Spreadin' Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1880-1930by David A. Jasen, Gene Jones
While most people are aware of the classic white songwriters of the '20s and '30s, few realize that many of the best-loved songs of this era were written
"St. Louis Blues"; "Ain't Misbehavin'"; "I'm Just Wild about Harry"; "Memories of You"; "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny"; "Ballm' the Jack"; "Tain't Nobody's Busmess"... all are classic works by black songwriters.
While most people are aware of the classic white songwriters of the '20s and '30s, few realize that many of the best-loved songs of this era were written by African Americans. Rarely given their due, and covered only briefly in standard pop song histories, these important writers are finally highlighted in this landmark work. Based on new research, original interviews, and decades of archival study, Spreadm' Rhythm Around is the story of these talented songwriters who introduced new rhythms and subject matter into American popular song.
The book begins in the 1880s, at the dawn of the popular song era. Pioneer writers like James A. Bland "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", the only songwriter to match the success of Stephen Foster in his day, and Gussie L. Davis "In the Baggage Coach Ahead" achieved success despite their color, creating music that equaled that of the best of the mainstream white songwriters. Then, the 1890s brought a craze for ragtime-flavored songs, and talented composers like Irving Jones and Ernest Hogan came forward with songs in this style. Bert Williams became one of the first black stage stars, although he had to apply "burnt cork" to his face in order to fit the stereotype of the time.
At the turn of the century, black songwriters began to get a toehold on Broadway. Shows like Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cakewalk, scored by Will Marion Cook, and Cole and Johnson's A Trip to Coontown, the first full-length musical comedy to be produced, written, staged, and performed by blacks, helped open the door to a floodgate of new talent. In their wake came talented songwriters like Spencer Williams, Maceo Pinkard, and the team of Andy Razaf and Fats Waller, all creating seminal hits.
In the meantime, a new musical genre, the blues, became highly popular on stage and in sheet music. Thanks to W. C. Handy's early hits, "The Memphis Blues" and "The St. Louis Blues," and the dynamic performances of singers like Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, this musical style became closely associated with black songwriters and was highly influential during the development of early jazz. Entrepreneurs like Perry Bradford, Clarence Williams, and J. Mayo Williams all rode the blues craze to success as songwriters, publishers, and record producers.
The book concludes with an overview of the rich world of black theater of the '20s. In the work of such famous songwriters as Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, and Fats Waller, black popular song reached its greatest heights.
In sheer depth of research, new information, and full coverage, Spreadm' Rhythm Around offers a comprehensive picture of the contributions of black musicians to American popular song. For anyone interested in the history of jazz pop song, or Broadway, this book will be a revelation.
- Omnibus Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.61(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.68(d)
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