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What is Tin Pan Alley?

According to Wikipedia, “The name ‘Tin Pan Alley’ was originally derogatory, a reference to the sound made by many pianos all playing different tunes in this small urban area, producing a cacophony comparable to banging on tin pans. With time this nickname was popularly embraced and many years later it came to describe the U.S. music industry in general.”

Many of the most memorable American songs and songwriters were spawned in Tin Pan Alley:

“Ain’t We Got Fun” and “My Buddy” – by Gus Kahn
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” – by Irving Berlin
“Bill Bailey” – by Hughie Cannon
“Danny Boy” – Adapted from an Old Irish Lullaby, Words by Fred E. Weatherly
“St. Louis Blues” – by W.C. Handy
“You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” – by George M. Cohan

Jazz piano stylists such as Duke Ellington and Fats Waller bled into the American mainstream during this period as well, often through novelty songs like those of Zez Confrey who composed the famous “Kitten On The Keys” and “Dizzy Fingers.”

Again, according to Wikipedia, “The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885, when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan.”

“The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut; some date it to the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when the phonograph and radio finally supplanted sheet music as the driving force of American popular music, while others consider Tin Pan Alley to have continued on into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll.”

Where Was Tin Pan Alley?

“Tin Pan Alley was originally a specific place, West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.”

If Tin Pan Alley was considered a specific streeet (W. 28th in Manhattan, NYC), the next incarnation of the American “music factory” was a specific building: The Brill Building located at 1619 Broadway, again in the heart of Manhattan.

The days of “Tin Pan Alley” and The Brill Building may be over. Music is no longer mass-produced in one geographic location.

But the spirit of both legendary music incubators lives on once a year in the annual Tin Pan South, held throughout Nashville, Tennesee, and hosted by NSAI (The Nashville Songwriters Association International).

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