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The Meaning Behind The Song: 42nd Street by Ruby Keeler

The Meaning Behind The Song: 42nd Street by Ruby Keeler

42nd Street, a popular song from the 1933 musical film of the same name, holds a special place in the hearts of many music enthusiasts and Broadway aficionados. Written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin, the song captures the essence of the bustling and vibrant atmosphere of New York City’s famed theater district. In this article, we will delve into the meaning behind the iconic song, exploring its lyrics, historical context, and enduring popularity.

The Lyrics and Storytelling

“42nd Street” opens with an energizing chorus, setting the stage for a melodious narrative that dramatizes the life of aspiring entertainers on the famous 42nd Street in Manhattan. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of dancers, singers, and actors eagerly pursuing their dreams of stardom. The song’s catchy melody, paired with Dubin’s clever wordplay, captures both the excitement and challenges faced by those seeking success in show business.

One of the key messages conveyed through the lyrics is the dogged determination and optimism needed to thrive in the competitive world of theater. Despite the long odds and intense rivalry, the song encourages performers to keep pushing forward, embracing the challenges head-on. The essence of the lyrics can be summarized in the famous line, “You’re going far, flyin’ high, you’ll never reach the sky, but try.”

The Historical Context

To truly appreciate the meaning behind “42nd Street,” one must understand the historical context in which the song was created. The setting of the musical film reflects the Great Depression era, when entertainment became an escape for many struggling Americans. The narrative of 42nd Street follows the journey of Peggy Sawyer, a young dancer, as she gets her big break in a Broadway show, mirroring the hopes and dreams of countless individuals facing economic hardship during that time.

During the Great Depression, Broadway remained one of the few industries that continued to thrive. Despite the challenging economic climate, people sought solace in the magic of live performances. “42nd Street” embodies this spirit of resilience and represents the collective aspirations and dreams of artists and audiences alike.

The Enduring Popularity

Decades after its original release, “42nd Street” continues to captivate audiences and maintain its popularity. The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, further solidifying its place in American musical history. Its enduring appeal stems from its timeless themes of ambition, perseverance, and the pursuit of one’s passions.

Moreover, “42nd Street” captured the essence of the Golden Age of American musical theater. It represents an era when showmanship, glitz, and glamour dominated the stages of Broadway, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. The song’s energy and charm evoke a nostalgia for a bygone era, attracting new generations of music lovers to its catchy tune and inspirational lyrics.


1. Who originally sang “42nd Street”?
– The song was performed by Ruby Keeler, who played the lead role of Peggy Sawyer in the 1933 film adaptation of the musical.

2. Is “42nd Street” based on a true story?
– While the musical film portrays the journey of an aspiring dancer, it is not based on a specific true story. However, it encompasses the dreams and struggles faced by many individuals in the entertainment industry during the Great Depression.

3. Are there any notable covers or renditions of “42nd Street”?
– Yes, over the years, the song has been covered by various artists, including Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, and Michael Feinstein.

4. Were there any controversies surrounding the song?
– “42nd Street” did not face any significant controversies upon its release or in subsequent years. It was universally embraced for its catchy melody and empowering message.

5. What impact did “42nd Street” have on the theater industry?
– The musical film of “42nd Street” revitalized interest in the theater during the Great Depression and provided escapism for many. It also led to further recognition of Broadway as a hub of talent and artistry.

6. Are there any notable quotes about “42nd Street”?
– “42nd Street” is often praised for its infectious optimism and portrayal of the theater world. Broadway producer David Merrick famously said, “When the audience hears the title song, they just go crazy.”

7. How did “42nd Street” contribute to the success of Ruby Keeler’s career?
– Ruby Keeler’s portrayal of Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street” launched her career as a renowned actress and dancer. The film’s success helped solidify her as one of Hollywood’s top musical stars of the era.

8. What is the significance of the line “You’re going far, flyin’ high, you’ll never reach the sky, but try”?
– This line encapsulates the realistic yet hopeful narrative of the song, acknowledging that success may not come easily, but encouraging individuals to persist in pursuing their dreams.

9. Did “42nd Street” win any awards or accolades?
– The film adaptation of “42nd Street” received critical acclaim and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in 1933.

10. Is the real 42nd Street in New York City still a prominent theater district today?
– Yes, 42nd Street remains a vibrant theater district in New York City, hosting numerous well-known theaters and attracting tourists and locals alike.

11. Are there any other famous songs from the musical “42nd Street”?
– The musical also features memorable songs such as “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

12. Has “42nd Street” been adapted for the stage?
– Yes, “42nd Street” has been successfully adapted for the stage and has enjoyed numerous revivals and productions worldwide.

In conclusion, the song “42nd Street” embodies the dreams, resilience, and allure of the theater world. Its lyrics, historical context, and enduring popularity speak to the universal human desire to reach for the stars, despite the challenges and uncertainties that lie along the way. As we continue to cherish the magic of Broadway, “42nd Street” will forever remain an anthem for the dreamers and believers in the power of the performing arts.

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