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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

Users should be aware that sheet music and songbooks, especially before 1940, contained many negative stereotypes of women and racial and ethnic minorities. African Americans are particularly maligned. This has been 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.

The William G. Lockwood Collection of Romani Ethnology and Gypsy Stereotypes contains hundreds of items chosen by the donor as examples of common stereotypes about the Romani people. Dr. Lockwood was a faculty member in Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Resource Guide Editor

Ruth Ann Jones

Instruction/Outreach Librarian

Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections

Michigan State University Libraries


Manuscript collections

Several of our manuscript collections include sheet music, soingbooks, or scores: All of these collections are housed off-campus. Please request 3 days before your visit.

Conservatorio de Música Alfredo Levy collection (MSS 443)

The Conservatorio de Música Alfredo Levy was a private music school in Havana, Cuba, active from 1947 to 1961. The collection includes more than 1000 scores, manuscripts, letters, and items of memorabilia collected by the composer and pianist Alfredo Levy Nadal.

Goldenrod Music records (MSS 471)

The Goldenrod Music records document the first 35 years of the Lansing-based feminist & women's music distribution company.

Michigan Womyn's Music Festival collection (MSS 508)

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival collection documents the 40-year history of the annual gathering, a cornerstone of 20th century women's and lesbian history and culture.

Sheet music & songbook genres

This list identifies genres where we have a reasonable selection of material. For other genres we may have only a handful of titles, but you may still find a gem! Browse all items in our collection which have the term "songs" in the subject heading.


Big Band




Civil Rights Movement


Contemporary music


Hymns and Gospel songs

We have an especially strong collection of hymn books used in Christian worship, dating back to the 1740s.

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.


Labor movement

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


Michigan State University



Opera librettos and scores are normally held in the Music library on 4 West. We keep these in Special Collections only if they are fragile, or very rare.


Old West





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

Or use subject headings for specific wars:


Women's music

If you're interested in women's music you'll want to explore two extensive archival collections: the Goldenrod Music records (MSS 471) and the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival records (MSS 508).

Cover illustrations

Sheet music for "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary" shows an Irish regimental soldier marching with a rifle on his shoulder.Cover image: IWW songs to fan the flames of discontentSheet music for "The Laughing Gypsy" shows a smiling woman in an old-fashioned dress and red cloak, holding a small basket.Sheet music cover for "Back in the Saddle Again" has a portrait of the performer Gene Autry in a "ten-gallon" hat and holding a guitar. Cover of "All Our Lives: A Women's Songbook" has a collage of black & white photographs of women.Cover of The Treasure Chest of Nursery Rhymes shows two small children watching a treasure chest burst open with imaginary toys and games.Sheet music cover for "The Light That Shines Forever (Is the Light of Home Sweet Home"). Illustration shows the sun rising on a small farmhouse in a beautiful green landscape.Sheet music for "Twilight Shadows Reverie." The cover illustration is an evening scene, showing trees and a river in the foreground and a  quiet country home in the distance.