Songs of America: A New Digital Collection Available Online from the Library of Congress
More than two years in the making, “Songs of America”brings forward 80,000 digitized, curated items including maps, recordings, videos, sheet music, essays, biographies, curator talks and more to explore America’s history through the prism of song.
The free online presentation lets visitors explore American history as documented in the work of some of our country’s greatest composers, poets, scholars and performers. Users can:
- Search by time period, location and format
- Listen to digitized recordings
- Watch performances of artists interpreting and commenting on American song
- View sheet music, manuscripts and historic copyright submissions
Examples of the diverse content include an illustrated sound recording of “Over There,” a song representative of World War I; a curator talk by the Library’s Steve Winick discussing labor songs; and sound recordings of songs reflecting such social trends as the expansion of leisure activities including sports and going to the movies.
Other highlights of the presentation include the first music textbook published in colonial America (1744), Irving Berlin’s handwritten lyric sheet for “God Bless America,” the Library’s collection of first edition sheet music by Stephen Foster and performances by baritone Thomas Hampson and soprano Christine Brewer.
A post on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog provides more highlights:
- An interactive map of the United States, which highlights musical traditions by state and region. A second map focuses just on “Mapping the Songs of the Civil War.”
- A timeline of events that provides entry points based on eras, and illustrates the interconnectedness of culture and history. For example, 1943 offers “Roosevelt and Hitler” a blues song from Buster Ezell, an African American living in the Jim Crow south.
- Articles and essays on historical topics like Immigration, War, Conflict, Politics, and Work with context for connecting music to social studies themes. An illustrated sound recording of “Sprinkle Coal Dust on My Grave” offers insight into the coal industry, the nature of work, energy production and consumption, and industrialization through multiple perspectives.
- Biographies from colonial figures to artists of today, illuminating the people behind the music like Francis Hopkinson, Scott Joplin, Vera Hall, Aaron Copland, and Woody Guthrie.
- Essays about the history of specific songs, and the opportunity to listen to different interpretations, for example with the “Star Spangled Banner” as played by different bands in different eras.
- A key word search of the entire collection. Buffalo, railroad, train, telegraph, and Native American yielded primary sources for a study of technology and westward expansion. Narrow the search by time period, subject, and format, for example, audio or music score, to find just the right source.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.