Early Songwriters


The first musicals, a form that evolved from vaudeville, revues, and follies, were variety shows made up by a potpourri of songs alternating with comics and dancers. It was inevitable that the next stage in the musical’s development was to incorporate drama, to make it a play with music instead of dialogue. The first “book” musical was introduced in 1927 -- the same year as the first movie with sound, “The Jazz Singer” -- “Show Boat,” with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and based on a novel by Edna Ferber. Songs were part of the plot, not simply inserted between episodes. Eventually, this became the standard musical form.

The early songwriters, most of whom came from immigrant families, wrote for first, Broadway. and then, Hollywood, The best of their songs passed the test of time and were performed and recorded so often, they became known as "the standards," or The Great American Songbook. Musician-songwriters such as Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael also contributed some of our most cherished standards.



IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989) wrote both words and music to songs that became not only American anthems (“God Bless America”) but a substantial portion of the Great American Songbook. He was also an influential impresario and producer. Composer Jerome Kern said, ”Irving Berlin has no place in American music; he IS American music!"

Berlin on Broadway:

Berlin in Hollywood:

COLE PORTER (1891–1964) was one of the few songwriters to write both words and music. His songs, such as “Let’s Do It; Lets Fall in Love” and “Miss Otis Regrets,” are noted for their witty, urbane lyrics, and many of his scores for Broadway and film were highly successful.

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FRANK LOESSER (1910-1969) was another songwriter who wrote both music and lyrics. He wrote among others "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." He won separate Tony Awards for the music and lyrics in both. Some critics believe that "Guys and Dolls" is the best musical ever written.

Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.  It was written by Irving Berlin in 1940, recorded in 1942, and introduced in Berlin’s musical movie "Holiday Inn" of that year.


Tin Pan Alley, a genre of American popular music that arose in the late 19th century from the American song-publishing industry centered in New York City.

The genre took its name from the byname of the street on which the industry was based, being on 28th Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway in the early 20th century; around Broadway and 32nd Street in the 1920s; and ultimately on Broadway between 42nd and 50th streets. The phrase tin pan referred to the sound of pianos furiously pounded by the so-called song pluggers, who demonstrated tunes to publishers. Tin Pan Alley comprised the commercial music of songwriters of ballads, dance music, and vaudeville, and its name eventually became synonymous with American popular music in general. When these genres first became prominent, the most profitable commercial product of Tin Pan Alley was sheet music for home consumption, and songwriters, lyricists, and popular performers labored to produce music to meet the demand.

The growth of film, audio recording, radio, and television created an increased demand for more and different kinds of music, and Tin Pan Alley was rendered actually and metaphorically dead as other music-publishing centers arose to supply melodies for these genres.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Irving Berlin initially declined to write the score for "Annie Get Your Gun", worrying that he would be unable to write songs to fit specific scenes in "a situation show". He was persuaded to study the script and try writing some songs based on it, and within days, Berlin returned with the songs "Doin' What Comes Naturally", "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun", and "There's No Business Like Show Business".[6] Berlin's songs suited the story and he readily agreed to compose the rest of the score. The role of Annie was played by Mary Martin and was a huge success. Betty Hutton played Annie in the movie version.

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"White Christmas"
Words and music by
Irving Berlin
Oscar Winner 1942


“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love”
Words and Music by
Cole Porter

“Baby It's Cold Outside”
Words and music by
Frank Loesser

"You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"
from "Annie Get Your Gun"
Irving Berlin