If you have ever been to a superstore, I'm sure you've noticed the music piped through the building. Maybe popular music of a decade ago or instrumental interpretations of your favorite tunes from the 1960s can be heard wherever you are. If you're lucky, it remains in the background. But, if you notice it it may stick with you all day. The American Treasure Tour is also always playing music, but ours is definitely NOT pumped in. Our mechanical musical machines (nickelodeons, band organs, dance hall organs and music boxes) actually play instruments using complex and fascinating devices we won't even begin to try to explain here. While some of the many songs you can hear here may be new to you, much of it is iconic. Today, the blog is going to honor one of the songs currently echoing through my head: "Alexander's Ragtime Band."
The famous songwriter Irving Berlin wrote this song in 1910, and it became his first major hit the next year. He never conclusively explained his inspiration for it, so there's only conjecture today, but it is believed that he wrote it in honor of a man named Alexander Joseph "King" Watzke, a musician from New Orleans, and one of the first white bandleaders to popularize the new African-American ragtime sound. Watzke's career peaked between 1904 and 1911. There is an argument that Berlin may have borrowed from Scott Joplin in creating the song, but ultimately the credit went to Berlin and to Emma Carus, a famous vaudeville performer for whom "Alexander's Ragtime Band" became her signature song. That is not to say other singers didn't embrace the catchy tune, too. In fact, dozens of artists have recorded their own renditions of it over the more than a century since it was first published, including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, the Bee Gees.