An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine

I am pleased to announce that my book An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine is now available at Humanities Commons at

From the Introduction:

An Index to The Tuneful Yankee and Melody Magazine (1917-1930)

In 1917, the Boston-based Walter Jacobs Company, a sheet music publisher, began publishing a monthly periodical called The Tuneful Yankee. “Devoted to the interests of popular music,” as its subtitle declared, the journal included articles about new popular genres, especially ragtime and jazz; information about newly popular instruments, like the saxophone and banjo; and reviews of new popular music and music for the cinema. Each issue also contained several pieces of sheet music in each issue, mostly for piano, but there were also several pieces for voice and piano and for banjo. In January 1918, Jacobs acquired The Ragtime Review, published by Axel S. Christensen, and combined it with The Tuneful Yankee, renaming the magazine Melody: a Monthly Magazine for Lovers of Popular Music; Christensen remained a regular contributor. Melody’s contents remained focused on ragtime and jazz, but it also began including more articles for cinema accompanists. In January of 1925 Jacobs changed the subtitle to reflect this market, and the journal became Melody: for the Photoplay Musician and the Musical Home. The length of each issue grew with the addition of new regular columns and features, and during the1920s catered primarily to cinema and dance band musicians. The arrival of widespread sound film forced the magazine to shift its focus one again: in January 1928, the subtitle changed yet again, this time to indicate that Melody was not just for professional “Photoplay Organists and Pianists” but for “all Music Lovers,” suggesting that the widespread acceptance and availability of sound films meant that the magazine was trying to shift its focus away from music and material for professional cinema musicians and towards music educators, music students, and amateur musicians. Jacobs discontinued Melody after the July 1930 issue following the departures of its primary editors from the company.

Melody is an important resource and site of documentation for popular music, which underwent significant changes during the 1910s and 1920s. Its focus on cinema music makes it a crucial source for tracing the development of music for the early American cinema and its creators and performers, and its inclusion of articles by and about women musicians means that it provides information on the roles of women in popular music in the first part of the twentieth century. It is also, however, a publication that is undeniably racist. Despite being a promoter of popular genres developed by Black musicians, Melody’s contributors were nearly all white, and from privileged backgrounds. None of its writers interviewed Black composers or performers—there is a single article on Black comedian Bert Williams—and the magazine published numerous racist pieces such as “The Darkey’s Dream,” several variations on “Dixie,” “Eskimo Shivers,” “Girl of the Orient,” and “Mohikana: Indian Suite.” The publication notably omits any materials about Black school and college bands; Black cinemas or those owned by other people of color; and Black dance bands. It’s clear that the writers and composers who created content for the publication, the editors who approved, and the Walter Jacobs Company all operated from a position of white supremacy, and that this is a harmful and problematic legacy of the magazine.

While Melody was intended to be a house organ for the Walter Jacobs Company, promoting its own sheet music, the content of the magazine went beyond marketing. Editors George L. Cobb, a composer, and C. V. Buttelman, a banjoist, sought out prominent figures to write articles and pieces of music, and while the names of these contributors might not be familiar today, they were among the best-known of the period in popular music. Cobb and Buttleman hired dozens of band leaders, cinema musicians, composers, and performers to fill the pages of Melody with information about recent performances, new recordings, and instrumental techniques. Contributors included composers R. E. Hildreth, Avelyn Kerr, Norman Leigh, and Harry Norton; film composer and accompanist Lloyd G. del Castillo; ragtime pianist Edward R. Winn, who offered lessons in his series “‘Ragging’ the Popular Song Hits;” organists Irene Juno and George Allaire Fisher; film accompaniment textbook author Maude Stolley McGill, who previewed her book for readers through a series of ten lessons for playing for the moving picture; music education specialist A. C. E. Schonemann; trumpeter and trumpet designer and maker Vincent Bach; banjoist and composer A. J. Weidt; and conductor Clarence Byrn. Cobb himself contributed numerous pieces of music as well as columns. These hired writers and letter-writers provided reports from across the United States as to what music was being played in cinemas and dance halls in their cities and how it was received; biographies and interviews that gave readers detailed information about how performers had found their niches and built their careers in popular music; and reports on music in schools documented contemporary music education. Editorials took on issues of plagiarism and copyright, taste and innovation, and the role of music in society. Readers could find advice on everything from learning basic composition to negotiating publishing and performance contracts. Insider gossip and humor columns gave readers a detailed look at the popular music business and its major players. The magazine’s content also contains articles, music, and advertisements designed to speak to aspiring professionals and amateur musicians, including reviews of entry-level instruments, lessons, and coverage of amateur ensembles.

Melody regularly published material written about and by women in the industry, making it an important resource for researching women’s work in cinema accompaniment, as composers of popular songs, and as the leaders of bands and orchestras. Although women made up the majority of cinema accompanists during the silent era, many of their lives and contributions remain unexcavated. Articles on women cinema musicians and all-women ensembles by Irene Juno, Avelyn Kerr, Agnes Brink, Alice Smythe Jay, and other women provide critical entry points for studying the careers of these influential musicians. Indeed, Melody is a particularly important source for tracing the development of music for the early American cinema and its creators and performers. Throughout its run, Melody paid close attention to the business and art of the cinema musician, whose job it was to accompany features, cartoons, and newsreels in the motion picture theaters. Nearly every issue had at least one article devoted to silent film music, and the magazine’s reviews of new popular music also included photoplay music. Regular columns on the activities of musicians in several large North American cities, including New York, Toronto, Denver, and Washington, D.C., provide a list of cinema musicians and their places of employment. It published several series of pieces composed specifically to be used in the cinema, including two dozen works that were later collected into one of Jacobs’s photoplay albums.

The advertisements in Melody are just as valuable as the articles and sheet music. Scholars can trace the ways in which instruments were marketed; what repertoire was sold and in what formats and for what ensemble configurations; how songs were advertised and to what market targets; what kinds of training was offered (become a piano tuner, teacher, engraver, or a piano and automated instrument salesperson!); and what items readers might need or want (music stands, chord charts for improvising cinema and dance hall musicians, electric blowers for organs).

While it was a successful magazine it its time, Melody today exists as a full print run only at the Library of Congress, where it can be viewed in its microfilm format (Microfilm 86/20,101 Reels 1-7); a handful of other libraries have partial volumes of the publication. Based on my research in the music libraries of several silent film musicians, it is clear that the music was often removed from each issue and stored separately from the rest of the magazine; this may have contributed to the lack of complete paper copies extant today.

I am grateful for the support of the Music Library Association’s Dena Epstein Award, which allowed me to undertake research for this project at the Library of Congress and to obtain copies of the microfilms of The Tuneful Yankee and Melody. Thanks also to James Cassaro, James Zychowicz, and the Texas Music Library Association.

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