Research in Music with Lauren Graves – I Love to Tango With My Tea

What does music research look like?  This is the fourth post in a series that highlights music research by students in a Baylor School of Music class taught by Dr. Laurel Zeiss, a recipient of the 2022 Special Collections Teaching Fellowship.  These students worked beyond traditional research and learned how to engage with primary sources in the Baylor Libraries’ Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Sheet Music.   Enjoy exploring this unique collection through our new scholars’ works.

I Love to Tango With My Tea by Egbert Van Alstyne

by Lauren Graves

“I Love to Tango With My Tea” is an American Popular song from 1915. Alfred Byran wrote the lyrics and Egbert van Alstyne composed the music. Jerome H. Remick & Co. published this piece in New York.

The instrumentation for this song is piano and voice, which was standard for American popular music in the 1900s. Pianos were more accessible and affordable, so it was common for Americans to have one in the home. What makes piano especially attractive to the public is that melody and harmony can be played on one instrument. Songs like “I Love to Tango With My Tea” include all of the right elements to achieve popularity. “I Love to Tango With My Tea” was likely meant for amateurs because the piano part is not especially challenging, and could likely be played while singing.

Despite tango being in the title, this song is not a tango. This song describes a popular pastime in the 1900s, going out to tango tea rooms! The years 1910-1915 specifically, are known as “Guadaria Vieja,” the period where tango is becoming an international form of dance. In this time period, tango cafés were very popular in America and Europe. They adapted a more “purified” form of tango, because authentic tango is very sensual in nature. Its origins come from men using tango to seduce women in brothels. The church was very against tango, and spoke out against it many times; it was even banned in many places in this era even though it was becoming more widespread and popular.

The lyrics of the song match with the images on the cover. “I Love to Tango With My Tea” describes wanting to go out to a café with a ballroom in the middle of the floor. It mentions dancing between eating salads and soup, and sipping on tea. The cover depicts a man and women dancing, with tables of people sitting in the back watching the dancers and drinking tea. There is also a man playing double bass on the front cover. Common instrumentation for tango at a tango café consisted, and still consists, of two bandoneons, two violins, a piano, and a double bass. Bandoneons are popular instruments from Argentina and Uruguay that are very typical for tango. Bandoneons look similar to the accordion. These instruments make up an adapted version of tango specifically for the cafés; they are not congruent with the original instrumentation of tango.

The song mentions alcohol and describes a dance that was very controversial during this time. This foreshadows the Roaring Twenties. The Twenties was a fight between conservative and progressive ideals, and I think the controversy about tango is a good example of where things were headed socially in America in this time. It was not the tango music itself that was controversial, but more so the dancing. Tango changed several times during the 1900s, but it remained very popular.  This piece reflects a popular pastime for Americans, as well as gives an example of what popular music looked like in the early 1900s.

sheet music cover

page of sheet music


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