Music in Britain OUP, 1990.
Arnold Shaw, Black Popular Music in America, Macmillan, 1884
Tony Palmer, All you need is Love, The Story of Popular Music 1976.
Paul Oliver, Songsters and Saints, CUP 1984
Peter Van der Merwe, Origins of the Popular Style, Oxford 1989
Wilder, Alex, American Popular Song, New York, 1990
Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz,
Ed. Mervyn Cooke and David Horn, The Cambridge Companion to Jazz,
CUP, 2002, pp. 9-32
Gunter Schuller, Early Jazz, 1968, pp. 63-133
Lomax, Alan, Jelly Roll Morton,
How did the development of popular music in the
period 1900-40 in Europe differ to that of America.?
Popular music and the
One definition is that poplar music is ‘Music of the
masses’ (I.e.expanding urban middle classes).
‘Mass market for published music since the tin-
pan alley era in the USA and Europe (1880s -
Dissemination by sheet music, then also
gramophone and later forms of recorded sound.
Exploited for commercial gain. Popular because
it sold well.
From the 60s it has become a world-wide
phenomena dominated by North American
forms and styles.
Before the 1960s it was industrialised but not
2. Mass Culture Theory – the
Concepts of Mass Culture and Mass Society
based on divisions into:
1. High Art – not for commercial gain
(supposedly). Beethoven, etc.
2. Folk Art- from below as an expression of
3. Mass Media/Mass Culture
Mass culture theory holds that through
`atomisation’ individuals can only relate to
each other like atoms in a chemical
compound. Individuals are vulnerable to
exploitation by core institutions of mass
media and pop culture. (example of rise of
Nazism in 1930s and Orwell’s 1984)
3. Popular Music of the pre-
Origins of popular music
Elizabethan Broadside ballads – idea exported to America.
Commercially printed from 16th to 18th century. Tabloids of the
Common stock of tunes for ballads and songs
Ballad tunes from Dancing Master onwards
Its history and continuation in both America and
Constantly re-inventing itself.
Always has both a conservative and forward looking
Both urban and rural. Populist and purist.
Many connected with trades and the sea.
Industrial Urban Working
Industrial Revolution produced an
expanding lower middle-class and
upper working-class with sufficient
wealth and time to support a
commercial music printing industry
based on widespread ownership of
home pianos. Novellos, Booseys, etc.
A large amount of popular music
printed at this time. Ragtime Scot
Joplin was made famous through
sheet music. Era of sheet music.
Tin Pan Alley
Piano industry at its height in Edwardian era – piano pieces
songs and solos (two hands especially) produced by Tin
Pan Alley. ‘Daisy Bell’
Early 19th century dance halls and pleasure gardens of
Vienna, Strauss’s music, Military band music, Sousa
marches, patriotic songs, operetta and music hall
provided much of the material for Tin Pan Alley – at its
height 1880s to 1920s. This era now a huge area of
research – looking at how the printed output reflects the
nationalistic and moralistic concerns of the day. My old
Age of the player piano. Over by the 1930s. Its
advantages were that you had someone’s performance
but you could also control it.
1890s saw the start of recorded sound with Thomas Edison’s
invention of the phonograph 1877. Eddison tape.
Many 19th century personalities were recorded – Queen Victoria,
Edison, Brahms, Arthur Sullivan
Quickly the effects on the practice of music became apparent.
Emile Caruso (1873-1921)the first recorded artist to achieve a
huge audience through recordings rather than live performance.
Elgar the first composer to be actively involved with the
recordings of his own works. All done without electric
By 1900 recordings were commonplace and all sorts of music was
available – popular, opera, military, world music, etc.
Early companies successful – and some even around today.
Caruso singing ‘Cielo e Mar’ from la Giaconda by A. Pionchielli
8. America in the 19th
Conquest of the West – Expansion in all directions
Creation of a nation
Entertainment – Minstrelsy, Vaudeville and Tim Pan
Songs of Stephen Forster
Throughout 19th century the mainstay of popular
entertainment was the minstrel band.
A caricature of the untrained black musician
who had music in his soul.
Minstrels were also whites who blacked up and
imitated blacks. This was a huge component of
popular entertainment from 1840s-1920s and
even until the 1960s later.
New Cristy Minstrels. Performed thoughout
America and Europe after the first world war.
Video of Minstrel Music. The first American form
of mass popular entertainment - like TV.
Ragtime - Prehistory of Jazz
Congo square dances of black slaves
in early 19th century New Orleans.
The ring shout. Rhythmic content of
Ragtime and Scott Joplin. Starts in
the 1890s as a piano style full of
syncopation. Died with Joplin in 1917.
Revived in the 1960s and 70s.
Extract 1 – Maple Leaf – by Scott
Many aspects of the modern popular culture industry
in place in America.
1. Record companies, 2. Tin Pan Alley, 3. Vaudeville, 4.
Ragtime and 5. Minstrel Show Networks.
1900-1920 – 1. Film Industry based on Hollywood, 2.
Broadway (from 1890s but not a concentration of
theatres until 1920) and The Musical, 3. Jazz.
First Hollywood studios in 1911.
12. Rise of Vaudeville and
Height of Tin Pan Alley
Jubilee Singers – success of ‘Negro Spirituals Swing Low,
Oh My Darling by Percy Montrose.
Rise of Zeigfeld Follies – from 1907.
Between 1890-1907 sheet music production tripled –
Tin Pan Alley 28th Street – warren of small rooms with a
Daisy Bell – from 1890s.
Burlesque - Vaudeville
American equivalent of Music Hall.
Bigger emphasis on music and novelty - less
on stand up comics.
Lots of acts blacked up as minstrels. Banjo
players and nonsense and novelty songs.
Also dancing troupes and solo singers.
Less important than in Europe perhaps
because of the importance of the movie
industry and musicals - Zeigfield Follies -
Gypsy Rose Lee.
Judy Garland - singer who moved from
Vaudeville to Broadway to Films.
From Vaudeville to the
MusicalRevue and vaudeville with a storyline and an
The Black Crook 1866 - an epic bringing
together music and melodrama plus
specialty acts and dancing.
Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern came
together with Show Boat 1927 bringing
together European operetta tradition with
The Gerswins developed the style and form
towards serious art music.
From the first recordings included all
manner of material - but dominated
by serious art music.
The development of Jazz and the
dance craze of the 20s saw the first
big increase in popular music record
The gramophone was there to dance
Video of Creoles and brass bands.
Broadway, Hollywood and The
Great American Songbook
Both have great influence on popular music in
America (and indirectly in Britain).
The development of popular song. Big stars because
universally known through film.
Of mass culture in general.
On the musical in particular.
Great American Song Book
Term used for the developing tradition of popular song
associated with shows and films from 1900-1950.
Gerswins, Jerome Kern, Ervin Berlin, Richard Rogers
and Hart, Cole Porter.
Increasingly complicated harmonies and piano style.
Always assessable but arguably art music.
Records v. radio
Radio became the medium of the
nation and was used for political effect
The BBC monopoly was copied all over
the world – Auntie and Lord Reith.
America had a different approach and
popular music flourished on radio here.
During the 40s record sales continued to
fall as Radio seemed to be the future.
Video of Swing Era
In 1920s the huge popularity of dance music
(Charleston, Blackbottom, etc) and early Jazz
produced a new a greater demand for records
and gramophones. – For dancing in the home.
Invention of electric microphone a breakthrough
for radio and recordings. In use from 1925.
In the late 1920s and especially after the Wall
Street crash radio began to take over as the
main medium for popular music. Basic crystal
sets were cheap.
The quality was often better than shellac records
which scratched easily. The live event was
brought into the home.
Radio brought music into working class homes.
Britain in the first decades of
the 20th century
Gave way to America – looked to for new styles and
Less commercially driven – lots of state intervention.
Less networked – America had Hollywood, Broadway,
Radio and Records working together much more.
Bing Crosby used all the media.
Britain - BBC from the 1930s
Divided up into the Home, Light and Third – after WW2.
Third played mostly serious music and more intellectual
Light was light entertainment - much of it music. Brass
bands, organists, light orchestras etc.
Home was soaps, news and talk shows.
Areas of Mass Musical
Activity in Britain pre WW2
Brass bands - for parades and street
Social Dancing - boom in cheap dance
Music Halls - urban entertainment before
the age of television. Variety and Music
Singing clubs, hand bells, etc.
Importance of temperance movements
in promoting music participation.
Took root in the 19th century - as an
encouragement to workers to better
themselves and not drink their wages.
Firms sponsored bands - who gradually took
to playing all brass instruments (strings and
reed where slowly abandoned).
Strongly associated with temperance social
clubs - people taking the pledge.
Spread from the north and midlands to the
whole country - urban and rural areas.
Development of contesting as a social
activity - like being part of a football club
Jazz as much a dance phenomena as a musical one.
Great succession of new dance emerged in the 1920s - blackbottom, charleston, stomp, etc.
Jitterbugging in the 30s and 40s. Also latin dances and novelty dances. Often instructed on the
floor and danced to by masses in lines.
Dance halls opening all over England from the 1890s to 1930s. Prices as low as a few pence to a
few shillings. Many later converted into cinemas or pulled down.
Ettiquette of ‘Excuse Me’ and changing partners. Women could dance with women but men
had to request a dance.
Died with the 1950s and the end of swing. New pop music had a different set of social rules and a
new set of dance types. Many not involving a couples embrace.
The home of light or variety entertainment before
television. Early television took over the forms and stars of
the music hall.
Music halls developed after 1852 - but became biggest in
the era before and after ww1 and the arrival of radio. First
Music Hall behind the Canterbury Arms in Lambeth.
All large towns had music halls and impresarios who ran
them for profit.
Every kind of entertainment was available - comedians,
ventriloquists, jugglers, strong men, dancers, etc. Also
You paid to enter and then could drink at the bar and see
Music in the Music Hall
The most common form of entertainment was the popular singer - or a comedian that included
song as part of his/her act.
A band of some form would be present and often a pit was built in.
The best known stars - Marie Lloyd, George Leybourne, Gracie Fields (1898-1979), Dan Leno, etc,
were hugely famous.
Many early Film industry stars came out of the music hall - Chaplin, Laurel, etc. A British
phenomena - but there was an equivalent in America. Video of Chaplin
Many fine theatres were built for music hall
Female impersonators as well as male
impersonators. Vesta Tilley.
Later music of this material came to be called
Importance in Britain of seaside resorts -
pavilions and piers.
Command performances. Becomes known as
‘variety’ and was a mainstay of early television.
Video Gus Ellen
A great star of his day - but forgotten
Would perform quick routines in many
different halls in one night - traveling
by cab from one to another.
Had several different personalities -
many of whom sang humorous songs.
Charlie Chaplin in many ways
moddled his character on Leno.
Josephine Baker – From St
Louis to Paris
Born in St Louis
Introduced hot jazz to Paris with La Revue Negre in
Dark Star of the Folies-Bergere.
Listen to a recording of her.
Gracie Fields – From Rochdale to
Huge popularity in the 1930s
War service - entertaining the troops.
Marriage and life in Capri.
Successful music hall artist from
Lancashire who made to the big screen.
Songs often very humorous and
Nostalgia and patriotism.
Lancashire cotton worker with a fine voice.
Tremendous potential as a classical singer.
Early appearances at the Rochdale
1920s stage shows and revue to Hollywood,
then war appearances followed by
gravitation to Italy - 300 records.
Gravitated to music halls and then to
Songs written by her husband - she made
films and was important in the war effort.
By the 1950s she had retired to Capri.
Blues - Ma Rainie, Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday
Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra - movie clip
of Crosby and the Singer with the band.
In Britain - George Formby,
All British popular forms looked to
some extent to America.
Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Musicals, Folk,
Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll - all
come from America and are imitated
There are always differences
however and the traditions and never
quite the same.
Review the contribution of the various forms of Mass
entertainment in Britain and America.
How well did they integrate and work together?
Bing Crosby one of the first to be able to link up all the
important strands of mass media by 1930 – as a
primarily a popular singer – he could do it all.