This chapter explores a number of theories of popular music performance and relates them to the performance practices that defined vaudeville. It focuses on vaudeville’s part in bringing about fundamental changes in the American musical landscape, and in particular, its influence on the respective histories of the blues, jazz, the Tin Pan Alley pop ballad, the musical comedy and revue, and syncopated dance music. It also provides a basic outline of musical production on the vaudeville stage, before turning to a more detailed discussion of the shifting contexts in which vaudeville melodies appeared, whether as instrumental or vocal arrangements, solo or ensemble pieces, accompaniments to a song and dance routine or dumb act, supporting a performer’s “wow” finish, or as incidental music for a playlet. Drawing on firsthand accounts by Bert Williams and Irving Berlin, the chapter thus identifies the processes by which these melodies were incorporated into vaudeville acts and, second, what happened once they began to circulate through the system as objects of consumption.
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