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City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950
Title Details

318 Pages

22.8 x 15.2 cm

30 b/w. Illustrations

Imprint: University of Rochester Press

City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950

by Michael Lasser

  • Description
  • Contents
  • Reviews
An insightful look at the urban sensibility that gives the Great American Songbook its pizzazz.
Nothing defines the songs of the Great American Songbook more centrally than their urban sensibility. During the first half of the twentieth century, songwriters such as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Dorothy Fields, George and IraGershwin, and Thomas "Fats" Waller flourished in New York City, the home of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Harlem. Through their songs, these artists described America -- not its geography or politics, but its heart -- to Americansand to the world at large.

In City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950, renowned author and broadcaster Michael Lasser offers an evocative and probing account of the popular songs -- including some written originally for the stage or screen -- that America heard, sang, and danced to during the turbulent first half of the twentieth century. Many songs portrayed the glamor of Broadway or the energy and Jazz Age culture of Harlem. But a city-bred spirit -- or even a specifically New York City way of feeling and talking -- also infused other widely known and loved songs, stretching from the early decades of the century to the Twenties (the age of the flapper, bathtub gin, and women's right to vote), the Great Depression, and, finally, World War II.

Lasser's deftly written book demonstrates how the soul of city life -- as echoed in the nation's songs -- developed and changed in tandemwith economic, social, and political currents in America as a whole.

Michael Lasser, a former teacher and theater critic, is host of the syndicated public-radio show Fascinatin' Rhythm (winner of the Peabody Award) and the author of two previous books.

Support for this publication was provided by the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Introduction: Encountering the City
The City's Clamor
Broadway's Melody
Harlem's Renaissance
Recordings, Radio, and Talkies
Starting the Century
The Flapper and the Jazz Age
The Great Depression
World War II
Afterword
Notes
Bibliography
"A great contribution to documenting the collective music and urban memory of America. The passion of the author for his subject matter is apparent on every page. The book gives a rich overview of the many societal changes in that period, such as changing views on sex, romance and marriage. Lasser's book is an essential work for anyone interested in how the changing America of the early twentieth century is recorded through music." POPULAR MUSIC HISTORY
"Lasser's book is both a love letter to an American institution and a thoroughly researched story of its heyday. . . . Required reading for lovers of American history and those who can't get enough of the catchy, infectious ditties that continue to capture the public. If you love both, then this book was written just for you." FANFARE
"The American broadcaster Michael Lasser documents how the United States changed songwriting and songs changed the United States. Dozens of songs have 'New York' or 'Manhattan' in the title, hundreds have it in the body of the song. Even individual streets are named, Broadway being only the most obvious...It wasn't only that the setting of these songs was urban. Urbanity was their trademark." INSIDE STORY AUSTRALIA
"City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950 draws on Michael Lasser's lifetime of close and thoughtful listening to some of the most sparkling and enduring works of American creativity. His insights throughout make this a fresh and valuable work, thoroughly researched and well-documented, yet entirely accessible to a wide swath of curious readers and listeners. Literate, authoritative, and engaging. Bravo! --" John Edward Hasse, Smithsonian Institution
"Michael Lasser's City Songs is the most engaging, comprehensive, and provocative examination of the Great American Songbook that I've encountered. No surprise to anyone familiar with his award-winning weekly radio series Fascinatin' Rhythm, Lasser writes with the 'dazzling economy' of the best lyrics and lyricists that he elucidates. His book convinced me that the songs of the first half of the twentieth century were indeed 'urban creatures' that 'sang the city electric' by merging sentiment and wit into a unique amalgam, mingling the 'jingle of jazz and the jangle of slang' with 'the clang and clamor' of the American metropolis, as Lasser so unforgettably characterizes it! --" Kim Kowalke, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
"Reading Michael Lasser's City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950 is a surprisingly moving experience. Progressing through the twentieth century, as music and lyrics evolve to reflect our changing national life, Lasser locates the yearning heart in us and in those who came before us - in times of war, prosperity, giddy peace, or economic depression - in all who stir to the syncopated rhythms and conversational syntax, the fine sentiment and matchless wit, of the Great American Songbook. --" Jimmy Roberts, composer of the hit musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

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9781580469524

June 2019

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Title Details

318 Pages

2.28 x 1.52 cm

30 b/w. Illustrations

Imprint: University of Rochester Press