Tin Pan Alley

Johnny Mercer in New York City, circa 1950s

Johnny Mercer’s style of music can be most closely associated with the Great American Songbook and the Tin Pan Alley genre of early popular music.

Tin Pan Alley refers to the collection of music publishers and songwriters who made up the popular music scene in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It began in the late 1800s when a group of music publishers established their offices and studios in the same area of midtown Manhattan in New York City. As the genre began to flourish and grow, it became the hub for anyone involved in the American music publishing business, and the term was also used for similar music publishing areas in other cities across the country, including Chicago, St. Louis, Boston and Milwaukee. The name “Tin Pan Alley” came from the sounds people heard when they were walking by a music publishing office building in New York City. Songwriter Monroe Rosenfeld said that the sound of all the pianos being played at the same time reminded him of tin pans being banged together. The name stuck.

Johnny moved to New York City in the late 1920s to start his career, and although Tin Pan Alley was beginning its decline, he was able to establish himself as one of the more prominent songwriters of the genre. Eventually, Johnny would move on to cement his legacy in Hollywood by working on films, radio, and in the record business, but his time associated with Tin Pan Alley left an impression on him.

By the early 1950s, rock and roll started to become the dominate form of popular music, and this contributed to the demise of Tin Pan Alley.