What’s in a name: TIN PAN ALLEY

What’s in a name: TIN PAN ALLEY

The first show of our 21st Season is entitled TIN PAN ALLEY.

Perhaps this is a phrase you have encountered before. Perhaps you know that the name often refers to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated American popular music in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The origins of “Tin Pan Alley”, however, are perhaps not as well known.


There are several different theories on how the small section of Manhattan (West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue) garnered  the well-known moniker. One account claims that the name originally came forth as a derogatory reference. It seems the sound of so many pianos simultaneously playing along the narrow street resembled the sound of cheap tin pans being banged together in an alley. Another popular notion asserts that the name was born from the modifications many songwriters made to their pianos. Allegedly, many songwriters would place strips of paper down the strings of the piano to give the instrument a more percussive sound.

Regardless of the exact nature of the origins, after a while the name stuck and Tin Pan Alley came to describe the American Music publishing industry in general. Many of the most successful songwriters to come out of Tin Pan Alley went on to start their own individual publishing firms. Most notably among them, Irving Berlin.

The long list of composers and tunes to come out of Tin Pan Alley is legendary. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, and Hoagy Carmichael are just a small example of the talent that came through that small city block in its prime.

One thing is certain, TIN PAN ALLEY – the first show of our 21st Season – is sure to be packed with some of the greatest tunes ever written for the American Songbook.