African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


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Portrait of an African-American woman.
[Detail] Why Adam Sinned [cameo portrait of Aida Overton Walker from cover], 1904.
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This collection consists of 1,305 pieces of African-American sheet music dating from 1850 through 1920. The collection includes many songs from the heyday of antebellum black face minstrelsy in the 1850s and from the abolitionist movement of the same period. Numerous titles are associated with the novel and the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. Civil War period music includes songs about African-American soldiers and the plight of the newly emancipated slave. Post-Civil War music reflects the problems of Reconstruction and the beginnings of urbanization and the northern migration of African Americans. African-American popular composers include James Bland, Ernest Hogan, Bob Cole, James Reese Europe, and Will Marion Cook. Twentieth century titles feature many photographs of African-American musical performers, often in costume. Unlike many other sorts of published works, sheet music can be produced rapidly in response to an event or public interest, and thus is a source of relatively unmediated and unrevised perspectives on quickly changing events and public attitudes. Particularly significant in this collection are the visual depictions of African Americans which provide much information about racial attitudes over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

1997 LC/Ameritech Competition Awardee Institution: Brown University


African-Americans on stage, 1865-1910.