If you need to write about American Culture for your 5-paragraph essay, consider the 20 essay topics below:
Tin Pan Alley is an actual neighborhood in New York City (generally seen as 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway) that served as the first home of the music publishing industry beginning in the 1880s and remaining well established into the 1920s and 30s. Tin Pan Alley was the direct result of the Reconstruction period following the end of the American Civil War. It is estimated that between the end of the war in 1865 and the year 1887, more than half a million new pianos were installed in parlors and homes across America. With the huge number of burgeoning musicians came the need for sheet music, and this instigated the development of an all new publishing industry, and a new musical form.
With this opportunity for massive profits in sheet music sales came a strange combination of gifted composers and corporate investment. Musicians were hired by publishing houses, and gave up all rights to their works. Market research dictated the “themes” for the compositions they were to write, and soon the music of Tin Pan Alley was more industry than art. The vaudeville era was just beginning at the dawn of Tin Pan Alley as well, and this only helped to spread the tunes and songs being written in the city. Within twenty years publishers could easily sell the sheet music for a single song in the millions of copies!
The lyrics to the most popular of the songs imply that the United States was happy and prosperous…but was it? With all the market research and clinical work done during the composition process is it accurate to say that the 1890s were as carefree as the songs indicate? We know that this was the period of time when the American “frontier” was officially declared as “closed”; when it was understood that there was no longer any unexplored areas of the country. We know too that child labor laws, particularly in the cities, had yet to put an end to abuse and poverty. The “gay 90s”, it seems, appear to exist only in the songs.
Today, we understand that the widespread need for sheet music triggered a booming industry that aimed to sell people what they wanted – a happier view of the United States. We know that this was partially inspired by the need to escape the devastation and conflict that remained from the Civil War era, and we know that this helped to shift the country into a new mindset. It also created a huge impact on business and the law because it initiated several copyright bills and created the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) to protect those writing the music.
Clearly this indicates that there were positive and negative effects from the cultural phenomenon of Tin Pan Alley and the musical form that it created. It also laid the groundwork for a smoother transition into a newly emerging musical form – Ragtime – and this would quickly transition into one of America’s most distinctive musical genres – Jazz.
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Furia, Philip. The poets of Tin Pan Alley: a history of America’s great lyricists. Oxford University Press, 1990.
Gair, Christopher. The American Counterculture. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
Holmes, John Clellon. “This is the beat generation.” New York Times Magazine16 (1952): 109-15.
Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Harlem renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Wintz, Cary D. Black culture and the Harlem Renaissance. Texas A & M University Press, 1988.
Wise, T. E. “Tin pan alley.” (2011).