Sheet music by Black Americans and depicting blackface minstrelsy

CONTENT WARNING. Some of the materials in this digital collection contain anti-Black racist imagery and content. The Brown University Library has a project underway (December 2020) to separate materials created by Black artists from the blackface minstrelsy and more accurately describe each item.

This section of the Sheet Music collection contains 1,455 pieces dating from 1850 through 1920. 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. Particularly significant in this collection are the racist visual depictions of African Americans which provide information about racial attitudes over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For more information and context about this collection please see the African American Sheet Music website which contains essays and resources about the history of Black composers and artists and minstrelsy.

The sheet music in this digital collection has been selected from the Sheet Music Collection at the John Hay Library at Brown University. The full collection consists of approximately 500,000 items, of which perhaps 250,000 are currently available for use. It is one of the largest collections of sheet music in any library in the United States. The sheet music, primarily vocal music of American imprint, dates from the 18th century to the present day, with the largest concentration of titles in the period 1840-1950.

Categories of particular note in the full collection include 19th century color lithographs; the works of Boston lithographers; music relating to World Wars I and II; music from the Yiddish-American stage at the turn of the century; early American imprints; Confederate imprints; Broadway show music; movie music; musical settings of American poetry; Rhode Island music; octavo band arrangements; and a very large collection of general popular music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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