Today in History: February 13
ASCAP: Creative Americans Organize
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' right 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
"An Old Fashioned Wife; Oh Boy!"
Book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse,
Music by Jerome Kern, 1917.
"Get Together: Fox Trot"
Music by Victor Herbert, 1915.
"Mandy: Ziegfeld Follies of 1919"
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, 1919.
"Beale Street Blues"
Music by W.C. Handy, 1917.
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 American Memory 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.
- For more history and background on ASCAP and information about its members, visit the society's Web site. 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 the Today in History Archive. Examples of artists featured include Dizzie Gillespie, Aaron Copland, Louis Jordan, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sophie Tucker.
- The Performing Arts Encyclopedia has 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:
Italian-American Mario Olmeda shared his passion for traditional Italian singing with folk music collector Sidney Robertson Cowell on February 13, 1939, in Martinez, California. Cowell recorded Olmeda's rendition of six Italian folksongs, including "Marinaro (The Sailor)," and "La Capinera (The Blackbird)," a song that he said he had learned from his father. Cowell also visited Italian-American communities in the nearby towns of Concord, Pittsburg, and Woodside.
Sidney Cowell, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right,
Roger Higgins, photographer, 1948,
New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.
Prints & Photographs Division
Listen to recordings of such titles as "Addio Mama (Goodbye Mama)," "Sugnu Monica per si e per no Lu Zitu Voglio e la Tonica No (I Want My Sweetheart and not this Nun's Robe)," and "Mio Marito e un Uomo Tipatiello (My Husband's an Old Grouch)". Cowell's comments on the Sicilians, made during her 1939 visit to Pittsburg, California, provide additional insight into this community and their songs.
Listen to the musical heritage and view photographs of numerous ethnic groups representative of the diverse peoples who settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell. The collection includes recordings by Armenians and commentary on some of their performances, as well as recordings by Basque and Croatian performers and images of some of their musical instruments and performers. Browse by Subject, Performers, Musical Instruments, or by individual Audio Titles. Search the collection on terms such as guitar, Portuguese, or wedding.
- Learn more about the experience of Italian immigrants in the United States by reading the many American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 - 1940 interviews with or about Italian Americans. To find them, search the collection on Italian or, for a more manageable query, Italian-American.
- Search on Italian American in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945 to view a variety of images.
- Search on the term Italian in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885 for songs with an Italian theme."
M. S. Blacklock, composer, 1878.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885
- See footage of the extreme crowding many immigrants encountered in turn-of-the-century New York City in Move On, part of The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906. The film, produced in 1903, features footage of pushcart vendors blocking traffic in their struggle to carve out a space to sell their wares in the congested streets of New York City's Little Italy.
- Search the Today in History Archive on opera for features on the Metropolitan Opera House and on famous American singers such as Leontyne Price. Or, search this same archive on the terms Gaelic or Molokan for more information on Gaelic and Russian Molokan Church music recorded by Sidney R. Cowell.
- Additional ethnographic field collections available online include Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941 and Hispano Music & Culture from the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection. The former was developed in the migrant work camps of California, the latter documents religious and secular music of Spanish-speaking residents in rural southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
- Search the Performing Arts Encyclopedia on opera for sheet music as well as on Italian.