Songs of America: Themes in Popular American Music

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

In the late nineteenth century, most members of the middle class in the U.S. had some skill at playing the piano and often spent evenings performing from sheet music they had purchased. The early twentieth century marks the point when the 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. sheet music exhibit poster in-line

UCLA Library Special Collections holds more than 100,000 pieces of popular American sheet music dating from the late nineteenth century through the present. These songs reflect thoughts, topics, ideas, trends, fads, and styles that were popular and on people’s minds; many subsequently faded, to be replaced by new interests and curiosities. 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. Some of the items may strike a present-day viewer as insensitive, but these titles represent popular American music from specific time periods. The sheet music collection offers insight into the cultural and historical context of the time of its composition.

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


Library Special Collections (Research Library)