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What is the Great American Songbook

Updated: Feb 9

The Great American Songbook is a term thrown around often when it comes to the history of music, but what actually IS it? This blog gives the basic rundown.  

What is The Great American Songbook? 

The Great American Songbook is a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have held such a legacy that they’ve stood the test of time. Think of them as the canon of the most important music. The songs that are part of this collection are so well-known that they are a staple of the cultural fabric. Some popular examples that would fit into the songbook include, “Summertime,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Let's Face The Music And Dance,” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”   

The Great American Songbook Foundation describes the Songbook as, “’American Standards’, the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film.”  

Many of the songs within this collection became the core repertoire for many jazz artists to pull from. A lot of the standards that are said to fall under the Great American Songbook category come from artists such as Irving Berlin, George Gerschwin, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Johnny Mercer, amongst others. Tony Bennet, another artist who has songs listed in the American canon, have described the Songbook as a list of America’s classical music. What makes a song a standard is not always just the impact of the original version, but the subsequent dozens of versions done by bands and singers going forward. 


Is it an actual book? 

No, there is no definitive book or exact set of songs. The Great American Songbook has standards that fall under the category, but there is no published work that is the go-to manual for what qualifies. It really comes down to cultural significance, musical standards that have stood the test of time and are still getting covered today.   


When was The Great American Songbook most popular? 

While modern artists still pull from the Great American Songbook today, these songs were most popular in the 1920s up to the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a revival of the songbook took place with Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson releasing albums of Songbook tracks respectively. The trend continued in the 1980s with Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart in the 2000s. More recently, Lady Gaga released an album with songs from The Great American Songbook.  


Is there a general list of songs that would qualify? 

While there isn’t a definitive list that includes every single song that would fall under the category, Wikipedia does have a list of songs often included in conversations surrounding The Great American Songbook. 

This is just a portion of the list, as it’s a long one. You can see the full list here. 

What are some example performances? 

There are lots of great performances to check out that cover tracks from The Great American Songbook. Some favorites of ours by artists who have collaborated with Savage Content include Peter and Will Anderson, Pasquale Grasso, and Nicki Parrott. Check out their performances below. 

“April in Paris” performed by Pasquale Grasso 

“Sentimental Journey” performed by Nicki Parrott and Konrad Paszkudzki 

“I Got Rhythm” performed by The Anderson Brothers 

Check out some performances from the Great American Songbook that come from the MCG Jazz series that we’ve shared clips from. 

“I Only Have Eyes for You” performed by Bob James and Howard Paul 

“Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” performed by the KP Trio 

“I Remember You” performed by Freddy Cole 

We hope this post explaining the Great American Songbook was helpful to you. Let us know in the comments what song you love most that comes from The Great American Songbook.


 Written by Kristen Petronio


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