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 Ira Gershwin, 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
Americans and 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 tandem
with 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
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