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Representations of Blackness in Music of the United States (1830-1920)

This collection is a grouping of approximately 1,400 items dating from the 1830s to the 1920s. The contents of the collection depict representations of Black diasporic people and cultures through close to a century of illustrations and musical and lyrical compositions found in sheet music publications. The collection depicts representations of Blackness during an era dominated by the sheet music publishing industry and prior to the recording industry’s eventual domination over the commercial market which began in the 1920s.

While white-dominant representations of Blackness span the majority of years of this collection, representations of Black diasporic peoples by Black performers and composers date to as early as the 1870s with the formation of the first African American Blackface performers and minstrel troupes, and become increasingly visible by the 1890s during the beginnings of African American musical theater. The collection ends with works that point to the age of jazz, commercial blues, and African American musical theater of the 1920s. However, popular musical representations of Blackness continued to proliferate well beyond the dates spanning this collection, up to and including our popular music and media of today.

For additional information, context, and historical essays about the music in this collection please see the website created by the Brown University Library's Center for Digital Scholarship: African American Sheet Music

For questions about this collection, or other materials in the John Hay Library, contact

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Items (1-20) out of 1455 results

Items (1-20) out of 1455 results