IN 1890 THE CENSUS BUREAU declared that all the territorial land of the continental United States was settled and there was no longer a frontier. Three years later historian Frederick Jackson Turner issued his "frontier thesis," in which he argued that the frontier had defined America's character and, although the Western frontier was closed, Americans would find new frontiers in business and civic life.

Turner's thesis was influenced by what he witnessed around him, especially the expansion, maturation, and innovation of US agriculture, business, and cultural institutions. Indeed, these years witnessed the maturation of the steel, farming, and oil industries, as well as the banks that aided them. Steel was used to build suspension bridges such as the Brooklyn Bridge, steel-framed skyscrapers, and the farm equipment that transformed the plains into the farmland that fed the nation.

With the growth of American industry came the growth of American cities, especially cities in the North and Midwest. Migrants and immigrants moved to cities in large numbers in search of employment in factories, an increasing number of which were powered by electricity. Migration to northern cities accelerated greatly after Reconstruction ended in 1878, largely due to the imposition of "Jim Crow" laws that segregated the South along racial lines and restricted African Americans' public and civic participation. The "Great Migration" of Blacks from the South to the North that began at this time stretched well into the mid-twentieth century.

Big business also came to music during this era, just as it had come to manufacturing and farming. Whereas the music of Tin Pan Alley avoided controversial topics in order to entertain and please the widest spectrum of potential consumers, the musics outside of the dominant industry were often not intended to entertain. Of course, as with most attempts to homogenize American culture, Tin Pan Alley tunes, popular though they were, did not provide an outlet for expressing all the ideas and feelings of an increasingly diverse population.

Although Tin Pan Alley dominated the nation's popular music industry, other significant musics appeared in working-class and minority communities across the nation. Whereas the music of Tin Pan Alley avoided controversial topics in order to entertain and please the widest spectrum of potential consumers, the musics outside of the dominant industry were not always so easily segregated into the "entertainment" category. These songs often reflected real-life triumphs and tragedies and were composed and sung by people who sang as they worked, played, celebrated, grieved, protested, or made political statements.

The South and West, in particular, were less influenced by the musical mainstream and became the cradle of several musical traditions that would eventually gain popular notice in the twentieth century, including blues, jazz, and country and western.

The industry that produced the popular music consumed so avidly during this period underwent a change that paralleled the major transition businesses were making in other industries. In the 1870s, song publishers were spread throughout the United States, with some of the larger houses based in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. In the 1880s this began to rapidly change as New York City-based publishers such as T. B. Harms, Witmark and Co., and Frank Harding came to dominate the industry. By the end of the next decade, nearly every major music publishing company in the country had relocated or opened shop on Manhattan's 28th Street, soon nick-named "Tin Pan Alley" after the tinny pianos that could be heard from the sidewalks. By 1900 the publishers of New York, like many of their industrialist counterparts, had a complete lock on the popular music industry, controlling what songs were published and how they were sold.

One songwriter's angry reaction quickened the industry's pace of growth. When the Witmarks sent Charles Harris a paltry royalty check of eighty-five cents for his song "When the Sun Has Set," he reacted by starting his own publishing house. His self-published "After the Ball" soon reached sales of $25,000 a week and eventually sold five million copies. Dozens of would-be publishers were inspired by Harris's example and set up shop on 28th Street.

Harris had a formula for a successful popular song and offered this advice to aspiring songwriters:

  When writing popular songs always bear in mind that it is to the masses, the untrained musical public, that you must largely look for support and popularity. Therefore, do not offer them anything which in subject matter or melody does not appeal to their ears. To do so is just so much time thrown away. (Hamm, p. 284)

Ironically, though they tried to write songs with mass appeal, Tin Pan Alley songwriters were from very different backgrounds than their consumers. Most had immigrated to New York, whose large population was about sixty percent foreign-born, a very different demographic from the rest of the nation. They often came from the artificial life of show business and minstrel shows or vaudeville companies. Yet they developed an uncanny knack for writing songs that the rest of the nation devoured. At first the songwriters stuck with the tried-and-true, old-style verse-chorus sentimental ballads that had sold well since before the Civil War, as seen in such songs as "After the Ball," "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "The Letter that Never Came," and "Break the News to Mother." This formula seemed to fulfill people's need for songs that expressed emotions that they couldn't otherwise talk about. From a twenty-first-century point of view they may seem like maudlin "tear-jerkers," but they probably seemed much more realistic to their original audiences, who witnessed early death much more commonly than we do today. According to Thomas Schlereth,

  Infant mortality, orphanhood, and early widowhood plagued a large portion of working-class families. In the coal districts of northeastern Pennsylvania, one in three newborns died before their first year. … One demographic estimate claims that early death would disrupt between 35 and 40 percent of all American families before all the children left home. (Schlereth, p. 288)

Some songs of the period celebrated the new technological developments that were changing the face of the nation, while others were nostalgic for the "good old days" or reflected the understandable ambivalence people had amid sweeping change.

Train songs from the period provide a good example of the contrasts. On one hand, "Crossing the Grand Sierras" depicted passengers' experience of the thrilling ride over what had been the great obstacle to building the Transcontinental Railroad. This tribute to the new railroad also typifies the music industry's optimistic and enthusiastic response to the completion of the western lines, which opened new markets for its products. On the other hand, "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill" told a story from the viewpoint of the workers who laid the track under unsafe conditions to meet unreasonable deadlines.

Americans still associated cities with crime, sin, and sickness and viewed the unprecedented move from country to city with some anxiety. Several songwriters, though firmly ensconced in metropolitan New York City, played to the distrust of cities. Paul Dresser (whose surname was actually Dreiser), brother of author Theodore Dreiser, revisited the theme of a young son or daughter leaving home for the city, falling upon hard times, regretting their move to the city, and finally dying, victims of urban life. His song titles from the 1890s tell it all: "She Went to the City," "I Wonder Where She is Tonight," "Just Tell Them You Saw Me," "The Outcast Alone."

In the 1890s, the publishers of Tin Pan Alley had truly hit their stride and diverged from the old ballad formula to invent a new waltz song that was tailored to the Irish entertainers of New York. But the rest of the American public, whom the new style barely represented at all, accepted these songs and their perky optimism as their own. "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," "Daisy," "The Band Played On," and "My Wild Irish Rose" remain to this day symbolic of the "Gay Nineties."

Nostalgia continued to sell as people grappled with fast-paced change. Such songs as "I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "Down by the Old Mill Stream" were almost as nostalgic when they were first introduced as they are when we hear them sung today by barbershop quartets.

Though situated in exotic New York City, Tin Pan Alley created a formula that worked, and by maintaining an iron grip on business it made sure that millions heard (and, of course, bought) the music. The goal for each song was to sell a million copies of sheet music, but with the right marketing some sold even more.

The most important venue for Tin Pan Alley songs would become known as vaudeville. After the Civil War the minstrel show waned in popularity and was gradually succeeded by burlesque, a decidedly adult and male-targeted entertainment.. Tony Pastor, a singer who started his career in minstrel shows and circuses, saw the rising urban population as a business opportunity. In New York in the 1880s he set out to create a musical variety show to attract families. He offered families all-day entertainment, door prizes, and a luxuriously furnished and staffed theater that was well suited for the Gilded Age. Besides singers and instrumentalists, the variety shows featured animal acts, acrobats, clowns, comedians, and impersonators. Shows ran continuously throughout the day and admission was only twenty-five cents.

Vaudeville soon became big business with theaters in most big cities and acts that traveled nationally (see Unit 6). Getting a popular vaudeville act to sing a new song was an important step in launching a hit for sheet music publishers. Without recordings or radio to spread their popularity, stage performances could make or break a song. Larger music stores would also hire pianists and singers to audition new songs for perspective customers.

Vaudeville remained popular until the motion picture eclipsed it in the 1920s and movies and radio became a prime way to distribute songs. At this time many vaudeville theaters began to be converted into movie houses and newly constructed movie theaters imitated the opulence of their vaudeville predecessors to create a sense of luxury for middle-class audiences.

An unprecedented number of people had access and income to purchase popular music. The corporate form of business created middle managers, salesmen, accountants, and engineers who formed the basis for a new "white collar" middle class with disposable income. They moved their families to brand new railroad—and streetcar—suburbs, bought them pianos and other musical instruments and paid for music lessons for their children.

During this era, consumers of music were also likely to be performers, though not necessarily professionally. Singing around the family piano was a popular form of entertainment in these pre-radio days and provided a steady market for sheet music. Department stores and their mail-order counterparts—Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs—had extensive musical-instrument and sheet music departments to meet the demand.

Even the smallest communities—rural, urban, and suburban—organized bands to march on patriotic occasions or play on summer nights on bandstands in town squares. In 1898 Harper's Weekly estimated that there were 10,000 military bands in the United States (Chase, p. 328). Bands in country towns would have twelve to fifteen members, and small city bands would have twenty-five members. Large commercial touring bands could have a hundred or more musicians.

John Philip Sousa, the era's best-known bandmaster, did much over his long career to keep community bands popular. In 1880 Sousa, who was thirty-four years old at the time, was named conductor of the United States Marine Band, of which his Portuguese-born father had been a member. It was a prestigious position. The Marine Band, the nation's oldest and best known, was called "The President's Own" because it was the official band to play for all White House functions. In 1892 Sousa moved on from this position and started his own professional band, with which he toured worldwide into the 1920s.

Though Sousa has always been best known for his marches—he wrote 136 of them—he was a prolific and versatile composer of many types of music. He wrote eleven operettas, at least seventy songs, over thirty dance tunes, and numerous other instrumental pieces. His operetta El Capitan (1896) was a political satire of Spanish colonial rule that some scholars believe helped sway popular opinion toward supporting United States involvement in the Spanish-American War (Hess, p. 3).

The line between marches and dances was quite blurry. In fact Sousa's "The Washington Post" march inspired a new dance craze—the two step. Most likely this delighted him, as his professed goal was to write "music for the millions" and his greatest thrill was hearing his music played by a street organ grinder:

  I was exultant. My music had made enough of a hit to be played on a street organ. At last I felt it had struck a popular chord. … Artistic snobbery is so ridiculous. (Chase, p. 323)

Sousa's compositions include some of the most enduring from this era. "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was named the official march of the United States and his marches still stir millions when they are played to commemorate patriotic holidays and occasions.

In the segregated South music developed along racial lines. Although not written down or recorded in this period, what would come to be known as the blues was taking shape in African American com-munities in the Deep South. The blues grew out of several traditions. It adopted the call-and-response technique that was typical of work songs and spirituals, but unlike those genres, which express the sense of community and often communal longing for freedom typical of the period of enslavement, the blues came to be a solo genre that expresses individual emotions and responses to events or situations. It is a very individual expression that usually told hard-luck tales and love stories, often with a touch of humor.

In addition to work songs and spirituals, the blues seems to have grown out of the "field holler" or "moan," a form of improvised musical call that dates to the period of enslavement and was used by Black field workers to shepherd animals, communicate over long distances or where visibility was poor between tall rows of crops, and to alleviate boredom while working. Field hollers were documented by many visitors to the South in the antebellum period. Frederick Law Olmsted, for example, described it as:

  Suddenly [a man] raised such a sound as I never heard before; a long, loud, musical shout, rising, and falling, and breaking into falsetto, his voice ringing through the woods in the clear, frosty night air, like a bugle-call. As he finished, the melody was caught up by another, and then, another, and then, by several in chorus. (p. 394)

Many field hollers are preserved in recordings made in the mid-twentieth century when ethnologists took steps to preserve the tradition before it died.

In the late 1800s wandering singer-guitarists in the Deep South began to perform in segregated bars, train stations, on street corners, or for community events, dances, and picnics, where they played proto-blues songs such as "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor." Unfortunately little is known about these early musicians. In 1907 ethnologist Howard Odum recorded some of them, but his recordings are lost. His work, however, establishes a strong link between these songs and the commercial blues of the 1920s. In 1925 he noted that many of the lyrics that he had recorded and transcribed nearly two decades earlier were appearing in contemporary popular blues songs.

The commercial blues emerged as artists such as composer W. C. Handy and singer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, both of whom began their careers in minstrelsy, merged black folk traditions with theatrical traditions and formalized the conventions of the blues (see Unit 6).

Many white communities were isolated from the popular music of Tin Pan Alley. Sometimes, as in the case of embittered southerners in the years after the Civil War, this was a deliberate choice. In other cases isolation resulted from geography, as communities in Appalachia and in rural areas of the North and South simply did not have access to current popular music. Instead, in these areas people continued to play and sing in the folk style descended from traditional music of the British Isles. Some songs like "Barbara Allen" and "Hangman, Slack Your Rope" were direct descendants of that tradition. "John Henry" (a song shared between white and Black traditions) and "Wreck of the Old 97" are examples of new songs based on real events written in the old ballad style of four-line verses.

In addition to the old ballads, many rural Americans enjoyed instrumental tunes on fiddle or banjo. Fiddle tunes descended from the British isles, but the banjo was an instrument brought to America by enslaved Africans. By the turn of the century the guitar was the favored accompaniment and harmony was the favorite vocal style. All three instruments might be combined into string bands to perform instrumental dance tunes such as "Arkansas Traveler," "Old Joe Clark," and "Cotton-Eyed Joe."

Rural music of these traditions was destined to be called "hillbilly music" when it first hit records and radio in the 1920s. From that popular beginning, it would evolve into the "country and western" style that developed in parallel to northern popular music (for more on hillbilly music and country and western, see Units 6 and 7).

At the beginning of this era the wide ranges of the American West had not yet been spanned by the railroad, buffalo still roamed in great numbers, and Native Americans lived freely on native lands in some areas. Soon the railroad was finished, cowboys had figured out how to use the open range to raise and ship cattle to markets back east, and settlers started migrating by train and covered wagons referred to as "prairie schooners." By 1890, the Census Bureau could no longer draw a continuous line across the West to define the farthest advance of settlement ("History of the United States"). The frontier had become a symbol of the past, but has been kept alive in myth partly through song.

Herding cattle was lonely. Songs helped fill the time, cemented relationships with other men whose lives depended on each other, vented frustrations, and even soothed restless cattle. Cowboys—who were drawn from Hispanic, Anglo, and African American ethnic backgrounds—adapted songs from many traditions. "Shenandoah" (see VAT Unit 3) and "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" started out as sea chanties. Yodeling, which came from the Swiss Alps by way of the southern Appalachians, suited communicating over the vast areas that a herd of cattle might spread across the plains. Long days in the saddle were met with humorous, story-telling songs, such as "The Old Chisholm Trail," whose short verses could go on and on and be improvised at will. Eventually cowboy songs—filled with references to cattle, horses, the open land, and larger-than-life humans—became emblematic of a romanticized frontier that was no more.

The great majority of people moving west were not cowboys, of course, but farmers, railroad workers, and miners. Though these settlers might have been out of contact with Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville music merchants for a few years until commerce caught up with them, they were not without music. Dancing was a popular form of entertainment and a fiddle, guitar, or banjo was all that was needed to strike up a tune. With a shortage of women in the West, men would dance with each other, the "woman" wearing a bandana around his arm to distinguish him. Families settling in the West would pack up pump organs or parlor pianos to take with them, sometimes posing for photographs with these prized possessions outside their sod huts.

At the rate the frontier was closing and settlement was moving west, people were not out of touch with big-business music for long. As soon as enough people settled to constitute a small town, someone would assemble a band to help celebrate community holidays and other occasions like weddings and funerals, and many towns quickly grew large enough to warrant being added to the vaudeville circuit.

This period witnessed the last of the Plains Wars. In 1874 and 1875 the US military forcibly removed the Kiowa, Arapaho, and Comanche from their lands and relocated them to "Indian territory." Following the discovery of gold in the Dakotas, Colonel George A. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry defended whites traveling through and settling the land—in violation of a treaty. In June of 1876 Custer and his men were killed by Crazy Horse, Gall, Sitting Bull, and their men in the Battle of Little Big Horn. Victory was short, however, for they were soon defeated by the reinforcements sent by the US government.

During this last phase of the Plains Wars, as word of Native American revolts and Custer's "last stand" traveled across the country, a new image of the Native American became common in popular culture. Replacing the earlier depiction of Native Americans as noble savages (see “The Blue Juniata,” Unit 3) was the portrayal of Native Americans as vicious and violent, or what Derek Scott calls the "Bloodthirsty Savage," as featured in such songs as "Sioux Indians," "Haunted Wood," and "Texas Jack."

In the 1870s the US government began to shift from a policy of defeating Native Americans in war to assimilating the survivors into "American" life. It was believed that this could be effectively done through education. Thousands of children were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools in places such as Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where the first "Indian school" opened in 1879. The Dawes Act of 1887 went further by breaking up reservations and giving parcels of land to individuals, a policy known as allotment. Lawmakers believed that pushing Indians from hunting and gathering toward farming would be a significant step toward assimilation.

In addition to the loss of their land, Native Americans of the Great Plains also lost their main food source—the buffalo. Buffalos were hunted by fur traders and killed for sport, often by passengers on trains that slowed down so they could take the shot.

Due to the suppression of their culture the only artistic outlet for many Native Americans was in performances and exhibits controlled by and intended for Euro-Americans. In the mid-nineteenth century and especially after the Civil War, medicine shows became very popular. These traveling "shows" often took place in tents and featured different "healing" solutions—perhaps what we would call alternative medicines and therapeutic practices today. Native American dance was a central feature of many medicine shows, and the popularity of these performances inspired other types of entertainments, such as Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill, both of which began touring in the 1890s. These "Wild West" shows and their imitators included reenactments of infamous battles of the Plains Wars and demonstrations of traditional Native American dance. Native Americans were also featured in displays at events such as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the 1898 Omaha Exhibition, which were primarily designed to educate Euro-Americans about the "vanishing Indian" who was, in theory, being assimilated into Euro-American society.

Many US government officials viewed Native American rituals, dancing, and music as threatening to their control over native peoples and contrary to the goal of assimilation. One tradition, the Ghost Dance, was especially suppressed. Native Americans believed that the Ghost Dance would revive Native Americans killed by whites, restore buffalo herds, and drive white people from their land. The first to do the dance were the Paiute in Nevada in the 1870s, and it became popular among other nations because of the efforts of Wovoka, a member of the Paiute who in 1889 began to encourage others to take up the dance.

When the Lakota Sioux began performing the dance the US government sent the Seventh Cavalry to suppress it. In December 1890 Custer and his troops rounded up the members of the tribe, including children, and executed them, an event that came to be known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, often considered the last violent episode of the Plains Wars. By 1902 the suppression of Native American customs was formalized in a policy issued by Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Atkinson Jones. In a letter of January 11, 1902, he directed his superintendents to suppress face painting and the practice of men wearing their hair long. He wrote,

  Employment, supplies, etc., should be withdrawn until they … comply and if they become obstreperous about the matter a short confinement in the guard-house at hard labor, with shorn hair, should furnish a cure.

He added,

  The wearing of citizens clothing, instead of Indian costume and blanket, should be encouraged. Indian dances and so-called Indian feasts should be prohibited. In many cases these dances and feasts are simply subterfuges to cover degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes. You are directed to use your best efforts in the suppression of these evils.

Because of the focus on suppression and assimilation, there was little study of the music and culture of Native Americans, and the passing down of customs from generation to generation through oral tradition was significantly disrupted. As a result many Native American traditions—including musical traditions—were lost, and most of those that survived only lived on in shows such as Buffalo Bill's Wild West, which undoubtedly transformed them into something new, for the shows were not concerned with historical accuracy or authenticity. As Michael V. Pisani and Antonina W. Bouis write,

  Relying upon the patriotic sentiments of his audience and incorporating theatrical techniques of drama and suspense, "Buffalo Bill" Cody hit upon a simple but successful dramatic formula that eventually ossified into a sweeping mythology about the West: Indians were antagonists and the whites were victims and heroes. His scheme left no room for compromise when it came to placing the Indians at the lower social and cultural end of the evolutionary scale and elevating the Euro-American to the status of ultimate moral leadership, regardless of the amount of violence necessary to maintain such a status. For the general public, the Wild West shows undoubtedly reinforced negative opinion and attitudes toward Indians. (p. 163)

There were only a few significant studies of Native American musics in these years. The first was a dissertation by researcher Theodore Baker, whose transcriptions of many songs of the tribes of New York State were published in 1882. Another important study was sponsored by Mary Hemenway of Boston. Led by Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1890, this was the first study to use Edison's phonograph in ethnographic field work. Fewkes recorded the Passamoquoddy in Maine in 1890, and in the following years he recorded the music of nations of the Southwest, including the Zuni and Hopi Pueblo.

Alice Fletcher was another important pioneer of the study of Native American music. She began studying this music while working as an assistant at the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and went on to conduct extensive field work and publish numerous books and essays on the topic. In addition to preserving many Native American songs, her work inspired one of the most important researchers of Native American music of the twentieth century, Frances Densmore, discussed more in Unit 6.

The Dawes Act and assimilationism defined the government's approach to Native American policy throughout the early twentieth century (see Unit 6). Assimilationist policy was not abandoned until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (see Unit 7).

This period saw church membership and attendance rise steadily and witnessed the "greatest building boom in American church history" to make room for everyone (Schlereth, p. 262). Often religious faith spilled outside church doors. Evangelical Protestant camp meetings were held in tents to bring in greater numbers. Dwight Moody, a shoe salesman-turned-preacher, developed a style of preaching that depended on the music of singer Ira Sankey. Sankey’s songs came to be called gospel music and, like Moody’s sermons, delivered their message of personal salvation in an accessible, familiar style.

Other evangelists such as Billy Sunday also teamed up with singer-songleaders, resulting in an outpouring of gospel songs such as "Let the Lower Lights be Burning," "Bringing in the Sheaves," and "Brighten the Corner Where You Are." Because these touring revival meetings were held in cities and rural areas, North and South, East and West, regional differences in Protestant religious music faded.

The social and economic changes sweeping the nation left many people to face difficult times. Songs became catalysts for change. Their emotional impact could express frustration, bring hidden injustice to light, warn of danger, or rally for change. The emotional content of the songs affected a listener more directly and effectively and thus was more persuasive than mere speech.

Social reformers working during this era, usually motivated by their religious beliefs, used three strategies with considerable overlap: encouraging individuals to change their ways (evangelism, social gospel, temperance), providing social services to the poor and sick (settlement houses, Salvation Army), and lobbying for legislative and economic policy changes. All of these strategies used music.

The Temperance Movement lobbied for laws prohibiting alcohol consumption and called for individuals to "sign the pledge" to not drink alcohol. Temperance ballads warning of the dire consequences of drinking were popular in the East and tended to be especially sentimental, including dying children, shivering, starving mothers, and drunken fathers. Children were often pressed into service to moralize, as in the songs "Father's a Drunkard, and Mother is Dead," Henry Clay Work's "Lillie of the Snow Storm," and "Come Home, Father" in which a young girl beseeches her father to come home to say goodbye to her dying little brother:

  'Tis the song of little Mary
Standing at the bar-room door,
While the shameful midnight revel
Rages wildly as before.

The Salvation Army used music for social reform in an entirely different way. Its well-known bands were used to call attention to their religious message of personal salvation and to raise funds for their social causes: soup kitchens, housing for the homeless, and lobbying efforts against slum housing and child labor. Meanwhile college-educated young women founded settlement houses in all the major industrial cities. They gave music lessons and organized bands and other activities to encourage pride in cultural heritage as they equipped new city dwellers to succeed in American life.

Farmers were responsible for a striking upswing in productivity. Though the percentage of farmers decreased from forty-seven percent of the population in 1870 to twenty-seven percent in 1920, they were producing 150 percent more in 1900 than they were in 1870. Paradoxically, they were not the ones to benefit, because prices for agricultural products slid continuously from the depression of 1873 to the 1910s (Schlereth, p. 35). Sharecroppers and tenant farmers received even less of the fruits of their labors because they did not own the land they worked. The railroads and middlemen who handled the produce, however, fared very well.

Farmers expressed their frustration by organizing, taking political action, and just plain grousing in songs that were full of irony, logical arguments, and not a little bit of humor. "The Farmer is the Man," a favorite song of the Grange (Patrons of Husbandry), reminded everyone that all their activities depended on the farmer "who feeds them all."

While other farming songs dealt with serious topics such as depressed prices and natural disasters, in 1912 farmers and laborers backed the Progressive Party, whose theme song was "Onward Christian Soldiers."

Ample work songs exist from this era, particularly railroad songs such as "John Henry" and "Casey Jones," which document mechanization's threat to jobs and safety at the time. But the heyday of labor songs was not until after the 1900s, when union organizing was at its peak (see Unit 6).

Writing new words to old songs has proven itself a tried-and-true tactic for protesters and social reformers. It offers the chance for parody and relieves musical amateurs of the task of writing tunes. The women's suffrage movement, which had been advocating equal rights for women since their abolitionist days in the 1840s and would continue to do so until 1920, provides a good example. Elizabeth Boynton Harbert wrote "The New America" (1891) to the tune of "America" (which in turn used the tune of "God Save the King"); Rebecca N. Hazard wrote "Give the Ballot to the Mothers" to the tune of Henry Clay Work's "Marching Through Georgia" (VAT Unit 4); Julia B. Nelson wrote "Going to the Polls" (ca. 1884) to the tune of "Comin' Through the Rye." The words to the latter song demonstrate the association of the suffrage cause with another social reform issue: temperance.

At the end of this period a wave of immigration began that would change the United States forever. Though the new immigrants' native music had little direct impact on American popular music, many of their number grasped the Tin Pan Alley formula immediately and rode the crest of a second wave of Tin Pan Alley songs into the twentieth century.



Creative Commons License
Voices Across Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at