Arnold Shaw (originally Arnold Sokolof) was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 28, 1909. He received his BA in English literature from the City College of New York in 1929 and his MA from Columbia University in 1931. He pursued further studies in American Literature at New York University. His personal interest in songwriting led him to pursue a career in the popular music publishing field, serving as an administrator for a variety of publishing houses that included Leeds, Hill and Range, and Edward B. Marks.
During his publishing house years, Shaw began what became a long and distinguished writing career. His music reviews, liner notes and articles number in the hundreds, and his many books have been widely regarded and translated into eleven different languages. Twice winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1968 and 1979, Shaw was also posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for his book Honkers and Shouters. He is recorded in “Who’s Who in America,” “Who’s Who in the World,” and in Grove’s Dictionary and Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. One of his most popular books, The Street that Never Slept: New York’s Fabled 52nd Street is a thorough documentation of the two blocks of jazz clubs that presented virtually the who’s who of the jazz world during the roughly two decades of their existence. His books of rock and soul music, as well as his biographies of Sinatra and Belafonte are also significant contributions to popular music history. Shaw’s last two books, The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920’s and Let’s Dance: Popular Music of the 1930s appeared under the imprint of Oxford University Press.
After sixteen years of running three large publishing companies, Shaw decided to retire and be able to spend his time composing music and writing books about music. He moved to the West Coast, shuttling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas before finally settling in Las Vegas in 1968.
In 1979, Shaw proposed the creation of a music literature course titled “History of Rock Music,” which he would teach on a part-time basis for the UNLV Music Department. His proposal was accepted and he began teaching the course in the fall of 1980. His purpose was to see how students perceived popular music and the sociological implication of those perceptions.
During the ensuing years, Shaw created an event which would be held intermittently throughout the school year known as a “Rap with the Artist.” The purpose of these rap sessions was to create a vehicle by which popular music stars could interact with university students, both through lectures and discussions. The sessions were tape recorded and combined with a series of interviews of popular music stars that Shaw recorded in the process of authoring his many books. The Special Collections Department holds over 900 hours of these tapes.
The creation of his tape archive was the official beginning of the Popular Music Research Center at the UNLV College of Arts and Letters. After Shaw’s death in 1989, the Center was named for him.
Bibliography of Publications by Shaw
Books (arranged chronologically)
- Gene Krupa: First Authentic Life Story of America’s Ace Drummer Man. New York: Pin-Up Press, 1945.
- Lingo of Tin Pan Alley. New York: Broadcast Music, 1950.
- The Money Song (novel). New York: Random House, 1953.
- Belafonte: An Unauthorized Biography. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1960.
- Sinatra: Twentieth-Century Romantic. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
- The Rock Revolution: What’s Happening to Today’s Music. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1969.
- The World of Soul: Black America’s Contribution to the Pop Music Scene. New York: Cowles Book Co., 1970.
- The Street That Never Slept. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1971; reissued as 52nd Street: The Street of Jazz. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977.
- Frank Sinatra. Retreat of the Romantic. London: Coronet Books, 1974
- The Rockin’ ’50s. The Decade That Transformed the Pop Music Scene. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.
- Honkers and Shouters. The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1978.
- Dictionary of American Pop-Rock Music. New York: Sales Corp, 1982 and Schirmer Books, 1983.
- Sinatra: The Entertainer. New York: Delilah Books, 1984.
- Black Popular Music In America. From The Spirituals, Minstrels And Ragtime To Soul, Disco And Hip-Hop. New York: Schirmer Books, 1986.
- The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Let’s Dance: Popular Music in the 1930s (edited by Bill Willard). New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Articles (arranged alphabetically)
- “Jumpin’ the Blues with Louis Jordan.” In The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, edited by David Brackett, 47–51. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- “The Mississippi Blues Traditions and the Origins of the Blues.” In Charley Patton: Voice of the Mississippi Delta, edited by Robert Sacré, 13–22. American Made Music. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018.
- “Popular Music from Minstrel Songs to Rock ‘N’ Roll.” In One Hundred Years of Music in America, edited by Paul Henry Lang, 140–68. New York: Schirmer, 1961.
- “‘Popular Music Has Vitality’: Lincoln Kirstein.” The Sonneck Society Newsletter 13, no. 2 (1987): 49.
- “The Producers Answer Back: The Emergence of the ‘Indie’ Record Company.” In The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, edited by David Brackett, 54–60. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- “Researching Rhythm and Blues.” Black Music Research Journal 1 (1980): 71.
- “Rhythm and Blues in California.” Black Music Research Bulletin 10, no. 1 (1988): 11.
- “Rhythm and Blues in the Early 1950s: B.B. King.” In The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, edited by David Brackett, 58–61. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- “The Rock Revolution.” The Sonneck Society Newsletter 4, no. 1 (1978): 16.
- “Sinatrauma: The Proclamation of a New Era.” In The Frank Sinatra Reader, edited by Steven Petkov and Leonard Mustazza, 18–29. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.