Printer Friendly

Orientalist Soundscapes, Barred Zones, and Irving Berlin's China.

Through a close lyrical reading of Irving Berlins 1917 tune "From Here to Shanghai," this article exposes how the popular music of Tin Pan Alley, through its unprecedented proliferation via sheet music, theater shows, and the burgeoning technologies of motion picture and radio, promulgated an "Orientalist soundscape." Tin Pan Alley echoed and amplified anti-Asian sentiment and the national politics of exclusion that were embedded in the contemporaneous cartographic prohibitions of the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act. Songs such as "From Here to Shanghai" built a sonic environment that pervasively created, remixed, and promoted images of China and other Asian nations and their peoples, one that lives on today in the strategic use of pentatonic scales and lyrical symbolism. This article argues that writing songs for the Orientalist soundscape served as a form of cultural citizenship and a way of performing (White) American identity, particularly for the newly arrived Jewish immigrants who became Tin Pan Alley's most prolific lyricists.


Tin Pan Alley, the name given to the built spaces and to the business of popular music making in the United States from 1880 through 1953, (1) solidified the modern-day sonic tropes of what I call the "Orientalist soundscape," or the sonic environment that pervasively appropriates, creates, and disseminates sounds meant to signify the Orient and its imagined peoples. To begin, I agree with Joseph Lam's assertion that music is "an American site in which cultures and ethnicities are being multivalently negotiated." (2) Importantly Lam recognizes that this site includes "much more than what immediately reaches the ear and meets the eyes." (3) What Lam suggests here is a facet of the soundscape, a term pioneered by R. Murray Schafer to describe "events heard not objects seen," which in turn serve as an indicating "means of fixing social and even political events." (4) Sound events require a source, a landscape and medium through which sound waves travel and get shaped, and a witness to their happening lest a tree fall in the woods without anyone around to hear it. In this physical journey from attack to sustain to decay to release, multiple entities negotiate the nature of these sounds in multiple ways.

One way we negotiate the nature of sounds is in the naming and labeling of sound types or genres. In particular, culture makers in the United States and elsewhere have labeled sounds such as metallic harmonious tones or the bang of gongs as "Asian" or as originating from "the Orient." Per Edward Said's insight, I understand that this discursive work of signifying the Orient draws upon "representative figures, or tropes." These tropes are identified as "alien" and then schematically incorporated into the domains of the operator, such as in prose, on a theatrical stage, or in music. (5) Just as tropes and the language of which they are comprised shift over time, so do their discursive environments. It is with this realization in mind that I take Tin Pan Alley as my environment of study and Irving Berlin, one of the United States' most prolific and loved composers, as my wordsmith of interest. Specifically this paper examines Berlin's song "From Here to Shanghai" (1917) not only for how it contributes to the discursive work of the Orientalist soundscape but also for its historical liming and thematic elements that are still important for contemporary discussions about immigration.

The labeling of certain sounds as "other" during tenuous immigration policy periods can function as a form of cultural nationalism. As the century-long dominant music form of the United States, Tin Pan Alley dictated who or what belonged. It was commercial, rooted in a minstrel tradition that formed the popular music soundscape ever since the 1820s, and was strongly wedded to the emerging art entertainment industries of printed sheet music production, audio recording, theater shows, radio, and film. For these reasons, Tin Pan Alley was a powerful tool of artistic propaganda and reflected the cultural and political views of its White consumers. While merchants and consumers had long been interested in Asia for its unequal trade opportunities and products, U.S. legislators at the federal, state, and local levels historically felt the need to argue whether immigrants from Asia were desirable and/ or admissible as potential citizen-residents or not. Tin Pan Alley, as the music form that sounded these national tensions about race, religion, political dogma, and the stigma of unassimilability, played a huge rule in the popular understanding of foreign cultures and peoples. Behind its soapy and cliche lyrics, Tin Pan Alley's true power was its ability to create cultural hierarchies by amplifying minstrel soundscapes. In synchronicity with Tin Pan Alley's heyday was the increased targeting and excluding of Asians from the U.S. body politic via legislation such as the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act. Not coincidentally Tin Pan Alley imagined and drew in to the national cultural fabric caricatured versions of Asia that were distant, foreign, and excluded, in lieu of the "real thing."

On February 5, 1917, the 64th U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Asiatic Barred Zone Act (H.R. 10384), (6) also known as the Literacy Act, a gatekeeping piece of legislation that enacted a literacy test and placed an $8 tax (7) on any immigrant over the age of sixteen immigrating to the country. It also denied undesirable persons under sweeping categories like "idiots, anarchists, and prostitutes," rejected all potential contract laborers, and ostensibly barred all Asians who were not from areas possessed by the United States. (8) The fact that the 1917 Act barred Asians not from countries politically controlled by the United States makes clear that race, after citizenship, becomes the material evidence through which we can see how political representation and economic systems have historically benefited from the exclusion of many different groups. Lisa Lowe importantly identifies this genealogy of racialized legal exclusion "as a genealogy of the American institution of citizenship." (9) To be clear, Lowe deftly defines race "not as a fixed singular essence, but as the locus in which economic, gender, sex, and race contradictions converge." (10) I prefer this definition of race as something malleable, not a static categorical branding. (11) An understanding of racial formation is critical to understanding how citizenship and nationalism have historically evolved in the United States. Nationalism--that multifunctional tool/weapon combination--functions as a significant discursive site for scholars of Tin Pan Alley and the Orientalist soundscape when we recognize how culture wields subject-making power. Indeed, cultural nationalism can function as a kind of collectivizing tool when power structures wield it in pursuit of national political projects and in debates over citizenship.

This article makes clear the connections between this kind of cultural nationalism and Tin Pan Alley by exposing how these popular tunes promulgated an Orientalist soundscape throughout not only the United States and its empire but also the entire world. Importantly this soundscape created potential arenas for racially inflected music ways amid the increasing technology of sheet music production and performance, theater shows, moving pictures, and radio. This acoustic perspective examines degrees of distance, nostalgic notions of space, and commodified notions of "Asianness." The sound profiles of these Tin Pan Alley tunes helped create and proliferate many of the common "Asian music" stereotypes that persist to this day, such as the ubiquitous use of woodblock rhythms, polyrhythmic triplets, and cante fable-style speak-singing vocals. (12) Through an extended close reading of the lyrics, sounds, and images of Irving Berlin's "From Here to Shanghai" (1917), this paper exposes Tin Pan Alley's echoing and amplifying of anti-Asian sentiment and the national politics of exclusion that were embedded in the contemporaneous cartographic prohibitions of the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act. Berlin's song, via Tin Pan Alley's established soundscape, promulgates an idealized cosmopolitanism in the face of increasing isolationism. (13) The way the song's narrator encounters China and Chinese subjects makes visible an Orientalist soundscape not only at the narrative level but also in the cultural ways imperialistic contact with Asia is imagined and re-created. While there are library shelves dedicated to studies of Irving Berlin and his music, this article is the first to focus specifically on "From Here to Shanghai." (14)

In his comprehensive work on Jean Schwartz and William Jerome's Tin Pan Alley standard "Chinatown, My Chinatown" (1906), Charles Hiroshi Garrett mentions "From Here to Shanghai" and even begins analyzing its elements of "musical orientalism." Garrett defines "musical orientalism" as something "neither static nor stable, but dynamic and mutable--born in the past and surviving to the present, but transforming over time." (15) To take part in musical orientalism is to register a "distinctive set of cultural attitudes held toward a specific immigrant community at a precise historical moment." (16) Building upon Judy Tsou's work, which studies how American popular sheet music of this era demasculinized, exoticized, and dehumanized Chinese and Chinese Americans, (17) Garrett ultimately reveals how these musical fantasies "bear important marks, however partial, of the lives, experiences, and treatment of Chinese in America." (18) An important difference between "From Here to Shanghai" and "Chinatown, My Chinatown," the jazz standard that Garrett takes up as the focus of his incredibly astute study, is how Berlin's song ultimately faded into the forgotten amid all the composer's more memorable tunes. While "Chinatown, My Chinatown" was kept alive for revival and reinterpretation by non-White performers and audiences, "From Here to Shanghai" remains yoked to its particular time period. This is unfortunate because the musical and lyrical themes it presents offer not only an echo of 1917's precise historical popular and political soundscape but also aid us in better hearing the sounds of cultural nationalism that get our contemporary toes tapping.


Spatially Tin Pan Alley grew in New York City's Lower East Side near where many Asian immigrants lived and worked. The official memorial of where "Tin Pan Alley" once stood designates a small section of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Aside from these brick-and-mortar playhouses and office spaces, Tin Pan Alley the culture, the business model, and the mode of composing stretched far beyond that central borough of New York City. (19) Thematically Tin Pan Alley songwriters took names, places, folklore, and images from many regions and their respective ethnic-groups as inspiration for the characters and settings of their comic dialect songs and sentimental ballads. In this way, writing for Tin Pan Alley or consuming its material became a form of cultural citizenship, or a way of performing (White) American identity, or a way of displaying "Americanness." This was particularly true for the newly arrived Jewish immigrants who became the business's most prolific lyricists. (20) The culturally naturalizing act of composing or consuming Tin Pan Alley comic dialect songs rested in categorizing "unforgiving differences" between White Americans and, as Matthew Frye Jacobson notes, "the hordes of nonwhite Syrian, Turkish, Hindu, and Japanese claimants who were petitioning the courts for citizenship." (21) In the process these songwriters created a shifting aural and auditory imaginary that continues to serve as a means of mapping the possibilities and limitations of dominant-held notions of political and cultural citizenship. Enforced and exported by way of empire, these notions pitted U.S. nationhood against others abroad and created an image of national belonging in contrast with "otherness." The exploration of music as an integral site of selfhood and citizenship that this paper undertakes makes visible the extent to which "Americanness" as a concept is unstable and dynamic.

No other media source had the polyvalent strength of popularizing stereotypical phenotypes and racialized modes of interiority as Tin Pan Alley did in its heyday. A true culture-making powerhouse in its ability to color the senses through sight (sheet music cover design), touch (as a commercial item and as a musical text to be played on the piano), and sound (performed live in theaters and recorded on vinyl albums), the music of Tin Pan Alley created and promoted both positive and negative stereotypes of Asia and Asian Americans through affective modes of influence. To be clear, while Tin Pan Alley wordsmiths might, as Charles Hiroshi Garrett suggests, pen "well-intentioned, if racialized, compliments" (22) about the features of Chinese people and Chinatown, it is with the lasting effect of these negative stereotypes in lyrics and sonic tropes that this essay is concerned. From Tin Pan Alley's beginning--a marker many music historians set in syncopation with Charles K. Harris's 1891 tune "After the Ball" and his show A Trip to Chinatown (23) Tin Pan Alley was connected with Asian Americans and visions of Asia in numerous ways. Many popular Tin Pan Alley songs attacked, defamed, diminished, and reviled particular immigrant groups and minority communities, serving a nostalgic purpose for the White majority while functioning as cultural sites of embarrassment and even trauma for the songs' imagined subjects.

Written for the home parlor, the cafe, the dance floor, the theatrical stage, and the big screen, the songs of Tin Pan Alley affected listeners through their capitalization on the catchy syncopation and ragged rhymes popular at the time. In considering Theodor Adorno's thoughts on ontology, these songs reified their stereotypes of "Asian music" not only through the adoption of pentatonic music scales and the use of gongs but also through the archetypal characters of the songs whom listeners could then connect with the real world outside the lyrics. The audio-lyrical imaginary created by these songs is one in which lyric and sonic expectations regarding identity and performance trap Asians and Asian Americans. And while this is not to suggest that Asians in the United States had no agency in creating their own artistic productions or popular public images, it does highlight how the powerful entertainment universes of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood used their influence to capitalize on the creation of an Orientalist soundscape that dominated print, sound, and stage for decades in the United States.

Music scholars such as Ann Ostendorf have written extensively on how, as a young nation and a burgeoning world power, the United States searched deep inside itself for a national music form. It found it could create one through negation of what it would not be. (24) Without an acceptably representative history of "American" folklore tradition or a clearly definable rural peasantry from which composers could mine symbols and themes, the ability of American popular culture to serve as a national binding agent was indeed weak. Early composers of music for the United States, such as Anthony Philip Heinrich and Antonin Dvorak, both born in Bohemia themselves, made careers out of deciding which kinds of peoples and cultures could appropriately serve as inspiration and which were best ignored. (25) Even though both of these composers acknowledged and accessed Native American cultures as potential representatives of the United States landscape/soundscape, their works functioned more as "popular fascinations" with the "primeval" cultures that came before what they saw as the United States of America. (26) In this way, composers have continually and systematically excluded peoples and cultures from the United States soundscape in favor of an amnesiac national identity project. (27) By labeling a music form ethnically, such as "Irish ballads," "Negro spirituals," or "Native American chanting," composers and publishers distinguish these songs from those nonethnic and therefore more representative songs of the homogeneous "nation." (28) Ironically Tin Pan Alley songs, such as Harry P. Guy's "Pearl of the Harem" (1901), which was labeled and marketed as an "Oriental rag," could bring Americans together on a two-step dance floor under the guise of exploring a tune with a foreign air. Thus consuming foreignness could be something American if it did not involve actual "foreigners" or their cultural legacies.

Today the Library of Congress archives Irving Berlin's "From Here to Shanghai" under the genre classification ethnic characterizations. Duke University's library system classifies songs such as these under the more poignant subject heading "Legacies of Racism and Discrimination--Asian." (29) The ways in which these songs created the Orientalist soundscape through imagined notions of Americanness and otherness are many and enduring. Berlin's song became part of the soundtrack to the racism that permeated American society in the 1910s and 1920s. While the song is not hateful in its depictions of Chinese people, the underlying themes of its lyrics, its use of minstrel dialect, and the sonic profiles of its instrumentation all bring to the surface a heightened sense of otherness. A greater understanding of this soundscape's history and tropes might help us name it and destroy it in all its current manifestations. It is also important to understand who contributes to this soundscape. While it is coincidental and not something for which we can blame Irving Berlin, it is important to note that Berlin's own citizenship in the United States was unstable at the time of composing "From Here to Shanghai." In fact, he would become a full-fledged American citizen later that year after the song's publication and after the enactment of the Literacy Act. While we were not there to hear a state official confer Berlin's citizenship upon him, what "From Here to Shanghai" does provide us is a sonic account of the precise historical moment at which some were being allowed in and others strategically kept out.

Born Israel Isidore Baline in 1888 in the Siberian area of the Russian Empire, Irving Berlin immigrated to the United States at the age of five and settled in the Yiddish-speaking district of New York's Lower East Side. Berlin's family was part of the two million Ashkenazi Jews escaping pogroms and anti-Semitism who entered the United States between 1880 and 1914. In contrast with the Chinese immigrants Berlin takes as the subjects of his 1917 song, no U.S. immigration legislation was in place against his family or Eastern Europeans until the Emergency Quota Act of 1921. This sense of free movement, tourism, relocation, and identity formation permeates Berlins oeuvre. Beyond his standards, such as "Puttin' On the Ritz," "Cheek to Cheek," and "God Bless America" to name a few, Berlin published travelogue and immigrant-themed dialect songs concurrent with the 1917 Act with lyrics and sonic maneuvers that helped create and perpetuate racial and cultural stereotypes. The stereotypes found in "From Here to Shanghai," while not overtly offensive like in many of the early "coon songs" on which Tin Pan Alley writers based their work, still fostered the growth of misinformation and of the liberal, pervasive invention of "Asian" images.

What follows is a brief history of Tin Pan Alley's interest in and musical themes built around Asia, the growing anti-Asian sentiment leading up to the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act, a close reading of Berlin's "From Here to Shanghai," and some concluding remarks. As we recognize the centennial echoes of the 1917 Act in President Donald Trump's Executive Orders 13769 and 13780 titled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States," (30) it is clear that listening to the past for lessons and trends might help us better understand how to prepare for current and future unfair gatekeeping practices.


The Casino Theater, once located at 1404 Broadway on West 39th Street in New York City, was built in 1882 and demolished in 1930. Financed by Manhattan elite such as Ulysses S. Grant Jr., J. P. Morgan, Louis C. Tiffany, and William H. Vanderbilt, the Casino was host to light musicals and operettas in opposition to the big shows that took stage sixteen blocks south on 23rd Street. These financiers, along with the manager of the Metropolitan Concert Hall, Rudolph Aronson, contracted architects Francis Kimball and Thomas Wisedell to construct a neo-Moorish-style theater, one that would be the first in New York City with a roof garden and complete electric wiring; the Casino was nostalgic yet futuristic, exotic yet domestic in its presentation and features. The red brick and polished terracotta structure featured a stunning bulbous domed tower at the southeast corner on which advertisements for shows were painted; inside the theater were a jewel-laced stage curtain, white-gold painted arches, box seats with carved wood in arabesque patterns, and a mosaic lobby floor that imitated an oriental carpet. (31) The roof garden provided a private outdoor stage for the sweltering summer months, allowing the theater to run shows all year long. (32) While in operation, the Casino hosted shows and events that are monumental in a historiographical sense. In 1894 George Lederer presented The Passing Show at the Casino, a "topical extravaganza" that introduced the term revue (originally spelled "review"). In 1898 Will Marion Cook and Paul Laurence Dunbar premiered Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cake Walk on the Casino's roof, which was the first all African American musical performed for a White audience. In 1900 the English Edwardian musical comedy Florodora, one of Broadway's most successful shows of the century and the production that introduced the "chorus line" to the United States, opened at the Casino. In all regards the Casino hosted some of the most groundbreaking and important theater productions in history.

On January 6, 1908, a smaller yet still significant show--Thomas Ryley, Irving Cobb, Safford Waters, and Ted Snyder's Funabashi--began its short run of thirty-two performances at the Casino. Funabashi retells the popular romance tale of an American naval officer named Jack Carter finding love with a fellow American named Dolly Rivers while stationed in the Orient--Japan, in this case. In attendance on the night of January 13 were Eisaku Suzuki, the Japanese vice consul to New York, and a party of other Japanese officials and friends. The story was inspired by William H. Taft's appointment as governor general of the Philippines and was set during the era of the United States' imperialistic expansion into the Pacific. (33) The fact that this story was set in Japan, however, was even less pertinent to the show than was its nonexistent plot. Indeed, beyond some "half-condescending" references to the country and its people in the script, the play could have been set anywhere. (34) While the show was unsuccessful in terms of longevity or major profit earnings, it did give contributing lyricist Ted Snyder his start in New York City and allowed him to open his own publishing company, the Ted Snyder Company. The next year, Snyder increased his office staff by hiring and mentoring a young local songwriter named Irving Berlin. (35) The two, along with a business associate named Henry Waterson, formed what would become the legendary Tin Pan Alley publishing company Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder, opening their office in 1913 on the corner of Broadway and 47th Street in the Strand Theatre building.

When considered as representative spaces and themes, what the Casino and Snyder's Funabashi highlight is that, throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, New York City invested in looking and sounding Oriental. The Casino's Alhambra-inspired architecture combined with theatergoers' propensity for giving their patronage to Broadway shows heavy on Oriental backdrops, costumes, and White actors in yellowface showcased this Orientalist reverence. If anything, Snyder's Funabashi failed because it wasn't Oriental enough. A. H. Ballard, a writer for the Washington Times, explained that the scenic picture was "superb--a bungalow in Japan, its interior and surroundings; the costuming [was] seductive." (36) However, a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune asserted that "the most disappointing feature was the music, which was a collection of reminiscences from Bach to Victor Herbert." (37) In other words, Funabashi did not provide the proper soundscape to accompany the landscape of the Moorish Casino Theater, transformed into the Chiba seaside where seductively dressed Japanese people were supposed to live. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's The Mikado (1885), one of the most successful Oriental-themed operatic plays of all time, at least used Japanese military commanders Masujiro Omura and Yajiro Shinagawa's composition "Miya sama" (1868) and its pentatonic melody as a framing pattern throughout its score, which otherwise "could hardly have been more English." (38) The desired effect of using a pentatonic refrain, according to Josephine, is to "underscore exotic difference" and not necessarily "to expose audiences to Japanese music." (39) In this way, Funabashi did not feature the exotic foreignness of the "Japanese" soundscape prominently enough, even though, due to missionaries, trading, and imperialism, Western music by 1908 had "penetrated everyday life [in Japan], and became established as an integral element of musical culture and even threatened the continued viability of traditional practices." (40) Berlin would take note of this shortcoming during his time as a song plugger, doing his best to write melodies and lyrics that "captured" an ethnic essence, whether that essence came from any authentic source or not.


When he was a teenager, Israel Baline told his mother, Leah, that he wanted to become a singing waiter; Israel's father, Moses, had been a cantor in Siberia and was working at that time in a kosher meat factory in the Lower East Side. Israel's parents shot down his disgraceful and unthinkable version of a singing career dream, and so young lzzy ran away from home. Israel got his start in music at around age sixteen by plugging songs at vaudeville shows and music hall concerts and by working as a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe in New York City's Chinatown. It was here where Baline in 1907 wrote his first local hit, "Marie from Sunny Italy," a sentimental dialect ballad, the royalty profits of which earned Baline thirty-three cents. (41) Folktales tell us that a spelling error in the sheet music publishing gave him his new name, I. Berlin, which he subsequently adopted and added to by taking "Irving" for a first name. From there Berlin made his first connection with George A. Whiting, began writing for the Ted Snyder Company, and eventually went on to write some of the United States' most beloved and ubiquitous songs. (42)

Berlin's oeuvre over his sixty-year career (with at least nine hundred songs recorded) swayed between comic, sentimental, dramatic, and patriotic themes. Songs such as "Araby" (1915) and "That Hula-Hula" (1916) echoed the national interest in exotic foreign lands such as Egypt and Hawai'i found at the popular exhibitions of the time. Berlin wrote Southern pastorals such as "When It's Night Time Down in Dixie Land" (1914) and "When You're Down in Louisville" (1916) without ever having spent much of his first twentysix years of life outside New York City. (43) Following "Marie from Sunny Italy," he wrote more dialect immigrant narrative tunes, such as "It Takes an Irishman to Love" (1917) and "I'll Take You Back to Italy" (1917), a song in which lovers sing how they want to "mak-a da nice-a honeymoon" and how the male lover wants to someday "have a little wop, / Someone to call you 'pop.'" (44) While the lyric merely depicts a loving couple fantasizing about their futures together, the derogatory term used for their own imaginary child exemplifies Berlin's approach to comic dialect songs: keep it funny, keep them distant, keep myself fresh and on top.

The dialect performances in Berlin's "I'll Take You Back to Italy" and in the call-and-response sections of "From Here to Shanghai" walk a thin line between authenticity and minstrelsy. The danger in dialect performance, situated within a U.S. cultural and historical framework, is that it emphasizes and exaggerates difference. The tone, emphasis, and pronunciation of the singer's words become more distinguished and, subsequently, part of the message itself; the singer's difference is interpolated onto the song. In discussing Oscar Hammerstein II's 1927 musical Show Boat, Shana Redmond explains that the dialect in songs like "Ol' Man River" "not only distinguishes Black from white in the show but also serves to contain the Black characters in their natural state as uneducated and simple laborers and confidants." (45) Similarly the famous Thomas Edison, owner of Edison Records from 1888 until 1929, favored dialect performances by African American singers over other standard, nonaccented performances, regardless of their classical training. (46) African American operatic singer Vernon Dalhart three times failed to secure a record deal with Edison until his singing a Texas-accented rendition of "Can't Yo' Hear Me Callin', Caroline?" won him a contract. Taken by Dalhart's faux-Texan rendition, Edison swooned at what he called "a really artistic, old-fashioned darky love song." (47) Therefore, it is important to consider what side of the line dialect walks in terms of authenticity or minstrelsy and to note how the Orientalist soundscape engaged in these performances.

One of the major facets that helped visualize the sonic performances of Tin Pan Alley stars was its sheet music production business. As Philip Furia explains, mass production beginning in the 1880s "made pianos more affordable, and as these pianos graced more and more parlors, the demand for sheet music expanded enormously." (48) The cover art of these Tin Pan Alley sheet music pieces not only functioned as powerful advertising for the product and as pieces of art in themselves, but also yoked images together with the musical notes and instructions for playing them within. (49) Like the paratext of other forms of literature, before you discover the contents within and play the music, you encounter the image painted on the cover and begin to make associations between the image and the text, notation, and sound.

Albert Wilfred Barbelle, an American artist who painted hundreds of covers for Tin Pan Alley writers and served as Berlin's in-house artist until the 1920s, painted the album cover for Berlin's From Here to Shanghai (50) (see fig. 1). Barbelle separated this sheet music cover into panels of titles, portraits, and caricatures. In the center of the piece is a color portrait of Gladys Clark and Henry Bergman, crediting them as the original singers of the tune. Drawings of bamboo poles outline this portrait, the margins of the sheet music cover, and each panel contained within. Irving Berlin's name appears to the left of the couple on a hanging scroll that is also supported by bamboo. Barbelle stylized Berlin's name and the title of the song at the top of the sheet in what we would recognize today as a stereotypical "Asian brush" script. The font used for Clark and Bergman's name is more Western romantic, written in white with a slight wisp to the letters The lower half of the piece surrounding Clark and Bergman's portrait is an image of a steamship sailing the ocean into the sunset, perhaps traveling west toward the Far East. Most tellingly the bright panel between the title section and the ocean scene features a cartoonish painting of three Chinese men carrying a smiling White man in a palanquin. While the queued Chinese men in sparse clothing labor, two of them looking forward with no expression and another on the left almost grimacing out at the purchaser of the sheet music, the White man in a suit and tie leans out of the decorated palanquin, looks at the purchaser, smiles, and waves. This image makes a direct connection between what it portrays and the lyrics and music within.

Beyond sheet music production, Tin Pan Alley was also in the business of recording their tunes to vinyl records for sale. Victor Records recorded Berlin's "From Here to Shanghai" on January 30, 1917, six days before the passing of the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act, under the designation "18242." The Victor vinyl press lists Irving Berlin as the composer and lyricist of "From Here to Shanghai" while Rosario Bourdon serves as the recording's conductor and the Peerless Quartet serve as the supporting vocals. This track also features Gene Greene, the self-proclaimed "King of Ragtime" and famous comic singer known for his "scat-style" singing, as the lead baritone vocal. The 3:19 version of the song archived in the Library of Congress has both extended and altered versions of Berlin's original lyrics, including some improvised mock-Chinese scatting by Greene and members of the Peerless Quartet. On the recording used for analysis for this article, Greene sings in a high baritone register, and after a marching-style introduction with a drumbeat in duple time, the song proceeds at a moderate tempo of eighty-eight beats per minute in an F-major key.

Assuming that Berlin took his images and inspiration of Chinatown from his experience living and working in New York City's Lower East Side, it is logical that the scene for this song is New York City, although the singer could just as easily be engaging other metropolitan areas such as San Francisco or New Orleans. (51) The lyrics of the song begin: "I've often wandered down / To dreamy Chinatown / The home of Ching-a-ling." (52) The use of the active verb in the present perfect tense with the modifying adverb "often" in "I've often wandered" asserts the singer's experience and level of familiarity with the Orient from the song's outset. The singer takes habitual trips to Chinatown; he's no stranger to Pell Street. This assertion, with a tone that is not precautious but one of a seasoned conqueror of substance and sense, is a key part in forming an Orientalist soundscape. Edward Said famously asserted that "to have such knowledge of such a thing is to dominate 'it,' to have authority over 'it' ... since we know it and it exists in a sense as we know it." (53) Along these lines, the singer outwardly creates an "it" out of Chinatown by calling it "dreamy," or something having a magical and unreal quality. Of all its apt definitions in the 1910s (including references to the effects of opium consumption), "dreamy" meant something bucolic, nostalgic, and often completely fictionalized; the word was often used in narratives about the South, Mexico, or other "dreamy" areas where segregationists and imperialistic colonizers could conquer new frontiers, subjugate new peoples, and savor new exotic sensations. (54) Sonorously the singer adds an extended trill to the word dreamy to further emphasize Chinatown's near-unpronounceable (to the American tongue) qualities, even though the Wu dialect of Chinese does not employ any rolled r sounds. In a descriptive noun clause, the singer explains that Chinatown is the home of Ching-a-ling, a euphonic neologism that could be used for any Chinese person. (55) However, if this Chinese John Q. Public inhabits the dreamy, magical space of Chinatown, then their own personage similarly becomes that of the unreal. Therefore, not only is the singer an expert on the Orient but also is able to travel back and forth at will between cosmic dimensions of reality and dream while keeping his own familiar, civilized qualities.

The next verse proceeds: "It's fine! 1 must declare, / But now I'm going where / I can see the real, real thing." (56) The singer again asserts his dominance over the landscape he surveys and, either enthusiastically or obligatorily, is persuaded to declare its pleasantness according to his standards and expectations; Chinatown lives up to its mystical, Oriental fame. The singer's desire to see the "real, real thing" reinforces the concept of the unreal, "dreamy" Chinese bodies and cultures inhabiting the enclaves of New York City. Furthermore, the singer does not question if he will be permitted to see the "real thing," but rather he guarantees this ability and its viability in the immediate. Neither economic hardship nor prohibitive immigration laws deter the singer from entering China. Ultimately he has grown bored with the glimmer of the exotic in the Lower East Side, and he issues a decree that Shanghai is his next conquest.

This declaration, however, is more complex than simply writing Chinatown off as some knockoff version of China. The singer knows that Chinatown is not the "real thing" in that he knows it is a re-creation of a familiar space and that it functions as a simulacrum; Chinatown is not China, and Americans should not conflate the peoples and landscapes of the two. At this point in the lyrics, the singer is opining about the landscape of Chinatown, the home of Ching-a-ling, and less about the people inhabiting that space. By calling Chinatown someone's "home," the singer acknowledges--at least in a subtle way--that these Chinese and Chinese Americans living in Chinatown have a home in the United States and that they do not need to return to a real "home" abroad. Rather, the singer understands that the buildings and atmosphere of Chinatown offer an authentic space for life and culture that is inspired and envisioned both by people with memories of China and, perhaps more importantly, by those without. Indeed, the "den of vice" image associated with Chinatown's opium parlors and prostitution can just as easily be traced to people like Berlin's first employer, "Nigger" Mike Salter, an infamous Russian-Jewish club owner with Five Points gang affiliations, as it can to any Chinese establishment owner. (57) Salter, with no recorded connections to China, did much to influence the Chinatown landscape and soundscape through his ownership of the popular Pelham Cafe at 12 Pell Street, his attracting patrons such as gangster Biff Ellison, and his hiring of Berlin as a singing waiter. (58) In this way, the singer who exclaims that Chinatown is not the "real thing" acknowledges its multiplicity and hybridity of cultures and histories.

At the same time, the question of "realness" in terms of culture and observable landscape becomes complicated when it is synonymous with "authentic." Specifically the singer dreams of visiting Shanghai and asserts that it will offer a taste of the "real thing" that Chinatown mimics. However, if the singer were aware of Shanghai's hybridity and cosmopolitan landscape in terms of language, commerce, and culture at the turn of the century, he might also have questioned whether Shanghai was still "authentic." After the British forcibly opened five Chinese ports following the First Opium War and the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, Shanghai became host to "concession" merchants from the United States, France, Germany, and other foreign powers, making it one of the largest trading ports in the world. By 1886 American, English, and French settlements along the Wusong River and Suzhou Creek to the north surrounded the Chinese section of Shanghai. In fact, Shanghai was so cosmopolitan in 1886 that foreign merchant residents made up half of the city's population. Therefore, which "real thing" is the singer referring to--the one with "merchants of all nationalities" who "converted a reed-covered swamp into one of the finest cities in the East" or that imaginary, exclusively Chinese site of "authenticity" and realness? (59)

The chorus of the song begins with the trope of domination through cultural consumption, coded in the kind of tourism that pervades the Orientalist soundscape. The first quarter of the chorus begins: "I'll soon be there, / In a bamboo chair, / For I've got my fare, / From here to Shanghai." (60) The second quarter continues: "Just picture me, / Sipping Oo-long tea, / Served by a Chinaman, / who speaks a-way up high ('Hock-a-my, Hock-a-my')." (61) Berlin's usage of nonsensical lyrics such as "hock-a-my" renders the Chinese language incomprehensible in a minstrel mockery. However, we should not interpret these nonsensical lyrics as being meaningless. Bonnie Wade explains that "sometimes melody is sung to text that is not linguistically meaningful--syllables such as "fa la la" in English carols. You might hear people use the phrase 'meaningless syllables' for such text, but ethnomusicologists no longer do so." (62) Ethnomusicologists no longer label these syllables as meaningless because many believe these utterances reveal much about the cultural and linguistic identities of the writers, performers, and audiences. Berlin's tune, through the embellishments of vocalist Gene Greene and the Peerless Quartet, uses these faux-Chinese syllabic constructions to re-create and commodify the soundscape of Shanghai.

The third quarter of the chorus reads: "I'll eat the way they do, / with a pair of wooden sticks, / And I'll have Ching Ling Foo, / Doing all his magic tricks." (63) The singer describes chopsticks without using their given "pidgin English" name in favor of promoting their rudimentary and handcrafted nature, and in doing so further distances them from familiar American cutlery. The singer's assertion that he will simply "have" Ching Ling Foo do his magic tricks for a one-man audience is laughable; it's akin to having David Blaine perform in your living room. In 1898 Ching Ling Foo was one of the world's most respected magicians and a peer of Harry Houdini. Ostensibly he performed for President William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan at the TransMississippi Exposition. (64) Finally the fourth quarter concludes: "I'll get my mail / From a pale pig-tail, / For I mean to sail, / From here to Shanghai." (65) This line features one of the only overt racial comments on skin color and the queue worn by most Chinese men at the time. This metonymical reference to an anonymous Chinese postal worker delivering the singer's mail functions as a distancing device from his imagined Chinese neighbors. Furthermore, the singer suggests that he has an address and even residency in China and that others know how to contact him; he is not hiding in Shanghai as an unknown but is established and registered. The singer's declaration that he "means to sail" to Shanghai confirms that plausibility and the inevitability of the Chinese serving him upon his arrival.

Finally the second verse of the song, which many other recorded versions omit, further exposes the extent to which linguistic and cultural knowledge empowers the imperialist. Instead of using the full eight bars to convey one message as he did in the first verse, the singer in this second verse splits the eight bars between a prediction and a foreshadowing statement. The singer explains in the first four bars: "I'll have them teaching me / To speak their language, gee!" (66) Again, the tone is forceful and confident in the future tense yet whimsical and even childlike in the exclamatory concluding phrase. However, in the next four bars, the singer begins unveiling the details behind his planned naughty caprice in a setup for the comic dialect song's punchline. The singer reveals: "When I can talk Chinese, / I'll come home on the run / Then have a barr'll of fun, / Calling people what I please." (67) This leads the audience laughing back into the chorus for one more round before the song comes to an end.

The singer of "From Here to Shanghai" patronizes, masters, and dismisses Chinatown as a second-rate and increasingly boring version of China. Considering this alongside Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier thesis," this singer has conquered the frontier of Chinatown and is looking to expand his sphere of dominance. (68) He has the money to travel to China, and he fantasizes about all the people who will serve him there once he makes the trip. He does not consider how he will communicate with them nor how they will react to his requests. Instead, he plans an extended stay there to fulfill his Orientalist desire of learning Chinese and using it as a display of his cosmopolitanism and as a code-switching tool of power and caprice. Lyrically, sonically, visually, and thematically, this song helped to proliferate the Orientalist soundscape in conjunction with the discriminatory statutes of the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act.


The year 2017 marked a centennial moment for remembering and reliving the United States of America's history of restrictive immigration legislation. On January 27, 2017, just seven days after taking office, President Donald Trump signed into effect Executive Order 13769, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." Known colloquially as "the Muslim ban," the order lowered the number of admissible annual refugees to fifty thousand, halted the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, and indefinitely suspended the entry of peoples from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Just as songs such as "From Here to Shanghai" implemented particular instruments and melodies to signify the difference of Asians, Hollywood continues today to create "others" in step with national gatekeeping practices. Attend the premier of any "inspired by a true story" military film about a black-ops mission in the Middle East and you are almost sure to hear an orchestra of instruments one might hear in an Afghani, Uzbek, or Pakistani ensemble. It's not that these instruments are being featured in the film or even how they are played; it's when the sounds are being deployed as sonic tropes, aimed at the bodies of filmgoers who are asked subconsciously to associate a music with a national threat. As national threats are deterred and new ones arise, the strategic use of these sounds will coincide and perhaps disappear from the soundscape. However, sometimes these sounds become canonized due to the particular success of the songwriter or the vehicle production associated with the sound. As Kat Chow of NPR's Code Switch asserts, we still clearly hear the "Asian riff," or what researcher Martin Nilsson has dubbed the "Far East Proto Cliche," in popular music classics such as Carl Douglas's "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974), David Bowie's "China Girl" (1977), and the Vapors' "Turning Japanese" (1979), songs radio and wedding DJs just can't seem to drop from their rotations. (69) While Irving Berlin's "From Here to Shanghai" is not heard outside music archives and deep Internet dives, its legacy as an agent of cultural nationalism lives on, reminding us to be vigilantly aware of how sounds are used to indicate when we are living.


I want to thank Cathy Schlund-Vials, Martha Cutter, and Chris Vials for their wisdom and suggestions that helped me with the initial shaping and writing of this project. 1 also want to thank Eric Hung, Gordon Hutner, and Eleanor Reeds for comments provided in the later revision stages. The revision suggestions provided by the anonymous reviewer were also immensely helpful. I presented a version of this paper at the Association for Asian American Studies annual meeting in 2015 and at the Yale University American Literature in the World Graduate Conference in 2016. I am grateful for the many insightful comments and questions directed my way at these meetings.


Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928.

Ballard, A. H. "'Funabashi,' Musical Comedy, Wins Success at the Casino." Washington Times, January 12, 1908.

Behdad, Ali. A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.

Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin. New York: Da Capo, 1996.

Berlin, Irving. From Here to Shanghai. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1917.

--. I'll Take You Back to Italy. Charles H. Templeton Sr., Sheet

Music Collection. Special Collections, Mississippi State University Libraries. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1917.

Bordman, Gerald M. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Bradley, Ian. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Chow, Kat. "How the 'Kung Fu Fighting' Melody Came to Represent Asia." NPR, August 28, 2014. codeswitch/2014/08/28/338622840/how-the-kung-fu-fighting-melody-came-to-represent-asia.

Cohen, Lucy M. Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People without a History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

Colby, Fred Myron. "In Dreamy, Sunny Mexico." Granite Monthly 51, no. 1 (January 1919): 126.

"Digital Collections: Historic American Sheet Music. Subject: Legacies of Racism and Discrimination--Asian." Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Duke University, 2014.

Durbin, W W. "Ching Ling Foo." Linking Ring IX, no. 3 (1929): 222-23.

"Forty Years of the Casino." New York Times (1923-Current file), January 7, 1923.

"'Funabashi' Is All the Title Indicates." New-York Tribune, January 7, 1908.

"'Funabashi' to Open at the Casino on Jan. 5." New York Times (1857-1922), December 26, 1907.

Furia, Philip. The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. "Chinatown, Whose Chinatown? Defining America's Borders with Musical Orientalism." Journal of the American Musicological Society 57, no. 1 (2004): 119-73.

Gibbons, William. "The Musical Audubon: Ornithology and Nationalism in the Symphonies of Anthony Philip Heinrich." Journal of the Society for American Music 3, no. 4 (2009): 465-91.

"How the New Casino Is Progressing." New York Times (1857-1922), December 18, 1881.

"In the Playhouses of New York." Salt Lake Tribune, January 12, 1908.

Irwin, Wallace. "A Word about the Dreamy South." Life 59, no. 1523 (January 4, 1912): 337.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Lam, Joseph S. C. "Embracing Asian American Music' as an Heuristic Device." Journal of Asian American Studies 2, no. 1 (1999): 29-60.

Lee, Josephine. The Japan of Pure Invention: Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado. " Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Magee, Jeffrey. Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

--. "Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies': Ethnic Affiliations and Musical Transformations." Musical Quarterly 84 (2000): 537-80.

Miller, Karl Hagstrom. Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Ostendorf, Ann. Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Rao, Nancy Yunhwa. "Songs of the Exclusion Era: New York Chinatown's Opera Theaters in the 1920s." American Music 20 (2002): 399-444.

Redmond, Shana L. Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York and London: New York University Press, 2014.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. 25th anniversary ed. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, Vt.: Destiny, 1993.

"Shanghai." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1886.,_Ninth_Edition/Shanghai.

Sheed, Wilfrid. "Irving Berlin: The Little Pianist Who Couldn't." In The House That George Built: With a Little Help from living, Cole, and a Crew of about Fifty, 13-37. New York: Random House, 2007.

"Ted Snyder." Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2015. http://www.

"Tin Pan Alley: 1880-1953." Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2015. http://

Tsou, Judy. "Gendering Race: Stereotypes of Chinese Americans in Popular Sheet Music." Repercussions 6, no. 2 (1997): 25-62.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt, 1920. ABL0350.0001.001.

U.S. Congress. "An Act to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens to, and the Residence of Aliens in, the United States." In The Statutes at Large of the United States of America XXXIX:874-98. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917.

Wade, Bonnie C. Thinking Musically: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Williamson, Samuel H. "Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to Present." Measuring Worth, 2015.

Yang, Mina. "East Meets West in the Concert Hall: Asians and Classical Music in the Century of Imperialism, Post-colonialism, and Multiculturalism." Asian Music 38, no. 1 (2007): 1-30.

Yoshihara, Man. Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.


(1.) I list these specific years in conjunction with the Songwriters Hall of Fame's periodization. See "Tin Pan Alley: 1880-1953," Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2015,

(2.) Josephs. C. Lam, "Embracing 'Asian American Music' as an Heuristic Device, "Journal of Asian American Studies 2, no. 1 (1999): 43.

(3.) Lam, 46.

(4.) R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, Vt.: Destiny, 1993), 8.

(5.) Edward Said, Orientalism, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Vintage, 1994), 71.

(6.) Only the representatives from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Wyoming unanimously voted against the resolution.

(7.) This equals the relative value of approximately $ 145 according to the Consumer Price Index of 2013. See Samuel H. Williamson, "Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to Present," Measuring Worth, 2015,

(8.) The Philippines was an American colony, so this act did not bar its people. Japan had already voluntarily limited its emigrants in the 1907 Gentleman's Agreement, so this act did not further restrict its people. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had almost completely excluded Chinese subjects, and this act did not "repeal, alter, or amend existing laws relating to the immigration or exclusion of Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent." This 1917 act primarily stopped potential immigration from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and most of the Middle East. See U.S. Congress, "An Act to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens to, and the Residence of Aliens in, the United States," in The Statutes at Large of the United States of America XXXIX (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917), 897.

(9.) Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996), ix.

(10.) Lowe, 26.

(11.) The works of Michael Omi, Howard Winant, and Lisa Lowe most directly taught me about the subject of racial formation and racial malleability in the United States. Mari Yoshihara's work on music and class formation under a nationalistic and racialized gaze was particularly powerful in my early studies of this paper's specific topic. See Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1994); Lowe, Immigrant Acts; and Mari Yoshihara, Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007).

(12.) Charles Hiroshi Garrett notes that "the crash of a gong, sinuous chromatic passages, or whole-tone riffs" also sonically accomplish in music "what yellow-face makeup previously had enacted on stage." See Garrett, "Chinatown, Whose Chinatown?," Defining America's Borders with Musical Orientalism," Journal of the American Musicological Society 57, no. 1 (2004): 156-57.

(13.) For an excellent overview of later related songs during America's isolationist period, see Nancy Yunhwa Rao, "Songs of the Exclusion Era: New York Chinatown's Opera Theaters in the 1920s," American Music 20 (2002): 399-444.

(14.) Indeed, being a "Berlin scholar" is a field of its own with dozens of pivotal contributors to our understanding of his importance as a composer. In my reading, I found that Jeffrey Magee's Jiving Berlin's American Musical Theatre (2012) gives a wonderful overview of most of Berlin's famous revues and productions, including This Is the Army and Annie Get Your Gun. Laurence Bergreen's As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1996) provides an in-depth personal account of Berlin's childhood, rise to fame, and his musical and historical legacy. Wilfred Sheed's chapter on the unlikeliness of Berlin's fame and his savvy business practices in The House That George Built (2007) is a useful read. See Magee, Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Bergreen, As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (New York: Da Capo, 1996); and Sheed, "Irving Berlin: The Little Pianist Who Couldn't," in The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty (New York: Random House, 2007), 13-37.

(15.) Garrett, "Chinatown, Whose Chinatown?," 125.

(16.) Garrett, 122.

(17.) Judy Tsou, "Gendering Race: Stereotypes of Chinese Americans in Popular Sheet Music," Repercussions 6, no. 2 (1997): 25-62.

(18.) Garrett, "Chinatown, Whose Chinatown?," 122-23.

(19.) Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 19.

(20.) For an in-depth discussion of Jewish American cultures of assimilation, see Jeffrey Magee, "Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies': Ethnic Affiliations and Musical Transformations," Musical Quarterly 84 (2000): 537-80.

(21.) Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 75.

(22.) Garrett, "Chinatown, Whose Chinatown?," 121.

(23.) As with any musical genre or movement, the exact beginning and end of Tin Pan Alley is vague. In one often-cited delineation, Philip Furia suggests that the poets of Tin Pan Alley "wrote songs in the years between World War I and World War II, when a close relationship between the popular music industry ... and the musical comedies of Broadway and Hollywood gave the songs of that era ... their distinctive character." While I agree with this focused synchronization of narrative style and cultural industry time, 1 also feel that recognizing and emphasizing Tin Pan Alley's beginnings in minstrel "coon songs" and the vaudeville stages of the 1880s is important. See Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, 1-25.

(24.) See Ann Ostendorf, Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).

(25.) Ostendorf, Sounds American, 35; and William Gibbons, "The Musical Audubon: Ornithology and Nationalism in the Symphonies of Anthony Philip Heinrich," Journal of the Society for American Music 3, no. 4 (2009): 465-91.

(26.) Gibbons, "The Musical Audubon," 468.

(27.) For an excellent work on amnesia as a nation-building tool, see Ali Behdad, A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005).

(28.) See Ostendorf, Sounds American, 16-41.

(29.) See "Digital Collections: Historic American Sheet Music. Subject: Legacies of Racism and Discrimination--Asian," Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, 2014,

(30.) The "Immigration Act of 1917" was signed into law by Congress on February 7, 1917. President Donald Trump's first "Muslim ban" executive order was signed on January 27, 2017, followed by its replacement executive order on March 16, 2017.

(31.) "How the New Casino Is Progressing," New York Times (1857-1922), December 18, 1881, 7.

(32.) "Forty Years of the Casino," New York Times (1923-Current file), January 7, 1923, 15.

(33.) "'Funabashi' to Open at the Casino on Jan. 5," New York Times (1857-1922), December 26, 1907, 7.

(34.) Gerald M. Bordman, American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 282. A review in the Salt Lake Tribune called the plot "spineless," while the New-York Tribune explained to its readers that "there is no need to dwell on the plot, for none can be found." See "In the Playhouses of New York," Salt Lake Tribune, January 12, 1908, 15; "'Funabashi' Is All the Title Indicates," New-York Tribune, January 7, 1908, 7.

(35.) "Ted Snyder," Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2015,

(36.) A. H. Ballard, "'Funabashi,'Musical Comedy, Wins Success at the Casino," Washington Times, January 12, 1908.

(37.) "In die Playhouses of New York," 20.

(38.) Ian Bradley, The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 555.

(39.) Josephine Lee, The Japan of Pure Invention: Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado" (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 40.

(40.) Mina Yang, "East Meets West in the Concert Hall: Asians and Classical Music in the Century of Imperialism, Postcolonialism, and Multiculturalism," Asian Music 38, no. 1 (2007): 2-11.

(41.) This equals the relative value of approximately $9.46 according to the Consumer Price Index of 2013. See Williamson, "Seven Ways to Compute."

(42.) Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, 44-71.

(43.) Other famous Southern pastorals like Harry Ruby's 1914 "Oh, Tennessee, I Hear You Calling Me," Milton Ager's 1918 "Everything Is Peaches Down in Georgia," and George Gershwin's 1919 "Swanee" were also written by Jewish songwriters who had not visited or spent much time in the South. See Karl Hagstrom Miller, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 140.

(44.) Irving Berlin, I'll Take You Back to Italy, Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Sheet Music Collection. Special Collections, Mississippi State University Libraries (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1917), 2.

(45.) Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York and London: New York University Press, 2014), 105.

(46.) See Tim Brooks, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 87.

(47.) Miller, Segregating Sound, 141.

(48.) Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, 20.

(49.) For example, Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte painted some forty pieces for sheet music covers in the 1920s. Some of them, like for Willy Stones's 1925 "Nuits D'Asie" [Asian nights], an "Oriental fox-trot," portray an Asian female form in paint with accompanying cherry blossoms painted in the background.

(50.) Irving Berlin, From Here to Shanghai (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1917).

(51.) From the 1880s through the 1930s, New Orleans boasted the largest concentration of Chinese and Chinese Americans in the South, many of whom worked on sugar and cotton plantations. This Chinatown was in the Faubourg Saint Marie section of the city, but the New Orleans Central Business District has since replaced and erased it. For more on Chinese in the South, see Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People without a History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984).

(52.) Berlin, From Here to Shanghai, 2-3.

(53.) Said, Orientalism, 32.

(54.) The word dreamy was in much higher usage in the 1910s than it is today, and its usage was mainly limited to this magical, unreal, nostalgic connotation. For example, American writer Wallace Irwin published the poem "A Word about the Dreamy South" in Life in 1911, which in part reads: "And the taste of Creole creamy / Chicken mocks my yearning mouth; / Vagrant memories of the dreamy--/ Say! where is the 'Dreamy South'?" Similarly American poet Fred Myron Colby's 1919 poem "In Dreamy, Sunny Mexico" in part reads: "A land of lutes and dulcet tones, / Of silver, gold and onyx stones. / The Aztec land of long ago, / The place of Maximillian's woe, / This dreamy, sunny Mexico." See Wallace Irwin, "A Word about the Dreamy South," Life 59, no. 1523 (January 4, 1912): 337; and Fred Myron Colby, "In Dreamy, Sunny Mexico," Granite Monthly 51, no. 1 (January 1919): 126.

(55.) Max Hoffman's 1901 tune "Ching-a-ling-a-loo" uses the term as a euphonious pet name between Asian lovers. Singers since the 1970s have often employed chingaling as an onomatopoeia for the sound of a tambourine as well (such as in songs by David Bowie and Missy Elliott). In hip-hop lyrics, the term chingaling often refers to wealth (such as in the rapper Chingy's name).

(56.) Berlin, From Here to Shanghai, 2-3.

(57.) See Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928), 234-69.

(58.) Asbury, 251.

(59.) See "Shanghai," Encyclopaedia Britannica (Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1886),,_Ninth_Edition/Shanghai.

(60.) Berlin, From Here to Shanghai, 4.

(61.) Berlin, 4.

(62.) Bonnie C. Wade, Thinking Musically: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 16.

(63.) Berlin, From Here to Shanghai, 4-5.

(64.) See W W Durbin, "Ching Ling Foo," Linking Ring IX, no. 3 (1929): 222-23.

(65.) Berlin, From Here to Shanghai, 5.

(66.) Berlin, 2-3.

(67.) Berlin, 3.

(68.) Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt, 1920), ABID350.0001.001.

(69.) Kat Chow, "How the 'Kung Fu Fighting' Melody Came to Represent Asia," NPR, August 28, 2014, codeswitch/2014/08/28/338622840/how-the-kung-fu-fighting-melody-came-to-represent-asia.

Caption: Fig. 1. From Here to Shanghai, Charles H. Templeton Sr., sheet music collection. Special collections, Mississippi State University Libraries. Used with permission.
COPYRIGHT 2018 Chinese Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:From Here to Shanghai
Author:Higgins, Shawn M.
Publication:Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Previous Article:Chinese Exclusion, the First Bureau of Immigration, and the 1905 Special Chinese Census: Registered, Counted, Arrested, Deported--1892-1906.
Next Article:A Forgotten Woman: The Pioneer Chinese American Acupuncturist Shui Wan Wu (1927-1983).

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters