Songs of America: Themes in Popular American Music

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 - 10:00am to Friday, September 14, 2018 - 5:00pm

Americans have been singing since the first Europeans and Africans began arriving in North American in the 16th century. In the late 19th century, most members of the middle class had some skill at playing the piano and often spent evening sheet music exhibit poster in-lineperforming from sheet music they purchased. The early 20th century marks the point when the American public began purchasing sheet music of songs they had seen performed live or had heard played on a phonograph (later known as a record player). By the 1920s, the public could hear their favorite songs on the radio and then purchase copies of the sheet music for their own collections.

UCLA Library Special Collections holds over 100,000 pieces of popular American sheet music dating from the late 19th century through today. These songs represent thoughts, topics, trends, fads, ideas, and styles that were popular and on people's minds that have since faded in place of new interests and curiosities. Sheet music exposes important cultural and historical context to the time of its composition. The collection documents the history of American interests, thoughts, and events throughout time.

In addition to the songs themselves, cover art often depicts song themes, changes in fashion and dress, and current artistic styles, while advertisements document popular goods and services of the time.

Many of the items on exhibit may be viewed as being insensitive. It is important to keep in mind that these titles represent the popular American music of the time. The sheet music collection provides an invaluable perspective of popular American thought. 

To listen to selections of performances of sheet music in this exhibit, please visit our Sheet Music Exhibit Playlist

Sheet music playlist QR Code


Library Special Collections (Research Library)