Special Collections: Popular American Sheet Music


The sheet music collections available in Rare Books and Manuscripts include the ballads, waltzes, polkas, grand marches, hymns, operettas, and show tunes that have become part of America's musical heritage for two hundred years. The collections offer an inclusive look at American history and the popular culture of American society beginning with homage to George Washington in the 18th century and continuing to music familiar to us in the late 20th century. The focus of the collections is the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music which encompasses the periods, persons, and events that have formed, inspired, and described the American past. For an on-line tour of collection highlights, click here.

Together with the well-known Lester S. Levy Collection are collections smaller in scope but rich in variety and content. Victorian sentiment, comic tunes from vaudeville, patriotic and military music, melodies from film and theater, and popular music of recent decades are all included in thirty-seven distinct collections cataloged in Special Collections. A sampling from the T.E. Hambleton Collection, the Turner Collection, the Brinley Collection, the Joan Gould Collection, and the Frenkil Collection offers the marches of John Philip Sousa, the blues of W. C. Handy, the ragtime piano of Scott Joplin, show tunes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and George M. Cohan, and recent "standards" made famous by Perry Como, Hoagy Carmichael, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, and Gordon Jenkins. From the Dickens Collection and the Poe Collection are "Little Dorrit's Polka" and the musical scores to accompany "The Raven" and "A Kingdom by the Sea," examples of the prose and poetry of prominent writers that inspired composers. Along with 19th-century waltzes, the Hofmeister Collection contains a copy of "The Star Spangled Banner" with a fifth verse written by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Many sheet music covers portray well-known entertainers from theater, film, radio and television, some of whom are Kate Smith, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Other collections by name are Alliker, Brinley, Clements, Englemeyer, Hughes, Kunkel, Miller, Taylor, and Wilson. Card catalogs in the Special Collections Department provide access to each of the collections by title, lyricist, composer, publisher, and first line.

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