American Sheet Music: ca. 1820-1860
Table of Contents
Music Copyrighted in Federal District Courts, ca. 1820-1860:
Innovations and Celebrations

Images of African Americans

image: caption following
Good night mamma good night
by J. C. Cook.

Most songs, however, were in some way about life in general, and about love in particular. This period saw the development of a unique type of popular song, a song about the death of a beautiful woman, usually the singer's beloved. During the 1840s, such songs were most often about African Americans--a tradition culminating in Stephen Foster's 1849 song Nelly was a Lady. During the 1850s, the tradition became general, and any young lady unlucky enough to have her name in the title of the song was likely to be dead by the beginning of the second verse. A similar theme that became common during the period was the death of a child.

Numerous songs about mother usually were less morbid than the songs about the death of a loved one, although "The Maniac Mother" is suitably shuddery. The favorite leitmotiv of later generations of popular songwriters, the fallen woman, is the subject of a single song, aside from the fallen women of European operas such as La Favorita and La Traviata.

Another frequent subject was the waif, who was usually depicted wandering the street. One waif particularly popular in sentimental song was "Little Katy, or Hot Corn." This particular song even inspired a play, Hot Corn, which hoped to do for the urban poor what Uncle Tom's Cabin did for the slave.

American Sheet Music: ca. 1820-1860