Great American Songbook

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The Great American Songbook is the canon of significant early-20th-century American jazz standards and popular songs.


Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

According to the Great American Songbook Foundation:

The “Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy. Often referred to as "American Standards", the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film.[1]

Martin Chilton of defines the term "Great American Songbook" as follows: "Tunes of Broadway musical theatre, Hollywood movie musicals and Tin Pan Alley (the hub of songwriting that was the music publishers' row on New York’s West 28th Street)". Chilton adds that these songs "became the core repertoire of jazz musicians" during the period that "stretched roughly from 1920 to 1960".[2]

Although several collections of music have been published under the "Great American Songbook" title, the term does not refer to any actual book or specific list of songs. The Great American Songbook includes standards by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Richard Rodgers, among others.[3][4][5][6][7]

In Alec Wilder's 1972 study, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950, the songwriter and critic lists and ranks the artists he believes belong to the Great American Songbook canon. A composer, Wilder emphasized analysis of composers and their creative efforts in this work.[8]

Radio personality and Songbook devotee Jonathan Schwartz has described this genre as "America's classical music".[9]

Songwriters and songs[edit]

The following writers and songs are often included in the Great American Songbook:

Irving Berlin, one of the most prolific composers and lyricists of the Great American Songbook


In 1970, rock musician Ringo Starr surprised the public by releasing an album of Songbook songs from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Sentimental Journey. Reviews were mostly poor or even disdainful,[22] but the album reached #22 on the US charts[23] and #7 in Britain,[24] with sales of 500,000.[25]

It's a lot of songs that were my initiation to music. It's all the tracks that, when my mother and my father came home from the pub out [of] their heads, they'd sing all these songs.

— Ringo Starr[26]

Other pop singers who established themselves in the 1960s or later followed with albums reviving songs from the Great American Songbook, beginning with Harry Nilsson in 1973[27] and continuing into the 21st century.[A] Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, and Bob Dylan made several such albums. Of Ronstadt's 1983 album, What's New, her first in a trilogy of standards albums recorded with arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle, Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote:

What's New isn't the first album by a rock singer to pay tribute to the golden age of pop, but is ... the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania and the mass marketing of rock LPs for teen-agers undid in the mid-'60s. During the decade prior to Beatlemania, most of the great band singers and crooners of the '40s and '50s codified a half-century of American pop standards on dozens of albums, many of them now long out-of-print.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
    Including Willie Nelson with Stardust (1978),[29] Dr. John with In a Sentimental Mood (1989),[30] Brian Wilson with Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (2010),[31] Paul McCartney with Kisses on the Bottom (2012),[32] Bob Dylan with Shadows in the Night (2015),[33][34] Fallen Angels (2016),[35] and Triplicate (2017),[36] and James Taylor with American Standard (2020).[37]


  1. ^ "A Great American Songbook Foundation". The Center For The Performing Arts.
  2. ^ Chilton, Martin (April 3, 2020). "Cover To Cover: The Story Of The Great American Songbook | uDiscover".
  3. ^ a b c d Miller, Michael (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music History. Penguin. p. 175.
  4. ^ "The Center for the Performing Arts". The Center For The Performing Arts.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "After An Education In American Jazz, A Musician Tackles The Turkish Songbook".
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Feinstein, Michael (February 11, 2015). "'The B Side,' by Ben Yagoda". The New York Times. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e Friedwald, Will. "Jazz Vocalists". New York. June 14, 1993. p. 6A.
  8. ^ Wilder, Alec (1990). American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900–1950. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-501445-6.
  9. ^ Deborah Grace Winer (September 1, 2003). "Girl Singers: From nightclubs and concert halls to recordings, today's best vocalists put a new spin on old favorites". Town & Country. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2012.(subscription required)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Great Performances. "The Great American Songbook: Introduction". PBS. March 11, 2003.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "The Great American Songbook". The Johnny Mercer Foundation. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Purdy, Stephen. Musical Theatre Song: A Comprehensive Course in Selection, Preparation, and Presentation for the Modern Performer. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016. pt. 115.
  13. ^ a b c "The Great American Songbook – The Composers". Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cole, Clay (2009). Sh-Boom!: The Explosion of Rock 'n' Roll, 1953–1968. Morgan James Publishing.
  16. ^ a b c Purdy, Stephen. Musical Theatre Song: A Comprehensive Course in Selection, Preparation, and Presentation for the Modern Performer. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016. pt. 32.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Polit, Katherine. "The Great American Songbook In The Classical Voice Studio". Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. May 2014. p. 73.
  18. ^ Murray, Steve. "Michael Feinstein: Crooners". May 23, 2017.
  19. ^ Dicker, Shira. "Gotta Dance? Swing on Over". New York Times. December 22, 2011.
  20. ^ Venutolo, Anthony. "Boardwalk Empire recap: 'Make a promise to you, break another to myself'". November 4, 2013.
  21. ^ "The Great American Songbook – The Composers". Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  22. ^ James Hall (March 20, 2020). "Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey: how an 'embarrassing' solo album helped doom the Beatles". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 22, 2020. To many Beatles fans, Sentimental Journey was awkward... a novelty record. ...John Lennon dismissed it as 'embarrassing'. ...the critics maul[ed] it.(subscription required) Robert Christgau. "Consumer Guide Album – Ringo Starr: Sentimental Journey [Apple, 1970]". Retrieved July 22, 2020. For over-fifties and Ringomaniacs: the reports that he did this collection of standards for his Mums are obviously true. C MINUS. Shaffner, Nicholas (1980). The Boys From Liverpool. New York: Methuan. p. 162. ISBN 9780416306613. Retrieved July 22, 2020. Casting himself as the sort of Frank Sinatra-style singer his mother had always adored, Ringo recorded Sentimental Journey, an album of songs from the twenties, thirties, and forties. This was the last thing Beatlemaniacs wished to hear... Greil Marcus (May 14, 1970). "Ringo Starr". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2020. Sentimental Journey may be horrendous, but at least it's classy. Or is it? Georgiy Starostin. "Ringo Starr". The Tower of Babel. Retrieved July 22, 2020. A horrendous bunch of Hollywood tunes - the biggest imaginable blow to a Beatles' reputation. What an odd record to represent the very first true post-Beatles collection of material by any solo Beatle... the record is so grotesquely ridiculous that it isn't even pukey. Jacob Shelton (March 27, 2020). "Ringo Starr Releases His First Ever Solo Album in 1970: How Did That Go?". Groovy History. Retrieved July 22, 2020. [Sentimental Journey] received scathing reviews. Starr’s singing was mocked as was the maudlin tone of the album.
  23. ^ "Chart History: Ringo Starr". Billboard. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  24. ^ "Ringo Starr". Official Charts. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  25. ^ Nick Deriso (March 27, 2015). "Why Ringo Starr Began His Solo Career With 'Sentimental Journey'". Ultimate Classic Rock. Townsquare Media. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  26. ^ James Hall (March 20, 2020). "Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey: how an 'embarrassing' solo album helped doom the Beatles". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 22, 2020.(subscription required)
  27. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night". AllMusic.
  28. ^ Stephen Holden; Dargis, Manohla (September 4, 1983). "Linda Ronstadt Celebrates The Golden Age of Pop". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2007.(subscription required)
  29. ^ Deusner, Stephen (August 15, 2008). "Willie Nelson Stardust: Legacy Edition". Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  30. ^ "Dr. John: In a Sentimental Mood". Allmusic. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
  31. ^ "Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin by Brian Wilson" – via
  32. ^ Hermes, Will (February 7, 2012). "Kisses on the Bottom | Album Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
  33. ^ Turner, Gustavo (January 24, 2015). "The secret Sinatra past of Bob Dylan's new album". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  34. ^ Petridis, Alexis (January 29, 2015). "Shadows in the Night review – an unalloyed pleasure". The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  35. ^ Brown, Helen (May 13, 2016). "Bob Dylan, Fallen Angels, review -'inhabiting classics with weathered ease'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  36. ^ "Bob Dylan's First Three-Disc Album — Triplicate — Set For March 31 Release". January 31, 2017. Archived from the original on February 1, 2017. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  37. ^ Monger, Timothy. "James Taylor – American Standard". AllMusic.

Further reading[edit]

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