American MemoryThe National Digital Library Program: Archived Documentation

The Library of Congress / Ameritech National Digital Library Competition (1996-1999)

Image from collection

Duke University

Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920

Amount of award: $64,688

This collection consists of 3,000 pieces of historic American sheet music from the period between 1850-1920. Drawn from a collection of 18,000 titles, this selection will present a significant perspective on American history and culture. The sheet music chosen for digital reproduction represents a wide variety of music types including bel canto, minstrel songs, protest songs, patriotic and political songs, plantation songs, Civil War battle songs, spirituals, songs from vaudeville and musicals, "tin pan alley" songs, and songs from World War I. The collection is particularly strong in antebellum Southern music, Confederate imprints, and Civil war songs. Also included is piano music of marches, variations, opera excerpts, and dance music, including waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, etc. In addition, some of this sheet music is illustrated. These illustrations represent an important, and in some cases almost unique, source of information for popular contemporary ideas on politics, patriotism, race, religion, love, and sentiment. An examination of sheet music reveals something of the inner life of the American citizenry in a way distinguishable from diaries and newspaper accounts, while also more intimate than the historian's descriptive synthesis.

Online Collection

Image Caption: Cover from I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way. George Fairman, 1917. (Duke University, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Call/Reproduction Number: Music A-9259)