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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Playin' the swing shift with Chops Big BandSan Francisco Chronicle, December 9th
Page 1 of 1. The 18 musicians carting their instruments and sheet music into Oakland's Terrace Room had spent the day in offices and cubicles and classrooms. Their music stands are set against a large mural backdrop featuring vintage images of Oakland...Read more
Janet Street-Porter: Too many women just can't afford to be mums - until it's ...Daily Mail, December 8th
This happened for complicated reasons - us childless women tend to be career driven, or met Mr 75 per cent (there is no such thing as Mr 100 per cent) after a few false starts, at the time we were too old to have kids and so we channelled our energies...Read more
Go Green for the HolidaysBoston.com (blog), December 8th
and give experiences rather than things (“stuff”); recycle gift wrap, boxes, bags, and bows for re-use; creative alternatives to wrapping paper: leftover wallpaper, maps, posters, brown paper bags, old sheet music, scarves, dinner napkins...Read more
Top 10 Christmas gifts for men 2013Bristol Post, December 8th
A laid-back A5 organiser plus iPad case in vintage buffalo leather with rustic stitching, soft construction and a zip closure. Features include a fully removable Left Hand Details: full height pocket for removable organiser with leather cover and...Read more
Two friends build business taking retro pinupsThe Virginian-Pilot, December 7th
Her parents instilled a love of rockabilly music and antiques, so when she bought her own home in 2001, she slowly began outfitting it with 1950s appliances, tin soda-shop signs, a vinyl booth and other garb of that era. Four years ago, Logan, an...Read more
Apple Loop: A Mandela Tribute, China Mobile Deal Nears, iBeacon Turned On ...Forbes, December 7th
“But they've just got too much money on their balance sheet…Apple is not a bank.” Icahn owns It could use the buzz about apps, TV shows, music and movies to offer suggestions to iTunes users about what to buy — or what to listen to (on iTunes...Read more
Making sound decisions in digital music worldLos Angeles Times, December 6th
The tyrannical iTunes infrastructure requires the vast variety of musical forms to be treated as songs if they hoped for a place at the digital table, and the lack of information about the music was (and remains) appalling. The Apple and Amazon war on...Read more
Hampshire teen brings new life to old musicChicago Daily Herald, December 5th
Daniel has several mentors in the ragtime community, including 86-year-old Johnny Maddox, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The two are pen pals and share a passion for collecting old sheet music. "There is always is a younger generation, ...Read more