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Sheet Music and Songbooks in Special Collections: Home


Music clipart

Sheet music and songbooks are described here as they relate to American history and popular culture. Song texts and sheet music illustrations are the focus.

All other music scores in the MSU collection are held in the Fine Arts Library on 4 West.

Our Streaming Music Collections are a terrific resource for recordings of global music and American folk music, dating back to the earliest years of sound technology.

Music clipart by CC BY 3.0.

Sheet music

We have more than 1000 examples of popular sheet music from 1840s to the 1950s.

To browse chronologically, search for the key phrase "popular music" with results listed by date.

To browse thematically, search for the key phrase "popular music" and another term, such as:

Note that the catalog description usually does not try to say what a song is about, so a keyword search will only find words in the song title and possibly the first line of text.

For example, a search for popular music and love will retrieve I Love You Truly, but will not retrieve For My Sweetheart or Girl of My Dreams.

Racial and ethnic stereotypes

Cover of Romany, Where Love Runs Wild

The Sheet Music collection contains many offensive stereotypes of African Americans. These were a pervasive element of American culture.

Books and articles on this topic can be found using SearchPlus on the library website. See also a conference paper located in Special Collections.

We also have a collection of sheet music illustrating stereotypes about the Romani people, also known as Gypsies.

Songs about war

The subject heading War songs will retrieve songs from throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Or use subject headings for specific wars:

Songs from the Old West

Excerpt of song "Going West"

Search for the subject heading Cowboys--songs and music.

Temperance songs

Detail of temperance songbook title page

Search for the subject heading Temperance--Songs and music.

Hymnals and gospel songs

Cover image for Crown of Sunday School Songs

We have a rich collection of hymn books used in Christian worship, dating back to the 1740s.

The subject headings most commonly applied to this genre are:

Hymnals online

Seven hymnals from our collection (published between 1860 and 1887) were digitized as part of the project Shaping the Values of Youth: Sunday School Books in 19th Century America.

Children's songs

Search for the subject heading Children's songs.

Big band music

Two subject headings for this genre are nearly synonymous:

MSU songs

Detail of title page for Songs of Michigan Agricultural College

Search for the subject heading Michigan State University--Songs and music.

Opera librettos

Cover image for Grand Opera Libretto: Carmen

Opera librettos are normally held in the Fine Arts library on 4 West. We make an exception and keep a libretto in Special Collections if it is rare, or too fragile to circulate.

Contemporary music

Cover image for Rap: The Lyrics

Subject headings for contemporary music genres:

NEW! The Alfredo Levy Collection (MSS 443)

Special Collections recently acquired the music library of the Conservatorio de Música Alfredo Levy, a mid-twentieth-century music school in Havana, Cuba.

The collection includes more than 1000 scores, manuscripts, letters, and items of memorabilia collected by the composer and pianist Alfredo Levy Nadal. See a detailed inventory of the collection here.

Women's music

Songs from the Civil Rights Movement

Excerpt from Freedom Train A'coming

Search by keyword for civil rights and songs.

Labor songs

Cover image: IWW songs to fan the flames of discontent

We have many songbooks, and a few examples of sheet music, from the American labor movement.

These were used at union meetings, rallies, and during strikes and protests.

The subject headings used in the library catalog are:

Or, combine these headings with a keyword search for (labor or working) and songs.

Research Guide author

Michigan State University