The publication of folio-size sheets of American popular music dates to the late 18th century, but the practice didn't pick up steam until the 1830s, '40s, and '50s. That's when upright pianos first began to find their way into the parlors and salons of U.S. homes. Artists who produced sheet music covers early in their careers before going on to acclaim for their oil paintings include Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
The Civil War was a productive period for popular music compositions and also for beautifully lithographed title pages, most of them published in the North. There are also many Confederate music publications to collect—the war-based and illustrated pieces are generally of most interest. Though paper quality in the South was generally poor, all Southern sheet music is hard to find and desirable.
But the truly widespread popularity of sheet music in the United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries coincided with the proliferation of domestically produced pianos after the Civil War. Up to that point, piano-making had been a labor-intensive craft practiced only by highly skilled workers. Instituting mass-production techniques, U.S. manufacturers transformed this artisan enterprise into a business. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of pianos a year were produced, and every single one of them required many more times its number in printed sheet music.
The hub of sheet-music publishing was in New York City on West 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway, a stretch that became known as Tin Pan Alley. For a while, the publishers grouped there were essentially printing money—one 1892 hit, “After the Ball” sold two-million copies in its first year alone. “Sidewalks of New York” was published in 1894, “The Band Played on” in 1895, and “Hello! Ma Baby” in 1899.
Vintage sheet music is fascinating to collectors not only for its range of subjects, but for its entertaining cover graphics, featuring everything from pastoral landscapes to city street scenes. As such, they are snapshots, albeit romanticized ones, of life at the turn of the 20th century.
Other people collect sheet music less for the imagery on their covers as the songwriters associated with a particular tune. Scott Joplin compositions such as “Maple Leaf Rag” are popular, as are those by George M. Cohan (“Give My Regards To Broadway”), Irving Berlin (“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), and George Gershwin (“Swanee”).
Then, just as the piano had created a demand for sheet music, two inventions, followed by the Depression, brought the glory years of the medium to an end. The first was the introduction of the phonograph, especially the Victrola, which was all the rage in the early 1920s. By the end of that decade, though, radios meant people could get their entertainment without lifting a finger, let alone having to gather around the family piano to sing along to sheet music.
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Fiddlers young and old preserve musical traditionAlbany Times Union, March 7th
But she found a niche market in fiddling and soon started the old-time fiddle orchestra, which has performed around North Texas and the state. Slowly, Ryals is committing hundreds of songs to sheet music. "People were intrigued by fiddling," said Ryals...Read more
Weekly-Weekend-What-To-Do (03.07-09.14)i love the 'burg! Downtown St. Pete, March 7th
The open air fresh market supports the local community by featuring fresh produce, food and drink arts and crafts, jewelry, raw honey, organic smoothies, live music, entertainment, and more... It's sure to have Vintage Interiors will be one of 45...Read more
NYC exhibit showcases basketball's Black Fives EraWZVN-TV, March 7th
based Black Fives Foundation, including newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, programs, press badges and vintage photographs of the period's pioneers. Among the more intriguing items are canvas shoes, buckle-front shorts and a pair of leather-and...Read more
Ray Parker Jr. Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of FameVariety, March 6th
“There's no reason for me to cut any hip-hop, I mean, there's no 18-year-old girls coming to fawn all over me here, we must face this fact. The audience I'm selling to still buys CDs, and they're an older audience. So I'm just gonna make music for my...Read more
Area events beginning March 6Canton Repository, March 6th
MINERVA Musician and historian Steve Ball will perform a free concert of Civil War-era music at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Minerva Public Library at 677 Lynwood Dr. Ball performs on Civic War vintage guitars and uses original sheet music. ANTIQUE FAIRE...Read more
What's in Your Bag, Max Raabe?Wall Street Journal, March 5th
He keeps sheets of music that he discovers whenever he gets the chance to steal away into a musical library or store. "I'm always searching for new songs and sheet music," he says. It's rare, with old music, to find the whole song. "Mostly, you find...Read more
Vintage Music Covers Were the Tentpole Movie Posters of 100 Years Agoio9, March 4th
When movies were in their infancy, the biggest and most extreme storylines weren't in tentpole summer films, but in other media. Like books — but also, music sheets. Sheet music of 100 years ago featured alien messages, posthuman visitors and more...Read more
Hidden sheet music in Hieronymus Bosch triptych recorded by bloggerThe Guardian, February 13th
“[a] 600-years-old butt song from Hell.” Once zoomed-in, the object of Amelia's interest is clear: Bosch left sheet music “written upon the posterior of one of the many tortured denizens of the rightmost panel of the painting”. Bosch Sheet music in...Read more