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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Recent News: Sheet Music

Source: Google News

Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh brings mutants, postcards to MCA Denver
Colorado Public Radio, October 31st

One room displays a series of “Beautiful Mutants” -- vintage photographs edited to present symmetrical reflections of one side of a subject's body or face. The works surround a sculpture made up of the two back halves of a silver Scion car melded...Read more

Robin Thicke & Pharrell vs. The Family of Marvin Gaye - The "Blurred Lines ...
VVN Music, October 30th

The musicians have been embroiled in legal proceedings for more than a year after Thicke, Williams and Clifford Harris Jr., better known as T.I., who raps on the track, sought in August 2013 to preemptively protect the song from claims it originated...Read more

Don't miss Asheville's unmarked Lexington Avenue bar
Asheville Citizen-Times, October 30th

It's a mix of vintage and antique styles of furniture, with a dash of dark decorations. Like a crow in a cage, ... If you' ve got something special in mind, print out the sheet music and lyrics before hand, and Uncle Shabby will play for you. • Dr...Read more

Weekend Planner: 22 Things To Do In Los Angeles
LAist, October 30th

Music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The $15 general admission includes one beer scrip, a wagering tip sheet and a BC racing program. The $120 VIP: package includes two drink scrips, a food redemption voucher, a wagering tip sheet, a BC racing program and a...Read more

Apple: The Genius Behind Steve
Fortune, October 30th

The story is vintage Cook: demanding and unemotional. Almost from the time he showed up at Apple, Cook knew ... As a result, Apple's inventory, measured by the amount of time it sat on the company's balance sheet, quickly fell from months to days...Read more

Going Out Guide for Montgomery County, Md., Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2014
Washington Post, October 30th

“You Were Here: Photographs by Esther Hidalgo” Scenes depict development and urban decay in Washington captured with vintage film cameras and processed by photographer Esther Hidalgo. ... part of the seventh annual Kids Euro Festival, which features...Read more

How Sonos Built the Perfect Wireless Speaker
Businessweek, October 30th

The Sonos Studio is easy to miss, tucked between vintage furniture stores and art galleries on a sun-bleached stretch of La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles. Sonos is a company that makes exactly nine products—five wireless speakers for playing music at...Read more

Vaughn Wiester and his group pour themselves into punchy repertoire
Columbus Dispatch, October 26th

The Famous Jazz Orchestra is hosting a dance at its regular performance in the Clintonville neighborhood to raise money to restore a vintage piano for Becky Ogden, the former manager of the Columbus Music Hall and, as Wiester put it, the “patron saint...Read more