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 July 05, 2004
Tin Pan Alley
"Tin Pan Alley" was the name of the music publishing area of Manhattan on 28th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Music publishers came to the area in the 1880s and began to leave by the 1910s and 1920s.

The name "tin pan alley" -- a pun on "tin panny" (a cacophony of tin pans) and possibly "timpani" (kettledrums) --was first published in The World, in an article by Roy L. McCardell on May 3, 1903. It's sometimes claimed that Monroe H. Rosenfeld coined "Tin Pan Alley" in the New York (NY) Herald, but there is no documentary evidence to support this.

Wikipedia: Tin Pan Alley
Tin Pan Alley is the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan; a plaque (see below) on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth commemorates it.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885, when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when the phonograph, radio, and motion pictures supplanted sheet music as the driving force of American popular music, while others consider Tin Pan Alley to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.

The origins of the name "Tin Pan Alley" are unclear. One account claims that it was a derogatory reference to the sound of many pianos (comparing them to the banging of tin pans). Others claim it arose from songwriters modifying their pianos to produce a more percussive sound. After many years, the term came to refer to the U.S. music industry in general.

Origin of the name
Various explanations have been advanced to account for the origins of the term "Tin Pan Alley". The most popular account holds that it was originally a derogatory reference by Monroe H. Rosenfeld in the New York Herald to the collective sound made by many "cheap upright pianos" all playing different tunes being reminiscent of the banging of tin pans in an alleyway. This article has not been found.

3 May 1903, The World (New York, NY), pg. 4M (Metropolitan section on Sunday):
A Visit to "Tin Pan Alley," Where the Popular Songs Come From.

"Tin Pan Alley?"—It's Twenty-eighth Street Between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, the Centre of the Song Publishing Business in This Country, and it Gets Its Name from the Jangling of Pianos That Are Banged and Rattled There Day and Night as New Songs Are Being "Tried On." Every Day You'll See Noted People in the Musical Comedy World Hunting in the "Alley" for Songs That Will Add to Their Fame—Paula Edwardes, Marie Cahill, Blanche Ring, Dan Daly, Marie Dressler and Lew Dockstader Active in the Hunt.

STRANGE are the ways of Tin Pan Alley. Great is the influence of Tin Pan Alley upon our country's songs. For here they are conceived, originated, brought forth and spread broadcast.

Tin Pan Alley is that part of Twenty-eighth street that lies between Broadway and Sixth avenue. Here centre the song-publishing houses of New York.

It gets its name from the tin-panny sounds of pianos that are banged and rattled there by night and day as new songs and old are played over and over into the ears of singing comedians, comic-opera prima dinnas and single soubrettes and "sister teams" from vaudeville.

Now, "Tin Pan Alley" is considered a term of reproach by the Tin Pan Alleyites. They prefer to designate it as "Melody Lane." But that is a poetic fancy that those who go down that way to hear the "new, big, screaming hits" do not indulge in.

Tin Pan Alley contains all the music publishing houses of note save four—Joseph W. Stern & Co., in East Twenty-first street; Whitmark & Sons, on Twenty-ninth street, off Broadway; Howley, Haviland & Dresser, on Broadway at Thirty-first street, and Sol Bloom, in the New Zealand Building, a little higher up. These act as outposts for Tin Pan Alley. (...)

10 May 1903, St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, pg. 9B, col. 2:
(The same article as in The World on May 3, 1903. -- ed.)

New York (NY) Times
Streetscapes/West 28th Street, Broadway to Sixth; A Tin Pan Alley, Chockablock With Life, if Not Song
The term Tin Pan Alley -- meaning a concentration of songwriters and music publishers -- is often applied to this block. The etymologist Barry Popik says that the earliest identified published use of the term is in an article ''A Visit to Tin Pan Alley, Where the Popular Songs Come From'' published in The World on May 3, 1903, by Roy McCardell. But West 28th did not retain its title long.

Although an 1897 city directory listed the publishers Julius and Jay Witmark at 51 West 28th Street, by 1907 they and most of the major music publishers, perhaps all, had moved up to the West 30's and beyond.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityStreets • Monday, July 05, 2004 • Permalink