A unique visual record of American history via selections from the James Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music
Browse all 2,900 digitized items: Driscoll Collection at Internet Archive
About the collection
With more than 80,000 pieces in its entirety, the Driscoll Collection at the Newberry Library is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of sheet music in the United States. It was assembled by J. Francis Driscoll (1875-1959), an American arranger, organist, and civil engineer. He began amassing his collection at the early age of 15, and was known for his deft bargaining skills and his reluctance to part with rare items. For more information, see our Guide to the James Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music.
The Driscoll Collection not only preserves a rich musical and lyrical history, but also serves as a valuable repository of American graphic culture. In the 19th century, the expansion of the sheet music industry in the United States coincided with the growth of the lithograph printing industry. Pictorial covers were increasingly included on sheet music to attract purchasers aesthetically and to provide a visual preview of a song's subject matter. This artistic tradition evolved along with changes in printing technology, and continues to provide a unique visual record of American history.
The circulation of drinking songs is practically universal to any culture familiar with fermenting. A type of folk music, with song lyrics that vary among regions (or even among bars), such tunes either take up alcohol and drinking as a central theme, or, if unrelated to liquor, are just popular to sing while drinking in a group. Historically, England, Ireland, Germany, and Russia produced the largest catalog of such songs, while most early American examples were English imports. Famously, the melody of the United States’ national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” was borrowed from the English drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven.”
The selling of drinking songs in the form of sheet music also provided a viable advertising platform for drink companies in the 19th century. Unlike earlier drinking songs, which celebrated the consumption of different kinds of alcoholic drinks, for example beer or wine, songs such as Charles E. Pratt's "Piper Heidsieck" (1878) promoted the consumption of particular mass produced brands. From the first verse:Oh, some may sing of Sweet Mo-selle
Of Topaz, Sherry ruby, Port;
For common wine they'll do quite well,
But as for me, they're not the sort.
Fill me a bum-per to the brim,
Of Piper Heidsieck, sparking gay
And every care and shadow dim
Will take the hint and fly away.
Images used: Good Fellow Songs. Driscoll Series 2 Box 39./Heinz is Pickled Again. Driscoll Series 9 Box 205.
During the late 19th century, members of the temperance movement in the United States tried to combat music that celebrated alcohol by composing their own songs with lyrics that denounced the effects of drinking. In “Please Sell No More Drink to My Father,” published in 1884, a child implores a bartender to cut off her father's supply of drink:My Father came home yester-even
Reeled home thro' the mud and the rain
He up-set the lamp on the ta-ble
And struck my sick Moth-er a-gain
Then all of the hours till the morning
He lay on the cold kitchen floor
And this morning he's sick and he's sorry
Oh, promise to sell him no more
Images used: Oh Gee-Poor Me, Never-No More. Driscoll Series 2 Box 39./Please Sell No More Drink To My Father. Driscoll Series 2 Box 39.
Nature & Calendar
Phillip Morris's "Woodman, Spare That Tree!" is one of the earliest examples of a musician incorporating environmental concerns into popular music. The lyrics, which Morris adapted from his poem of the same name, were inspired by an event in his own life. According to a letter written to his singer-friend Henry Rusell, one day while riding with a friend, Morris took a detour to visit a fondly remembered oak tree at his former home. Upon arrival, he and his companion found the present owner of the house sharpening an axe in preparation to chop down the beloved tree for firewood. Morris’s friend then paid the man ten dollars to spare the tree. The song even makes an appearance in James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which “Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of Woodman, spare that tree at the conclusion of the service.”
There are numerous examples of popular music with astronomical themes within the Driscoll Collection. E. Mack's "Total Eclipse Galop," for instance, celebrated the solar eclipse visible across North America on August 7, 1969. Days before, the Chicago Tribune ran a headline claiming that the Eclipse would be "The Great Astronomical Event of the Age."
Images used: Loves Golden Star. Driscoll Series 8 Box 202./Total Eclipse. Driscoll Series 8 Box 202.
Minstrel & Blackface
One of the most important sections of the Driscoll collection is undoubtedly the “Minstrels and Blackface” division. Comprised of roughly 3,400 pieces of music and illustrated covers, this collection-within-the-collection is an invaluable resource for examining the intersections of racism, theatrical history, and cultural and economic exploitation in U.S. history.
Blackface minstrelsy was one of the most popular forms of entertainment within Antebellum America. Created at a time when American performers were competing with (and envious of) better-compensated European musicians, the former increasingly staged comic and mocking versions of the latter’s traditional styles of performance – for example Italian operas or English theater. In such burlesques, minstrels paired racist caricatures of African Americans, depicting them as inhuman and/or child-like, with an exaggerated “black dialect” to mock perceived black customs and ways of life. The intention was to comically lampoon America’s love for European music and theater in order to attract a paying audience. As historian William J. Mahar has argued, “minstrelsy was a commodity, a collection of loosely related genres addressed to the lowest common denominator audience (but not always the lowest class).”
The popularity of these grotesque representations, along with their cultural distortions and mockery, survived well into the twentieth century. This is evidenced by the widespread popularity of “coon songs,” which presented stereotyped depictions of black life and culture in Post-Reconstruction America. Such music proliferated in music halls, on vaudeville stages, and, of course, in printed sheet music particularly between the decades of 1890-1920.
Images used: The Darktown Strutters Ball: "I'll Be Down to Get You in A Taxi, Honey," Etc. Driscoll Series 9 Box 205./Jimmy Crow. Driscoll Series 13 Box 292.
During the 1850s, the game of cricket was more widely popular than baseball throughout the United States. The British sport had more clubs, spectators, and coverage in the press. However, due to the standardization of rules and the emergence of a modernist rhetoric that promoted baseball as an orderly, scientific, and masculine sport, the number of baseball “fraternities” increased dramatically in the years following the Civil War. Professional play and paying audiences quickly followed, as did a resistance to local variations of the game.
In 1867, The Spirit of the Times claimed that “of all out of door sports, base-ball is that in which the greatest number of our people participate either as players or as spectators.” Baseball songs, such as Jas Goodman’s “Baseball Polka” and Harry Angelo's "The Baseball Fever" (both were also published in 1867) helped spread the sport’s reputation as a cultural mainstay and symbol of national unification in the wake of the Civil War.
Songwriters and publishers continued to produce such celebratory songs throughout the early 20th century as the sport continued to gain in popularity. Perhaps the most well-known of these, Jack Norworth and Harry Von Tilzer’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was published in 1908. Despite the fact that neither Norworth nor Von Tilzer had ever attended a professional baseball game (and wouldn’t until the following decade), the song was wildly successful due to its cheerful style and singable simplicity. Quoting an anonymous baseball executive, Norworth’s obituary described the song’s legacy: “Norworth’s song did more to popularize and sentimentalize baseball than any single factor in the game’s history with the possible exception of Babe Ruth’s fabulous bat.”
Although baseball is certainly one of the largest categories of the "Sports and Athletics" section of the Driscoll Collection, there are numerous others including archery, billiards, boating, boxing, cricket and croquet, fishing, football, golf, roller skating, rowing, running, swings and hammocks, and tennis.
Images used: Let's Get the Umpire's Goat. Driscoll Series 15 Box 310./That Baseball Rag. Driscoll Series 15 Box 310.
History & WWI
As broad as its title suggests, “History and Politics” is one of the larger sections of the Driscoll Collection. It contains music about political parties, partriotsm, the Suffragette movement, U.S. presidents, and the Military - including songs about particular conflicts such as the Civil War, the Mexican War, WWI and WWII. Also present are pieces of music about particular fairs; most famous among these is the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.
The Étude, a popular U.S. music magazine, headlined its Sepetember 1918 issue with the claim that “Music Will Help Win the War.” It went on to list seven ways in which music contributed to the war effort. These included “stimulating patriotism, arousing recruiting, inspiring fighters and raising war millions.” All of these aims are discernable in the example of Paul E. Hamilton and M.L. Lake's "All Together 'We're out to beat the Hun" (1918). A song which expresses an increasing anti-German sentiment during World War I, “All Together” is also notable as the printer included war slogans across the bottom of the pages, a common practice of music publishers during the War. These particular slogans read: “Wheat Wins War – Share It with the Allies for Victory!” and “Food is Ammunition – Don’t Waste It!”
John J. Donahue's "Don't Blame the Germans" (1915) is a war song of an entirely different kind. Aimed at the large German population living within the United States, the song attempts to fault all nations involed in the War, while stressing the strength of the German military and its resolve to save "our home across the sea."
Images used: Our Boys in France. Midwest MS Driscoll Series 6 Box 167./The Soldier Safely Home. Driscoll Section 6 Box 168 Folder S.
During the first decades of the 20th century, romanticized depictions of Native Americans abounded within the arts. Moreover, these stereotypical representations were increasingly used for commercial ends, as was the case with sheet music publishers' voluminous output of "Indian songs." As historian Michael Pisani has noted, these enormously popular songs were filled with "interracial flirtation and innuendo," a striking fact considering that, at this time, most states had laws in place that aimed at preventing interracial marriage. A series of influential Supreme Court decisions during this time that facilitated the federal government's acquisition of Indian lands - for example, the Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock decision in 1903, which declared that Congress had the power to unilaterally abrogate treaty obligations between the United States and Native American tribes - also heightened questions of and anxieties over Indian assimilation within white American society.
In addition to their taboo subject matter, consumers were also attracted by vibrant, colorful covers with stereotypical depictions of Indian life.
Images used: Reed Bird, The Indian's Bride. Driscoll Series 12 Box 287./Pretty Little Rainbow, an Indian Love Song. Driscoll Series 12 Box 287.
As the Newberry is home to a vast collection of maps, atlases, and sources relating to travel culture, it’s particularly fortuitous that James F. Driscoll amassed a sizable collection of music that takes up travel as a subject. Many of these songs celebrate new modes of transport, such as the "Velocipede Polka” (1869), which evidences the public “craze” during the late 1860s for the newly invented bicycle. A paper in Indiana described the surge in interest and popularity over the new contraption thus: “everything new is called ‘velocipede.’ In walking about town, we notice in a shoe store the ‘velocipede’ boots for young ladies; at a music store, ‘Velocipede’ Gallop, and we suppose we shall soon have the ‘velocipede’ hat, the ‘velocipede’ necktie, &c., &c.”
Many other songs celebrate milestones in trans-Atlantic flight., such as “Lindy! Lindy!” (1927) and "NC-4 March," which was published in 1919, the same year that the Curtiss NC-4 became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
There are also 130 pieces of music about automobiles within the Driscoll Collection which were exhibited at the Smithsonian Institutions in 1939.
More information about the Newberry's Maps, Travel, and Exploration collection is available here.
Images used: There Goes a Horse. Driscoll Series 9 Box 205./The Brand New Model of Mine. Driscoll Series 9 Box 205.
As was the case with music that celebrated new “velocipedes” or automobiles, publishers also released a wealth of songs about the advent of new communication technologies around the turn of the 20th century. One of the most popular subjects of such songs was the telephone. Irving Berlin alone released about a dozen songs about the new device.
Early marketing events for the telephone often took the form of flamboyant demonstrations. One particularly popular method was the broadcast of a speech or musical performance from one location to an audience elsewhere. The cover to E. Mack’s “Telephone March” illustrates such a theatrical demonstration. Published in 1877, this piece of music is believed to be the first song dedicated to telephone.
Images used: Hang out the front door key. Driscoll Series 9 Box 207./Ring Ting-A-Ling. Driscoll Series 9 Box 207.
Sheet music provides a unique record of shifting attitudes toward fashion, both visually through their illustrated covers, and lyrically in song. For example, Harry Von Tilzer’s “All the Boys Keep Looking Down,” printed in 1926, makes reference to a particularly famous change in women’s fashion during the latter half of the decade. Hemlines, which hovered between the ankle and mid-calf during the 1910s and early 20s, were now, notoriously, rising to the knees. On Von Tilzer’s cover, only the bare legs of women are seen passing on a crowded street, while several male onlookers express their interest and excitement at this new spectacle. Here it should be noted that while sheet music was regularly marketed to and purchased by women, the music and illustrations were overwhelmingly created by men. It is often primarily their attitudes and “gaze” that are represented.
Images used: La-La-La. Driscoll Series 17 Box 349./The Sporty Girl. Driscoll Series 17 Box 349.
Note: this site features some of the 2,900 objects (covers-only as well as full items) in the Driscoll Collection at Internet Archive. The Newberry's collections are continuously digitized and made freely available online as resources allow. The header image is The Scorcher by George Rosey. Driscoll box 206 series 9.