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America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets

Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

The America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets collection has been migrated to an improved presentation and will no longer be updated in American Memory. Please visit the new presentation.


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For most of the nineteenth century, before the advent of phonograph and radio technologies, Americans learned the latest songs from printed song sheets. Not to be confused with sheet music, song sheets are single printed sheets, usually six by eight inches, with lyrics but no music. These were new songs being sung in music halls or new lyrics to familiar songs, like "Yankee Doodle" or "The Last Rose of Summer." Some of America's most beloved tunes were printed as song sheets, including "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Song sheets are an early example of a mass medium and today they offer a unique perspective on the political, social, and economic life of the time, especially during the Civil War. Some were dramatic, some were humorous; all of them had America joining together in song. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress holds 4291 song sheets. Included among these American songs are ninety-seven British song sheets from Dublin and London. The collection spans the period from the turn of the nineteenth century to the 1880s, although a majority of the song sheets were published during the height of the craze, from the 1850s to the 1870s.
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The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.


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