The History of Music Hall: 30 Wonderful Resources

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Music hall refers to a genre of entertainment and the venue in which performances took place. Its origins lie in 1850s England where it began as a physical expansion of the tavern. As alcohol was banned in mainstream theatres but permitted in music halls, many tavern owners built a music hall annex. Shows consisted of variety entertainment with everything from dancing and juggling to stilt walking and drag acts. But it was the comic songs that are best remembered today. Its cousin in America was vaudeville, consisting of similar entertainment at around the same time. Although officially dying out after World War I, the last of the great British music halls still operated until the 1960s. – Justin Cash

Music Hall Resources

Beautifully illustrated pictorial history of British music hall from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A comprehensive history of the form, venues, entertainers, songs, influence etc.

Wikipedia entry including the genre’s origins and development, songs, performers etc.

Very readable academic article on the cultural significance of the genre, from Culture Unbound: The Journal of Current Cultural Research.

Massive collection of lyrics to over 2,500 songs from the British music hall.

Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on the genre’s origins, format and popularity.

List of over a hundred British performers, each with their own Wikipedia page.

A curated collection of some of the top performers of the genre.

A series of posters from the era from the National Fairground Archives.

From the British Library, an article exploring the swift expansion of London theatres in the 19th century to keep up with the growing population.

1987 New York Times article comparing the origins of this purely English genre with that of American vaudeville at around the same time.

A resource pack for an individual research project on the genre outlining numerous tasks and activities.

Poster depicting the music hall strike of 1907.

A longer list of over 200 performers of various nationalities, each with their own Wikipedia page.

Excellent short history with illustrations, from Historic UK.

Series of historical articles about London venues, audiences and performers.

Website of the British Music Hall Society.

An article accurately describing the type of audience this genre appealed to in 19th century London.

Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End of London

Article about Wilton’s in East London, the world’s first grand music hall.

Article discussing the relationship between film and music hall, as this was the most popular form of entertainment in Britain at the time of film’s invention.

A brief outline of the history of the form and an analysis of several popular songs.

Article discussing the rise and fall of the form, including its mostly male audience and suggestive content.

Collection of historical sources (newspapers, old encyclopaedia editions etc) about the era in its heyday.

Academic article discussing the social class of those attending these performances in 19th century Britain.

Famous performer Marie Lloyd.

A brief history of the genre in Britain.

Article exploring the dangers involved as both a performer and audience member in Victorian England.

For the serious historian – a website with the lyrics to over 300 songs belonging to the genre.

A brief history of the form, outlining its various phases over the decades.

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