PCS Blog

Time Line: Background for Ain’t Misbehavin’

Posted by Katie Watkins | 27 October 2014

Selective Time Lime: Background for Ain’t Misbehavin’

1919-20: Prohibition legalized as 18th Amendment to Constitution ratified, outlawing manufacture, transport, or sale of alcoholic beverages. Many police participated in bootlegging (in Chicago the police chief said the rate was 60%). Prohibition is repealed in 1933.

1919-1929: The Roaring Twenties

• Life expectancy is 54 years; divorce rate 13%.

• Radio gains popularity.

• Car sales boom; 50% of cars sold are Fords.

• Work day cut from 12 to 8 hours.

New: Miss America pageant, Wheaties, Time magazine, traffic lights, airmail, Baby Ruth candy, radio commercials, Yankee stadium, electric shavers, films with sound, Academy Awards, solo transatlantic flight, Mickey Mouse, the Charleston

1929: Stock Market crash in October leads to severe economic downturn

1930-1933: Depth of Great Depression

• Many banks close; 56% of blacks and 40% of whites are unemployed. Wages drop to 60% of 1929 wages.

• Roosevelt's "New Deal" creates jobs and changes national monetary system

• 5-day, 40-hour work week common

• FBI created due to rising gangster activity (a result of Prohibition)

• Dust Bowl in Midwest begins

• Hitler elected chancellor in Germany

• Cigarette smoking rises

New: Empire State Building, "Star Spangled Banner" named national anthem

1934-1938: Great Depression eases

• Lower unemployment, fewer bank failures

• Drought-striken Midwestern farmers move west

• Germany annexes Austria

• Jesse Owens wins 4 gold medals at Berlin Olympics

New: laundromats, Golden Gate Bridge, miniature golf, last public hanging

1939: War and rising economy

• World War II begins in Europe

• U.S. economy surges due to war

Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz

New: helicopter, fad of swallowing live goldfish

1941-1945: World War II for America

• First peacetime draft in 1940

• War declared Dec. 8, 1941 after Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor

• After early defeats in Pacific, U.S, forces begin to win and along with allies gain ground in Europe. D-Day; invasion at Normandy, June 6, 1944. Germans introduce V-1 & V-2 rocket bombs; Japanese begin kamikaze attacks. Napalm-bombing of Tokyo. War in Europe ends May 8, 1945. After dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, war with Japan ends August 15, 1945.

• Rationing of rubber, sugar, gasoline, shoes, canned goods, meat, cheese, and fat in U.S. during war

• Nuremburg war trials begin

• Polio epidemic

New: M&Ms, the lindy hop dance



The Music Industry of 1910-1940: TIN PAN ALLEY

• Tin Pan Alley is the nickname of the block of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan on which many music publishers had their offices. They promoted songwriters and they sold sheet music "aggressively."

• A musical phenomenon that made George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen famous, but it was also a social phenomenon.

• The popular music penned by Tin Pan Alley songwriters was urban music, and the two major groups making the music were part of the outpouring of East European Jews that immigrated to America from the 1880s and the African Americans who headed north in the first two decades of the 20th century in the Great Migration. The confluence of these traditions made American popular music—and made it big business.

• As the scholar Rachel Rubin observes, "…in its own time, 'Tin Pan Alley' was an insurgent popular music that was a challenge made by immigrants and their working-class children to the dominance of the polite middle-class 'parlor' music of the time. It also borrowed … from the popular music being created contemporaneously by African American musicians."

Tin Pan Alley Musical Timeline

1890s-1953: Music industry in Tin Pan Alley is driven by sheet music sales to adults for home piano play

1880s-early 1900s: Influence of European operettas/ "golden age of the ballad"

1900-1910: Ragtime, more than 1800 rags written (sheet music plus piano rolls)

1912: W. C. Handy introduces the blues to popular music scene

1917: Louis Armstrong records jazz and the sound skyrockets

1920s: Theatre scene combines vaudeville, musical comedy, revues, and variety into the Broadway show

1926: First movie with sound, a "new outlet for production music"

mid-1930s: Folk and Country music go mainstream

1930s-1940s: Big band sound and swing

early 1940s: Latin American influence

1953: Rock-and-Roll takes over with teens' shift to records

• As the timeline indicates, the music business was changing rapidly in the early decades of the 20th century. The Broadway shows after Showbaot in 1927 told a complete story, and with their "more tightly organized" structure made selling individual songs harder, but just then the film industry opened a new venue for songwriters, and Tin Pan Alley headed west to Hollywood.

• Now the music of this period is consid­ered American "classic" music and the tunes such as Irving Berlin's Alexan­der's Ragtime Band," the Gerschwins' "I Got Rhythm," "Stormy Weather" by Arlen and Koehler, and Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" were are its corner­stones. At the time, however, they were seen as ephemeral.

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