Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840-1917

“Shaking of hips, shimmying, twisting, and thrusting of the lower body … Sex was in the air: in music, dancing, and prostitution, which flourished in dance halls and saloons…”

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Everybody’s Doin’ It follows the birth of popular music, including ragtime and jazz, in New York’s convivial meeting places for sex, drink, music, and dance.  Whether a single piano player or small band, live music was a nightly feature in spirited basement dives, dance halls, brothels, and concert saloons.  There men and women, and often blacks and whites, mingled freely—to the horror of the moralistic elite.  This rollicking demimonde drove innovative new music and dance styles.  Irving Berlin with his hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band make appearances, but so too do Stephen Foster, Charles Dickens, Theodore Roosevelt, and Juba.

To re-create this underground world, musicologist Dale Cockrell mines tabloids, court records, exposés, journals, and the reports of undercover detectives working for private social-reform organizations.  Everybody’s Doin’ It illuminates the how, why, and where of America’s popular music and traces a buoyant journey that stretched from downtown Five Points, to midtown Tin Pan Alley, all the way to Harlem.

Published by:

W.W. Norton & Company

500 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10110