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"Alexander's Ragtime Band"

"Alexander’s Ragtime Band," By Irving Berlin, from the recording entitled Swingin’ Piano 1920-46", Folkways SFW CD RBF-46, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1983. Used by permission.

Lyrics to "Alexander's Ragtime Band"
Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey,
Better hurry and let's meander
Ain't you goin', ain't you goin',
To the leader man,
Ragged meter man?
Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey,
Let me take you to Alexander's
Grand stand, brass band,
Ain't you comin' along?
Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey
There's a fiddle with notes that screeches,
Like a chicken, like a chicken
And the clarinet
Is a colored pet,
Come and listen, come and listen,
To a classical band what's peaches,
Come now, somehow,
Better hurry along.


Come on and hear,
Alexander's Ragtime Band,
Come on and hear,
It's the best band in the land!
They can play a bugle call
Like you never heard before,
So natural that you want to go to war
That's just the bestest band what am,
Honey Lamb!

Come on along,
Let me take you by the hand
Up to the man,
Who's the leader of the band,
And if you want to hear
The Swanee River played in ragtime
Come on and hear


Irving Berlin (1888-1989)

Irving Berlin was born May 11, 1888, in Mogilyov, Russia (now Belarus), and died September 22, 1989 in New York, New York. The songwriter began his career as a song plugger (a piano player who demonstrated new tunes for performers, theater managers, and other showbiz professionals in music-publishers' offices). Like most Tin Pan Alley pianists, Berlin was self-taught. He had taught himself to play in the key of F-sharp major, which mostly uses black keys. "The black keys are right there under your fingers," he once said. "The key of C is for people who study music."


Music Publishing and Tin Pan Alley

A flood of sheet music swept over 19th-century America, as numerous music-publishing firms sprang up to supply pianists with dance tunes, songs, variations, and the latest European compositions. The arrival of ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, and musical theater sparked another burst of publishing in the 20th century.

Tin Pan Alley was New York's music-publishing district in the early 1900s. The nickname came from the din of tinny pianos that poured from every window. Its business was to sell sheet music to the millions of piano owners across the country, all hungry for the latest tunes. Its workers were the countless piano players who wrote songs to order and pounded them out for prospective customers.

The players came from a variety of different cultures--New Yorker and Midwesterner, African American, immigrant Eastern European, Jewish, Irish, Italian, and German. Often self-taught and untrained, these players scrambled to make a living in a dog-eat-dog business, pumping out song after song and creating the traditions of American popular music. From the 1890s, music publishers clustered near New York's theaters and vaudeville houses. As the entertainment district migrated from the Bowery to Times Square, Tin Pan Alley followed.



Born in the African American community sometime after the Civil War, ragtime took marches, classical music, folk songs, and folk dances, and mixed them with a syncopated (or "ragged") beat From West African music. Ragtime music was infectious, buoyant, and uniquely American. In the 20th century, ragtime pianists added their own improvisations, helping to create jazz. Piano rags circulated widely in the form of printed sheet music and (later) piano rolls. When the ragtime sound hit New York, Tin Pan Alley immediately adopted and adapted its unique music energy.


"Alexander’s Ragtime Band"


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