Wednesday 8 October 2014, 4.00PM
Speaker(s): Bill Brooks
In 1915, America straddled the threshold between two worlds. In the world that had been, there was peace, progressivism, and the comforting agrarian traditions of the long nineteenth century. In the world to come, there would be conflict, radicalism, and the tensions of an emerging industrial, urban society. The most immediate, looming question was the Great War: how would the nation respond?
The music industry, too, straddled a threshold. Sheet music and touring performances had been the basis for its economy; in the world to come these would be replaced by recordings and broadcasts. The next few years would be a confused transition: the last flowering of regional publishing, the end of parlor music, the rise of jazz, the death of the player piano. But the immediate question concerned recordings: were they to be mere simulacra, auditory replacements for sheet music or live performance? Or did they represent a truly new medium that offered an opportunity to reconceive musical commerce?
This paper explores these and related questions by scrutinizing the history of a single song: “America, I Love You,” by Archie Gottler and Edgar Leslie. The cultural place of this now-forgotten work tells us much about America’s political situation; and its evolution through successive publications, performances, and recordings illustrates the changing strategies of the music industry.