On February 13, 1914, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded in New York City. The purpose of this organization was–and remains–to protect the copyright and performance rights of the works of its members: composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers. ASCAP’s first director was composer and musician Victor Herbert, an eloquent supporter of musicians’ rights to receive royalties for the use of their work.
According to the story told about the birth of the society, the popular composer Victor Herbert became aware of the need for protection of musical creators’ rights when he was visiting a hotel and overheard a musician playing a piece of music that he had written. He knew that he had not been paid for the use of his music in performance, even though copyright law had protected against the unauthorized public performance of music since 1897. From that time, Herbert worked hard to organize creative artists into a collective and to bring the problem of payment of royalties to the attention of policymakers.
Compositions of ASCAP Members
Early associated with Thomas Edison, Herbert recognized the importance of the phonograph, making and issuing early recordings of some of his works in orchestral versions. Herbert’s testimony had an impact on the passage of the 1909 Copyright Law of the United States (PDF), that extended composers’ rights to include royalties for the sale of recorded music.
Herbert served as director and vice president of ASCAP until his death in 1924. Some other members of ASCAP represented in the Library’s collections include W.C. Handy, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Ira and George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, and Leonard Bernstein.
Today, members of ASCAP include musical composers of all types of music from rock, hip hop, country western, and musical comedy, to symphonic and operatic music. A small sample of the ASCAP membership includes Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mariah Carey, Elvis Costello, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stephen Sondheim, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews, Burt Bacharach, André Previn, Alanis Morrisette, and Korn.
- Explore the exhibition ASCAP: 100 Years and Beyond which was created to celebrate the ASCAP Collection at the Library of Congress on the occasion of the organization’s centennial in 2014.
- Search the Library’s Event Videos collection on ASCAP to find the “We Write the Songs” concerts which celebrate members of ASCAP as well as the ASCAP Foundation’s gift of their papers to the Library.
- For more history and background on ASCAP and information about its members, visit the society’s websiteExternal. The site also includes a list of ASCAP winners and nominees for the Grammy awards.
- For more on the life and work of musicians and composers, search Today in History. Examples of artists featured include Dizzie Gillespie, Aaron Copland, Louis Jordan, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sophie Tucker.
- The Performing Arts Databases include a rich diversity of performing arts materials.
- Search these sheet music collections on composers’ names, such as Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, or Jerome Kern, to see more examples of music written by ASCAP members:
- Historic American Sheet MusicExternal. Duke University Libraries
- Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820 to 1860 & ca. 1870 to 1885
- African American Sheet Music External. Brown University Libraries