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Max Morath : Sheet Music
Max Morath The merchandising of sheet music had greatly to do with the fact that the piano in America in those days was a woman's instrument. If you were a little girl, you took piano lessons. And the pianists of the time were easily 90 percent women. And one of the cross-overs into the merchandising of this, for instance, you can tie together the F.W. Woolworth Company, the female piano players, and the sheet music and the pianos, because when you went to Woolworth's or the department store and there was a new piece of sheet music and you say, "Well, I wonder what that is?" And there was a young woman there that would read it down for you. "Oh, it goes like this." "Oh, well, I guess I'll buy a copy of that." The great Eubie Blake, the composer, the great black pianist who lived a hundred years -- I interviewed him several times and had the privilege of knowing him pretty well the last 20 years of his life -- and he used to say, "We had to write for the girls in the five-and-ten cent store." That's the way he put it. Someone asked him, one of his very complex, difficult rags that was published much later than this, "Gee, that isn't the way you play it, Mr. Blake. They've left out a lot, haven't they?" And he'd say, "Yeah. We had to." That was one of the things that happened in the business.

Eighteen-ninety-two, Charles K. Harris, out of Milwaukee, a totally professional song writer, a very poor musician, a very fine businessman, writes a song called "After the Ball Is Over". It's incorporated, as they often did in those days, in a show that was already in existence. The song becomes a massive hit, sells, who knows, two or three million copies in a couple of years. Now, of course, there were music publishers prior to that. There were big companies in Boston and in Philadelphia, and, of course, New York, but for music to be suddenly worth that kind of money where the covers of sheet music, almost overnight, become art work, pretty awful, but still not just those block letters on white paper. The country is ready for this because the country is now almost totally unified by telephone, by telegraph, by rails. This is all happening. There's money to be made and out of the woodwork come all of these young dudes saying, "Hey, man, let's go into the music business!" "I don't know anything about it." "Never mind. We can sell sheet music. They sold a million copies in Chicago last week. Let's go." It started in New York and took the name Tin Pan Alley, for reasons that are vague, and I don't think we can possibly overestimate on that on the American society.

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