A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 25, 2008
1920s Vaudeville/Ragtime “Big Apple” Citations

The Chicago (IL) Defender is an African-American publication that has a national circulation. “Ragtime” Billy Tucker (a vaudeville/ragtime performer) wrote for the Defender from Los Angeles ("Coast Dope"), beginning with a first column in 1918.

On May 15, 1920, Tucker wrote about “the ‘Big Apple,’ Los Angeles.” On September 16, 1922, Tucker wrote about “‘The big apple’ (New York).” Although there are about 250 mentions of (or columns written by) Billy Tucker in the Chicago Defender, these are the only two Tucker uses of “big apple.”

‘The big apple” occurs frequently in the Chicago Defender, but only four times (all cited below) before 1933. The 1930s horseracing uses and the 1930s jazz uses of “big apple” can be found here. There is also a 1911 entertainment metaphor of performers being the “big apple on the tree.”

“Ragtime” Billy Tucker’s influence on the “big apple” term is uncertain. Since both Los Angeles and New York were being called “the big apple,” it appears that “big apple” was a slang term for any large city in the early 1920s.

Burton Rascoe (1892-1957) wrote a syndicated newspaper column called ‘The Daybook of a New Yorker.” In February 1927, Rascoe provided a vaudeville definition: “...small time professionals of the show world whose great ambition is to get a ‘bite out of the Big Apple.’ That is an expression meaning a billing, with names out in front, at the Palace or the Hippodrome.”


28 October 1911, Chicago (IL) Defender, pg. 6:
George Hayes and the Clancy Twins are the “big apple on the tree” this week. The twins can sing and their slang is the cutest stunt imaginable. Mr. Hayes makes an excellent foil for the boys in their little singing act, entitled “The Try-out.”

4 May 1918, Chicago (IL) Defender:
["A Note or Two” is Ragtime Billy Tucker’s first piece in the Chicago Defender—ed.]

15 May 1920, Chicago (IL) Defender, pg. 7:
Dear Pal, Tony: No, Ragtime Billy Tucker hasn’t dropped completely out of existence, but is still in the “Big Apple,” Los Angeles.
(...)
-- Your old pal, Ragtime Billy Tucker.

16 September 1922, Chicago (IL) Defender, pg. 8:
Dear Pal, Tony: (...) I trust your trip to “The big apple” (New York) was a huge success and only wish that I had been able to make it with you, but they keep me too busy out here.
(...)
RAGTIME BILLY TUCKER
“The Sheik of Syncopation”
2112 South Los Angeles street
Los Angeles, Calif.

9 June 1923, Chicago (IL) Defender, “Letter from Cairo, Egypt,” pg. 13:
Here we are again, right in the middle of a great big Rhamseen, and you can bet a big apple that it is some hot, if old Nick’s domains are any hotter than it is here today we don’t want to go there.
["Bet a big apple” goes back over 75 years and was a popular expression—ed.]

16 November 1926, Xenia (OH) Evening Gazette, “The Daybook of a New Yorker” by Burton Rascoe, pg. 4, col. 7:
He got to be very popular in the town and later he got some billings in Oklahoma and now he is “getting his bite of the Big Apple,” as the vaudevillains [sic] say when they are playing on Broadway.

8 January 1927, Poughkeepsie (NY) Eagle News, “The Daybook of a New Yorker” by Burton Rascoe, pg. 6:
New York, Jan. 7—Mayor Jimmy Walker is a slim little fellow, quick and nervous in his movements like a vaudeville hoofer on the first night of his first bite out of the Big Apple.

Google News Archive
7 February 1927, Lewiston (ME) Evening Journal, “The New Yorker” by Burton Rascoe, pg. 4, col. 6:
...small time professionals of the show world whose great ambition is to get a “bite out of the Big Apple.” That is an expression meaning a billing, with names out in front, at the Palace or the Hippodrome.

23 December 1933, Chicago (IL) Defender, pg. 5:
RAGTIME BILLY
TUCKER KILLED
ST. LOUIS, Mo., Dec. 22.—“Ragtime” Billy Tucker, well known in (Illegible word?--ed.) and stage circles, was shot Tuesday, Dec. 12, and died Friday, Dec. 15, at No. 2 hospital. At one time Billy was the Coast correspondent of The Chicago Defender and more recently was connected with a St. Louis newspaper being in charge of the theatrical page. A host of friends will mourn his passing.

Tucker, a member of the old school of performers, was considered one of the finest players vaudeville has known. He formerly played with various T. O. D. A. shows, which brought him into Chicago, where he was quite well known. he had only been in St. Louis for a few months prior to his death.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1920s: John J. Fitz Gerald and the N.Y. Morning Telegraph • (0) Comments • Friday, January 25, 2008 • Permalink