Alexander And His Clarinet

Album: Great American Composers (1910)
  • In Hit Songs 1900-1955: American Popular Music of the Pre-Rock Era, Don Tyler says Irving Berlin wrote a ragtime song called "Alexander And His Clarinet" in 1910 but didn't think much of it, although he re-wrote it the following year after being asked to write a song for the Friar's Club Frolic.

    "Alexander And His Clarinet" is in fact an entirely different song from "Alexander's Ragtime Band"; it was published by Ted Snyder Co of New York, copyright 1910. Berlin was hired by Snyder as staff lyricist in 1909, and according to Charles Hamm in his monograph which covers his work from 1907-14, in that period the two wrote 42 songs together, including this one.
  • This early Berlin effort actually belongs to a genre which bears the unflattering name of the "coon" song. Another Berlin biographer, Laurence Bergreen, said that "unlike ragtime or jazz, the 'coon' song was not a black invention; it was the product of the bigoted white imagination." He added it "emphasized the sexual prowess of blacks, along with their instinctive musical ability."
  • Alexander songs were instigated by Harry Von Tilzer in 1902, who had in turn been influenced by Montgomery and Stone, two white entertainers who performed in blackface. The name Alexander was "considered too grand for a black man," so these songs were invariably comical.

    Admittedly Alexander - which means "defender of men" - is a fine name, but Berlin was no bigot, he was simply a man of his time. Although a Jew, he did not shrink from writing songs which portrayed Jews in a less than favorable light, but "Alexander And His Clarinet" does not portray Alexander Adams in an unflattering way; Berlin admired many black musicians.

    Having said that, this was one of the countless songs he churned out in his long career, along with a great many others which are probably best forgotten. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above


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