Broadway and Tin Pan Alley
1. What do you think it means for a song to be labeled a ‘standard’? How about a ‘classic’? Why do you think Tin Pan Alley songs have been called ‘standards’ of American song? What songs does the music scene call ‘standards’ today? ‘Classics’?
2. A speaker in the film states that “musical comedy is about the pace of change.” What political and social changes characterized America in the so-called Jazz Age? How did these changes impact and influence Tin Pan Alley and Broadway at this time?
3. What did a typical Broadway musical ‘revue’ in the 1920s consist of? How were they similar to, and different from, a musical you might see on Broadway today?
4. What seemed to be most important to audiences at that time?What was the importance of the 1921 musical revue, Shuffle Along? What does it say to you about America in the 1920s that a black musical show could succeed on Broadway at the same time as minstrelsy remained popular among white audiences?
5. How did the newly emerging music of jazz impact Tin Pan Alley songs and Broadway musicals in the 20s?
6. The film quotes George Gershwin as saying, “I’d like to write of the melting pot, of New York City itself. This would allow for many kinds of music – black and white, Eastern and Western – and would call for a style that should achieve, out of this diversity, an artistic unity.” What put Gershwin in the position to have this view and perspective? Why did Gershwin see his music as a melding of black and white, East and West, together?
7. How did the experiences of Jewish immigrants in New York City affect the kinds of songs that were written in Tin Pan Alley in the 20s? Why do you think these songs became popular far beyond New York?
8. “Turkey”, “hit,” “fan,” and “The Big Apple” are all slang expressions that originated in the 1920s. Where did they come from? How were they disseminated so that they became popular across the country? What characterized the lyrics of the popular songs of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley at this time? Why?
9. What two major events at the end of the 1920s changed the face of Broadway? Why? What was their long-term impact?
“America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway” is a project by the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music. “America’s Music” has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.