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The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts > Vaudeville Nation

The Music Industries

Bob Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson
Bob Cole and
J. Rosamond Johnson

Eddie Cantor. Proof photograph by White Studio, NY.
Eddie Cantor. 
Proof photograph
by White Studio, NY.

Every vaudeville bill included at least one vocalist or instrumentalist, and often more.   The music publishing industry, known as "Tin Pan Alley," relied on vaudeville to introduce new songs and re-popularize older ones.  In return, the front cover of sheet music was decorated with photographs of vaudeville performers, inscribed with "as introduced by…", "As popularized by…", or "Performed with great success by…" and a signature.  .   The back cover advertised songs of the publisher, songwriter or genre, generally with an 8-measure sample, with the slogan "Try this on Your Piano." 

Some songwriters also toured as vaudeville performers, among them Bob Cole and J. Rosamund Johnson, and promoted the sale of their latest works.  Up and coming songwriters who were expert pianists, like Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, were employed by publishers as "song pluggers," playing on the pianos in theater lobbies and lounges to earn themselves contracts.

Recordings made novelty and ragtime songs popular.  Discs and cylinders all provided 3 to 3 ˝ minutes of music, so there was time for multiple verses and choruses.  Comic singers, like Eddie Cantor, often added spoken introduction or material from their monologues to fill the time.  Victor, Columbia, Edison and some of the smaller firms maintained dance bands and orchestras for recordings of "Fox-Trot Arrangements," medleys of songs suitable for the newly popular One-steps, Two-steps and Hesitations.

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