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Everybody's Doin' It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917

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Everybody’s Doin’ It is the eye-opening story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. It traces the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, to convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s Everybody’s Doin’ It is the eye-opening story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. It traces the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, to convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s spirited dives, where men and women, often black and white, mingled freely—to the horror of the elite. This rollicking demimonde drove the development of an energetic dance music that would soon span the world. The Virginia Minstrels, Juba, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and the Original Dixieland Jass Band all played a part in popularizing startling new sounds. Musicologist Dale Cockrell recreates this ephemeral underground world by mining tabloids, newspapers, court records of police busts, lurid exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for social-reform organizations, who were sent in to gather evidence against such low-life places. Everybody’s Doin’ It illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and its buoyant journey from the dangerous Five Points of downtown to the interracial black and tans of Harlem.


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Everybody’s Doin’ It is the eye-opening story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. It traces the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, to convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s Everybody’s Doin’ It is the eye-opening story of popular music’s seventy-year rise in the brothels, dance halls, and dives of New York City. It traces the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, to convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance. Whether coming from a single piano player or a small band, live music was a nightly feature in New York’s spirited dives, where men and women, often black and white, mingled freely—to the horror of the elite. This rollicking demimonde drove the development of an energetic dance music that would soon span the world. The Virginia Minstrels, Juba, Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin and his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and the Original Dixieland Jass Band all played a part in popularizing startling new sounds. Musicologist Dale Cockrell recreates this ephemeral underground world by mining tabloids, newspapers, court records of police busts, lurid exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for social-reform organizations, who were sent in to gather evidence against such low-life places. Everybody’s Doin’ It illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and its buoyant journey from the dangerous Five Points of downtown to the interracial black and tans of Harlem.

30 review for Everybody's Doin' It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter. — John Keats If Keats is right, then the music Dale Cockrell introduces us to here—as raucous, untutored, and wild as it may have been—must be the sweetest of all. This is a wonderful little book. It is brief, scholarly, clearly written, and it explores the nexus of sex, music, and dance in urban popular culture from the 1840s to the late teens of the 20th century. It demonstrates how, wherever music and dancing came together, prostitu Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter. — John Keats If Keats is right, then the music Dale Cockrell introduces us to here—as raucous, untutored, and wild as it may have been—must be the sweetest of all. This is a wonderful little book. It is brief, scholarly, clearly written, and it explores the nexus of sex, music, and dance in urban popular culture from the 1840s to the late teens of the 20th century. It demonstrates how, wherever music and dancing came together, prostitution, alcohol, race-mixing and class-mixing were never far behind, and suggests that the frenzied, free-spirited atmosphere created by this cultural stew—cooked up in the venerable dives, beer gardens, and “blind tigers” of New York—prepared the way for the celebrated Jazz age that was to come. What I love most about this book is that Cockrell never forgets about the music. Whether he is speaking about the work of the reformers and their commissions, or about how the laws of the city council affected the business of bars, theaters and the sex workers, Cockrell always has one ear cocked to catch the tinny sounds of the professor banging away at his piano, the strains of the comely three-piece girl-combo, the frenetic flailing of the drummer, the screech of the high-note specialist wailing away on a his horn. Alas! Neither Cockrell or we will ever be able to hear them. But he does an excellent job of making us almost hear them, and that is an achievement in itself. To tell this tale, Cockrell has chosen to limit himself to New York City, where documentation is extensive. He makes extensive use of early yellow journalism (whose authors were often jailed for obscenity), and on the published reports of the commissions for moral reform (which, ironically, are often more graphic than the censored newspapers themselves.) Many of the descriptions he reproduces are quite vivid, and for those who of us who relish detailed accounts of the dark underbelly of New York, Cockrell has produced a book that belongs on a small shelf along with Herbert Ashbury’s The Gangs of New York (1927), Albert Parry’s Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America (1933), A.J. Liebling’s The Telephone Booth Indian (1942), and Luc Sante’s Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991). Here, is a memorable passage from one of the most vivid and oldest accounts, taken from George Goodrich Foster’s Herald Tribune column “New York in Slices,” published in 1848. Here he describes the music of a “Five Points” dive called “Dicken’s Place” (after the British novelist who reportedly visited during his American tour): [Y]ou may imagine that the music of Dicken’s Place is of no ordinary kind. You cannot see the red-hot knitting needles spirited out by the red-faced trumpeter, who looks precisely as if he were blowing glass, which needles aforesaid penetrating the tympanum, pierce through and through your brain without remorse. Nor can you percieve the frightful mechanical contortions of the base drummer as he sweats and deals his blows on evey side, in all violation of the laws of rhythm, like a man beating a balky mule and showing his blows upon the unfortunate animal, now on this side, now on that. Now, how’s that for sweet unheard music?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    Excellent book on our historic rowdiness.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Spivey

    I appreciated the depth of information the author provided, but reading the book as someone who does not often read academic papers was difficult. The tone was more suited to a historical research essay than anything. DNF after 2/3 complete, though not for lack of trying: I had to return it to the library.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Glenmichael

    Scholarly, engaging and educational. I loved the testimonies and documentation. You get a real taste of the link between decadance and creativity ( much like New Orleans ). Some of the names of the establishments are fantastic.. and should be revived ! I'll read more from this author.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    Wanted to know more about what must have been the very early stages of the sexual revolution. But I found it hard to just read about historical music and dance. YouTube made it come alive for me. Checkout the 1902 “tough” dance and “What is Ragtime” clips - perfect compliments to this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christine Sopko

    I rarely put books down and try to power through them to glean info. The title was engaging but I felt like a little kid being dragged to a history museum that I didnt want to go to. I did put the book down...but I also did some heavier reads at the same time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Niels Guldager

    Interesting - links prostitution, dance and music in New York. YouTube will be your friend when you want to learn the ‘grizzly bear’ (careful) and other tough dances...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Giselle Bradley

    DNF'd 35 pages in

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This book is what happens when a researcher is left unsupervised. A fascinating era and interesting sociological change expressed with the interest of a wet dishrag.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nick Spacek

    self-important, bloviating tripe. i've never wanted to throw a book so hard across the living room as this one, especially after reading cockrell's introduction. it only goes downhill from there.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Madeline W

    Kind of a weird focus, but you bet I'm snagging more for my list from his bibliography

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I really enjoyed this. It was very easy to Google most of the dances mentioned to get a good idea of the scene downtown and how it changed over the years.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michelle "Champ"

    This book was well researched, the problem that I had was it was hard for me to visualize the description of the dances, I think probably because I know nothing about dancing. You can tell that Mr. Cockrell is highly intelligent by reading his text, and sometimes that flowery vocabulary doesn't fit in with the vulgar talk of prostitution and dancing. I do feel like I learned a little bit about the history of the dance and glad I read this one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Doyle

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  17. 5 out of 5

    Luisa Toninelli

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Leach

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Ward

  20. 5 out of 5

    victor harris

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matt Matics

  22. 5 out of 5

    William Wilson

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kat Tischler

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mina baş Ejderha

  25. 5 out of 5

    Wynn John

  26. 4 out of 5

    Colin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chloe A-L

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lucinda Cockrell

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Pope

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kduncan

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