Around The Town

Tin Pan Alley Project

By: Alix Cohen

May 5, 2023: Tin Pan Alley – West 28th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway – was arguably the birthplace of American Popular Music and its industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. Music publishers like M. Witmark and Sons, Shapiro-Remick, Leo Feist, Willis Woodard, and T.B. Harms crowded together for convenience and financial considerations. Some had been salesmen in other fields, some wrote or composed. A new generation of song writers followed. Immigrant, first generation Jews and African Americans – at a time prejudice was blatant – came to plug original material.

By: Alix Cohen

May 5, 2023: Tin Pan Alley – West 28th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway – was arguably the birthplace of American Popular Music and its industry in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Music publishers like M. Witmark and Sons, Shapiro-Remick, Leo Feist, Willis Woodard, and T.B. Harms crowded together for convenience and financial considerations. Some had been salesmen in other fields, some wrote or composed. A new generation of song writers followed. Immigrant, first generation Jews and African Americans – at a time prejudice was blatant – came to plug original material.

Left: Tin Pan Alley then (1910- Public Domain); Tin Pan Alley Now (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Though recordings existed, playback equipment was expensive. People still gathered around pianos often singing along. Prescient publishers added to a list of hymns with dramatic and novelty material, popular music and finally jazz and blues. In 1892, sheet music to “After the Ball” (Charles K. Harris) sold two million copies at fifty cents each. That number rose to five million before century’s end. Copyright laws were negligible until the end of the century. At that point, publishers and songwriters worked together to establish rules.

Vaudeville entertainers would come to look for new songs, the lower tiers paying for use while stars had access in exchange for exposure. A group of Tin Pan Alley music houses formed the Music Publishers Association of the United States in 1895; The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914.

Several theories exist as to how the street got its name. Most popular is the “tin pan” sound of a cheap piano although it might just as easily have been Monroe Rosenfeld’s comment to Harry Von Tilzer: “It sounds like a bunch of tin cans.” (Both Rosenfeld and Von Tilzer – who wrote “Bird in a Gilded Cage”- took credit.) Irving Berlin writes about pitching a song at 15. Richard Rodgers did so at 22.

Early Sheet Music (Both Public Domain)

Founding Director George Calderaro tells me that he started the The Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project as a committee of a neighborhood block association as a way to save the street from development/demolition. In 2019, the street was designated a landmark and in 2021, the volunteer organization officially became non-profit. Since that time, events and concerts have been organized by partnering with such as The Park Avenue Armory and popular club Pangea. The Project’s board is now creating a strategic plan focused on education, tourism, performance, and fundraising. Conversations with The Museum of the City of New York have resulted in the upcoming October Tin Pan Alley exhibition.

Explore and celebrate our rich musical heritage

Opening Photo by Maryann Lopinto October 23, 2021 – Marilyn Maye unveils the new street sign

Tin Pan Alley Music Project EVENTS

Saturday, May 6, 3 p.m., Jane’s Walk live and Virtual Tour with Miriam Berman.  Free.  

Tuesday, May 9, 5:30 p.m., Jewish Hall of Fame Induction, Bryant Park, East side of park near Bryant Statue.  Free. 

Sunday, May 14, 3 p.m., Mother’s Day Jazz Concert with Jesse Breheney and the “Tin Pan Alleycats”, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Newburgh, NY. 

Tuesday, May 16, 7 p.m., “My Melancholy Baby” book talk with author and TPA committee member Michael G. Garber, The Lambs Club.
Information and tickets here

Saturday, June 3, 12 p.m., New York Landmarks Conservancy 50thCelebration at Alice Austen House. Free. Information here.

Friday, June 16, 7 p.m.,  Sunset on the Hudson/Tin Pan Alley Concertat Pier 45/Christopher Street, Hudson River Park. Free. Information here TBA

Friday, October 13, 6:30 p.m., Museum of the City of New York Centennial Celebration Weekend kickoff,  “New York Songs & Stories: 100 Years of Tin Pan Alley and Singing Strong!” Information and tickets  

VIDEO: sold-out benefit “Tin Pan Alley…Goin Downtown! presented in partnership with Tweed Theatreworks on Sunday, April 16

https://www.tinpanalley.nyc/