In the 1910s, musical theater provided
Americans with many of their most popular songs. Written by the denizens of Tin Pan
a district associated with musicians, composers, and publishers of popular
such music usually premiered on the stage. Later, traveling theater and
vaudeville troupes spread the songs throughout the land. Sheridan's Orpheum, Gem and
Lotus theaters had weekly programs where comedic skits and tumbling acts were
interspersed with the Newest Musical Selections.
The musical forms that most impacted the 1910s
ragtime, blues and jazz
rose from the African-American community and are
recognized as distinctly original American art forms. Originally played in saloons and
bawdy houses, ragtime was a worldwide craze for years. Blues music, much of it from
the southern United States, was slower and more introspective. Both were immensely
popular, but the music that accompanied the age of the Flapper and the Flaming Youth
was jazz, Jazz, JAZZ!
Jazz was very different from any music that
these young people's parents had ever listened to: loud and syncopated, featuring the
sultry sounds of the saxophone. Unlike other popular music of the day, jazz was
considered an evil influence on America's young people. With its offbeat rhythms and
strange melodies, jazz was blamed for everything from drunkenness and deafness to an
increase in unwed mothers. Anne Shaw Faulkner, National Music Chairman of the General
Federation of Women's Clubs, wrote an article entitled "Does Jazz put the Sin In
Syncopation." Published in Ladies' Home Journal in 1921, the article soundly
condemned jazz music as "an unmitigated cacophony, a combination of disagreeable
sounds in complicated discords, a willful ugliness and a deliberate vulgarity." She
America is facing a most serious
situation regarding its popular music. Welfare workers tell us that never in the
history of our land have there been such immoral conditions among our young people,
and in the surveys made by many organizations regarding these conditions, the blame
is laid on jazz music
Never before have such outrageous dances been permitted in
private as well as public ballrooms, and never has there been used for the
accompaniment of the dance such a strange combination of tone and rhythm as that
produced by the dance orchestras of today.
Despite such opinions (or maybe because of
them), jazz was immensely popular. Dance bands around the country listened to the
latest jazz recordings and bought the sheet music in order to learn the newest tunes
for their small town audiences. In the Sheridan area, the Lucas Jazz Band, the Melody
Sextette and the Harmony Girls played jazz
along with waltzes, fox trots and
nearly every night of the week at dance halls in Sheridan, Story and
Buffalo. Central Hall, Marriburg Pavilion, the Blue Coat Dancing Palace, the Sheridan
Inn, the Acme Amusement Hall, the Lodore Resort and the Peters Pavilion were just a
few of the more popular dance halls. Strict rules of conduct were enforced at these
halls, with tight embraces and kissing on the floor strictly prohibited.
If a band wasn't available, party planners
didn't have to wring their hands in despair. Thanks to Thomas Alva Edison and the
folks at the Victor Company, there was a relatively inexpensive source of music
available to everyone: the phonograph. The first jazz album was recorded in 1917 by
the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Soon after, all the top jazz and ragtime musicians
recorded their music on 78 rpm records. These sold for mere pennies, making them
available to all listeners, rich and poor, all across the country.
The wild rhythms of the Jazz Age brought
dozens of new steps to the dance floors of America, including the Charleston, Black
Bottom, Cubanola Glide and Tango Argentino, plus a host of shimmies, toddles and trots.
For a while, animal dances were all the rage. While the Fox Trot was the most popular
and the only survivor
it was at one time joined by the Kangaroo Hop, Turkey
Trot, Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug and Horse Trot.
Despite the popularity of the new dances, many people still favored the old standbys:
the waltz, polka, two-step, schottische and reel. To accommodate dancers of all ages
and tastes, both recording artists and performing groups included a wide variety of
music in their repertoires. In many of the nation's smaller communities, where
children could be seen dancing with octogenarians, such diversity on the part of the
live performer was essential in order to ensure future bookings.