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The Music of Americans

The Library of Congress has perhaps the strongest collection of popular music of any library in the world. It has sheet music for standards ("Someone to Watch over Me"), for tunes so well-known it is hard to imagine them as notes-on-paper ("My Melancholy Baby"), and for thousands of songs that hoped for popularity in vain--"popular" in style, unpopular in fact. Most important to the researcher, it has the many tunes that were once popular and are now little-known. These tunes may be important for conjuring up a time, understanding a reference in a novel (it was in the Music Division that "Seaside Girls," the song Leopold Bloom remembers obsessively in his wanderings around Dublin, in James Joyce's Ulysses, was first found), or documenting the use of a word (the Oxford English Dictionary lists the song "Mr. Jefferson Lord, Play that Barber Shop Chord" as the first use of "barbershop" for a style of harmony).

The Music Division's collection of American popular music is strong from the beginnings (whatever you may define those beginnings to be); for European and Latin American popular music its collection is strong from the 1920s on. Thus, if you are interested in what Josephine Baker sang in Paris--or Charles Trenet, or Jacques Brel--the Library of Congress is your best American source; if you want to find the kind of dance-band arrangements that were really played at the Berlin cabarets between the wars, they are at the Music Division, too. Or if you are interested in the Cuban conjunto music which forms the basis of Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, you will find much of it--ready to slap on the stands and play--in the Music Division.

Thumbnail image of Take Your Girl to the Ball Game George M. Cohan, William Jerome, and Jean Schwartz. Take Your Girl to the Ball Game. New York: Cohan & Harris, 1908. Attempting to capitalize on the success of Take Me out to the Ball Game in 1908, many composers wrote songs glamorizing baseball in the early 1900s.

Because publishers wanted to get music into the Copyright Office as soon as possible, the Music Division has many popular songs in versions which differ from the standard published versions. Often this is disappointing: a handsome song cover that is prized by collectors will not be present in the Library's copy, which will contain either the music only, or the music enclosed in a drab cover listing "Most Recent Instrumental and Vocal Successes." But sometimes these different versions are fascinating and very rare: the songs from Oklahoma!, for instance, in a cover bearing the show's earlier name Away We Go. "My Old Flame" in a cover with Mae West smiling out, advertising her new picture as It Ain't No Sin. (The title was changed to Belle of the Nineties.) Occasionally you can see a popular song taking shape before your eyes. Take, for example, "Sleepy Time Gal," one of those songs so well-known it is hard to imagine them being published. We have the published version, but we also have the first, unpublished copyright of the song. Both versions are about a girl who stays up all night dancing, but the endings are utterly different. In the published version, the singer looks for the time when the girl will change:

You'll learn to cook and to sew,
What's more you'll love it I know
When you're a stay-at-home,
Eight o'clock sleepy-time gal.

But the singer of the first version wants the girl to stay as she is:

The music has played
Because it's you who has stayed
My wonderful,
Dreamy-eyed sleepy-time gal.

All this is published music. The Music Division has popular music also in manuscript form. Much of it came in through copyright--occasionally in the hand of a major musician. (When a researcher called up the copyright for Louis Armstrong's "Gully Low Blues" he found that it was in Armstrong's hand.)

Thumbnail image of Harrigan and Hart's

Patrick's Day Parade Songster Harrigan and Hart's Patrick's Day Parade Songster. New York: A. J. Fisher, 1847. The "songster," which contained words, but not music, to a collection of currently popular songs, was a common way of selling such songs to an audience which could not read musical notation.

Much of the sound of American popular music is tied up with the dance orchestras that played it. The Music Division has a large collection of published "stocks"--sets of parts for dance orchestras. It also has Ferde Grofé’s own library of parts for his dance orchestra, containing many arrangements in the hand of the writer of the Grand Canyon Suite as well as many commercial "stocks" which Grofé has altered for his orchestra

Harry von Tilzer, writer of many turn-of-the-century hits ("A Bird in a Gilded Cage," "On a Sunday Afternoon," "Down Where the Wurzburger Flows," "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie"), founded his own music publishing firm shortly after 1900. It published his own songs, along with such other hits as "Row, Row, Row." The Music Division has the papers of the firm, which give a glimpse of the business life of Tin Pan Alley at the beginning of the present century.

Thumbnail image of The National Negro Opera

Company The National Negro Opera Company performing Robert Nathaniel Dett's The Ordering of Moses at Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., on July 28, 1950. (National Negro Opera Company Collection)

American popular music is intimately tied up with American musical theater. The Music Division has one of the great collections of published music from the American musical theater; it also is the repository of the manuscripts of many of America's show composers. The list includes:

John Philip Sousa: Now thought of primarily as "The March King," Sousa was known during his lifetime also for his rollicking operettas. Venturesome repertory companies still revive his El Capitan, a tale of South American politicking, whose tunes are the source of the march of the same name.

Victor Herbert, writer of "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," "I'm Falling in Love with Someone," "Indian Summer," and "Kiss Me Again." Herbert tried his hand at all sorts of music: there are overtures for silent films, ballets written for interpolation in Ziegfeld Follies, two full-scale cello concertos--even a full-length hiss-the-villain silent movie score. Even for shows you thought you knew there are surprises: the manuscript of Babes in Toyland starts with a ten-minute orchestral storm-at-sea--not in the published vocal score--that was supposed to do the same thing for the plot of Babes in Toyland that the tornado did for the 1903 stage show The Wizard of Oz.

Irving Berlin: The papers of the man whom Jerome Kern said "IS American popular music," including material from shows from Watch Your Step (1916; its big hit was "Play a Simple Melody") to Mr. President (1962). Irving Berlin did not himself write notes on paper, so there are no "Irving Berlin music manuscripts"; there is, however, a variety of performance material, documenting some shows, including Annie Get Your Gun, in extreme detail. And there are fascinating sketches of the lyrics to Berlin songs, including revisions and extra verses. Here, for example, is a version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" written for Mary Martin when she played Dallas, Texas, in 1955:

... no business I know.
Playing Broadway at the famous Palace
Don't compare with this, it's simply grand.
Ask me how I feel to be in Dallas;
Like little Alice
In Wonderland.
There's no people like show people,
They smile when they are low.
Who'd have thought when I was on my mother's knee
I'd be in Texas? But here I be
Gettin' paid for doin' what comes natur'lly:
Let's go on with the show.

Thumbnail image of Asleep at the Switch Charles Shackford, music and lyrics. Asleep at the Switch. New York: E. T. Paull Music Co., 1897. No publisher of popular music undertood better than E. T. Paull that elaborate covers sold sheet music. Asleep at the Switch, with its soft-focus cover art, is subtle for Paull--in comparison to the strongly delineated designs and colors that give full impact to such Paull stalwarts as The Burning of Rome, The Ben-Hur Chariot Race, and Napoleon's Last Charge.

Vincent Youmans: The Music Division has the largest collection of the manuscripts of Vincent Youmans, the composer of such shows as Hit the Deck! and Great Day. Save perhaps for No, No, Nanette, the shows themselves are not much performed now, but the songs remain standards of the pop and jazz-singer repertories: "I Want to Be Happy," "Flying Down to Rio," "Without a Song," "Hallelujah!," "Sometimes I'm Happy," "Time on My Hands," and even that standby of standbys for tap dancers, "Tea for Two."

George Gershwin: In addition to the manuscripts of Gershwin's concert works, the Gershwin Collection has considerable manuscript music for his stage musicals--especially Of Thee I Sing ("Love Is Sweeping the Country") and Let 'Em Eat Cake ("Mine"). It also has material from his late songs for Hollywood musicals, with Gershwin's own piano accompaniments crafted carefully as an art song: "They Can't Take That away from Me," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "Slap That Bass." The Division has full score, sketch score, typescript libretto, and sheaves of sketches for the archetypal American opera, Porgy and Bess. The Collection also contains material concerning Ira Gershwin, including letters to Ira from Kurt Weill written during their collaboration on Lady in the Dark.

Thumbnail image of Jewish Songs for Violin Jewish Songs for Violin: Containing the Most Popular and Classial Jewish Selections. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1910.

Richard Rodgers is represented in several collections. The Richard Rodgers Collection contains his own sketches for his songs; the Oscar Hammerstein Collection contains correspondence, programs, sketches, and miscellaneous material from the Rodgers and Hammerstein era. Robert Russell Bennett's orchestrator's scores for several of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows are within the Richard Rodgers Collection, as well.

Leonard Bernstein: The Music Division has holograph versions of songs from On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, Peter Pan, and West Side Story. Some of this material shows music we know well in earlier guises. Larry Kert, who created the role of Tony in West Side Story, remembers of the first version of the Balcony Scene:

At that time, it was a twelve-minute scene; there was so much glorious music in it. But, for theatrical reasons, much of the music was cut and it emerged a seven-minute scene.

It is the earlier, twelve-minute scene that is present in the manuscripts.

Thumbnail image of Let It Alone Bert A. Williams, music and Alex Rogers, lyrics. Let It Alone. New York: Gotham-Attucks, 1906. Sung by Bert Williams, premier African-American entertainer of the first two decades of this century, the chorus of the song advises against meddling in other persons' affairs: "If it don't concern you ... mind your own bus'ness and let it alone."

The music of black Americans comes in a rainbow of colors. The immemorial spirituals show up in the Music Division in early Civil War publications, in the many editions of the Fisk Jubilee Singers' biography and souvenir books, in other collections of Jubilee singers before the turn of the century, and in many twentieth-century versions. These versions from our century include arrangements for voice and piano, the choral arrangements through which many of these spirituals are best known today, and new-wave collections like Ain't You Got a Right to the Tree of Life, done with the aid of tape recorders, which try to fix in notation just how the folk from whom the spirituals were collected actually sang them.

Secular black music in the Division goes back as far as dances played by Francis Johnson's famous band of free blacks, which was the toast of Philadelphia early in the nineteenth century. The sounds of his band are forever gone, since we have the music only in the form of piano arrangements; but the toe-tapping tunes still remain. There is a great deal of music from the early minstrel stage, challenging the researcher in black music to decide what is bona fide borrowing from black originals and what is just white folks' jokes. (What can we trust from The Ethiopian Glee Book: A Collection of Popular Negro Melodies Arranged for Quartet Clubs by "Gumbo Chaff ... first banjo player to the King of Congo" [Boston: Howe, 1847]?)

Thumbnail image of Naestsan Biyin: Song of


Earth. Naestsan Biyin: Song of the Earth. From the culture of the Navajo people, this Hozhonji Song, collected and transcribed by folklorist Natalie Curtis Burlin, is a benediction on the created world. It declares that, in nature, contrasting elements are complements and helpmates of one another: "Now the Mother Earth and the Father Sky, meeting, joining one another, helpmates ever, they. All is beautiful, indeed."

African-American secular music speaks with its own voice in the rags which began to be published just before the turn of the century. The Music Division has all of Scott Joplin's rags in first edition, along with the rags of other pioneers of the genre--James Scott, Arthur Marshall, Joseph Lamb, and Artie Matthews.

As ragtime was starting its career, the black musical theater was beginning on Broadway. Shows with titles promising exotic locales--A Trip to Coontown, In Dahomey, Bandana Land--featured leading comics such as Bert Williams and George Walker and major singers such as Aida Overton Walker and Abbie Mitchell Cook (who was later to be the first to sing "Summertime" in Porgy and Bess).

Thumbnail image of Abyssinia Abyssinia, with music by Will Marion Cook and lyrics by Alex Roger, was both written by, acted by, and published by African-Americans. The publishing house, Gotham-Attucks, was named, in part, for Crispus Attucks, black victim of the Boston Massacre.

Songwriters for this theater included James Weldon Johnson (later Executive Secretary of the NAACP), J. Rosamond Johnson, and Will Marion Cook. Cook was among the first black Americans to have his songs published by a major American "legitimate" (as opposed to popular-song) publisher; the Johnson Brothers, with Bob Cole, were the first black song composers to be accepted as part of the standard popular-music scene, writing ballads for general singing ("The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes") as well as racial material ("Under the Bamboo Tree"). This material is represented in the Music Division in myriad arrangements--song with piano, male quartet, mixed quartet, wind band, and potted-palm orchestra. There are even scripts for some of the shows--Abyssinia, In Dahomey, Jes Lak White Folks, and The Cannibal King--of which the first two are also represented in the sheet music published by Gotham-Attucks, the first successful black-owned music publishing firm. This firm, created in 1905 by the merger of the Gotham Music Publishing Company and the Attucks Music Publishing Company (the latter named for the black protomartyr of American freedom), also published such well-known songs as "Nobody," Bert Williams's trademark song, and the jazz standard "Shine." Later black-owned music companies such as Handy Bros. and Jobete--the latter the publishing arm of Motown Records--are also well-represented in the Music Division's collections.

The great monuments of jazz are generally considered to be recordings--located in the Recorded Sound Reference Center of the Library rather than the Music Division. Nonetheless, the paper trail of jazz is substantial. Books and periodicals on jazz and jazzmen are published in many languages (Jazznytt, a periodical published in Stockholm; Cutia de Rezonantã: Eseuri despre Jazz din Perspectiva Culturii Actuale, a book published in Bucharest in 1985). Discographies document the work of most major performers, and one epic forty-volume discography tries to document every jazz recording through 1967.

Thumbnail image of >Rising of 

the People: The Drum Tap Rattles Through the Land N. P. Beers and M. Colburn. Rising of the People: The Drum Tap Rattles Through the Land. Patriotic Song. New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1862. Crowded with symbols of northern patriotism, this sheet-music cover was clearly designed by its publisher to appeal to staunch supporters of the Union cause.

Thumbnail image of Lorena. J. P, Webster, music and Rev. H. D. L. Webster, lyrics. Lorena. Chicago: H. M. Higgins, 1857, 1861. Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chestnut wrote: "Maggie Howell (the sister-in-law of President Jefferson Davis), says there is a girl in large hoops and a calico frock at every piano between Richmond and Mississippi, banging on the out of tune thing and looking up into a man's face, singing that song. The man wears a soiled and battle stained uniform, but his heart is fresh enough, as he hangs over her, to believe in Lorena."

Jazz is finally represented by notes on paper as well. Many standard pieces were published in "stock" arrangements, sets of parts for bands to play. The Library has a wide if somewhat haphazard selection of such "stocks," not all of which were deposited for copyright. With them your band can attempt such standards as Jelly Roll Morton's "Milenburg Joys," King Oliver's "Sugar Foot Stomp," Earl Hines's "Salt Peanuts," and a whole bunch of Basie, ranging alphabetically from "Aces and Faces" to "Wiggle Woogie," and including such standards as "One O'clock Jump." Combo players can try their hand at Lionel Hampton's "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" or Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple: featuring the original Charlie Parker Alto Sax Solo."

More and more as the century wore on, black composers wrote for the concert hall. The Music Division has manuscripts of music by the pioneers of this group, including the seminal Afro-American Symphony of William Grant Still. (It also has Still's letters to the dedicatee of the symphony, Irving Schwerké) It has the manuscript of the "Rhapsodie Negre" of Florence Price, the first black woman to write a symphony performed by a major orchestra: the Music Division's photostat of Price's piano sonata, deposited for copyright, is the only known copy of this piece, which is now becoming something of a repertory work for pianists interested in African-American music. The Music Division also holds a large number of manuscripts of Ulysses Kay, and manuscripts of representative recent composers such as David Baker and Jeffrey Mumford.

As black composers made a bid for entry into the mainstream of American concert life, so did black performers. One of the symbols of this movement was the National Negro Opera Company, active between 1943 and 1962. The Music Division has programs, photographs, and papers of the NNOC.

Thumbnail image of Duke Ellington performing at


Hurricane Club in New York Duke Ellington performing at the Hurricane Club in New York. Ellington is stopping his ears in order to hear the band more clearly above the ambient noise of the club. (Prints and Photographs Division) (Photograph by Gordon Parks)

A new kind of black sacred music, usually called "gospel" (as is another kind of music most often done by white performers), developed in the twentieth century. During its early years it was little-recorded, and songs in this style spread largely through printed copies. The Library of Congress is the only major music library to have an important collection of the early publications of such pioneering gospel companies as Martin & Akers. It has copies of the original editions of such gospel standards as "99 1/2 Won't Do," "God Specializes," "Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There," and that arch-symbol of gospel, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."

As other ethnic strains in American popular music become of interest, other sections of the Music Division's collections will be reappraised: Yiddish theater music published on the East Side of New York; Czech polkas published in Chicago; Italian band music published in Brooklyn; German male-chorus (Männerchor) music published in the Midwest; Latin-American popular music published right by Tin Pan Alley; the music of the village-green band published (and in manuscript) from New England to Oskaloosa, Iowa. If it was a music which people enjoyed enough to have it published, chances are it can be found in the Music Division.

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