This is the second in a series of posts featuring some of the front cover artwork from vintage sheet music. Some of the artwork dates from the 1920s but I’ve only included songs for which I can find a period recording c. 1914. When we see the photographs and movies of a hundred years ago, black and white images were all that the technology allowed. We see them now tinged with sepia tones. The medium of print was streets ahead and the vibrant palette in this artwork shows that life was just as colourful back then. Many of the songs in this and the last vintage artwork post are available online from Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music collection. I’ve also included links to National Jukebox’s collections for many of the names of the writers and performers mentioned here.
I couldn’t find any more details about this recording, I’d be curious to know the identity of the female vocalist. This beautiful front cover illustration evokes the imagery of the chorus.
My Melancholy Baby Lyrics By George A. Norton, Music by Ernie Burnett performed by Walter Van Brunt
Though the sheet music was originally published in 1912, this recording was made in 1915. The cover below is from a later reprinting in the 1920s with an autographed photo of Gene Austin. I like the blue and white rhomboid patterns on the cover, and the illustration of the woman is excellent, the merest hint of melancholy around her eyes.
This is the same Eubie Blake who played piano in Europe’s Society Orchestra. The clarity of the sound recording is quite remarkable, considering that it was made a hundred years ago. Someone’s obviously gone to some trouble to clean it up and restore it. I found this version on The Internet Archive. Eubie Blake’s piano playing is fantastic, this highly inventive ragtime piece features some unusual stops and rhythmic quirks. It’s well worth checking out the sheet music over on Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music collection, for those inclined.
Collins and Harlan were popular singers, known mainly for their humorous songs. This song features a spoken word sketch halfway through. This artwork probably dates from later than this recording, as you can tell from the inset photograph of Eddie Cantor whose career hadn’t begun yet when this recording was made in 1914. I didn’t think I knew who Eddie Cantor was, but it turns out I’ve seen a fictitious portrayal of him as a recurring character in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. This song fits neatly into that impression of him, the sing-song comic delivery, the jaunty style of the humorous song. I suspect Collins and Harlan were his all-time heroes, so it’s no surprise he later covered this song. The use of the term ‘darkies’ should make modern audiences squirm a little… Yes, true, the preacher speaks grand. Hear what he has to say, then hear them darkies play. It’s a term that now sounds antiquated and a bit wrong. But at least they’re saying that they’re ‘the best band in the land’. It’s actually quite shocking the amount of casual racism I’ve stumbled across in the archives. When I’m browsing on National Jukebox and I see ‘Ethnic characterizations’ in the description, alarm bells go off.
The typography on this cover is excellent. W.C. Handy also featured in my last post about vintage artwork. He was one of the first well-known proponents of the blues, a highly influential figure. One of these days I’ll get around to writing a proper post about him. In the meantime, enjoy the Saint Louis Blues.
My personal favourite from today’s selection of artwork features an illustration of a woman with tears running down her reddened cheeks. I don’t know why, but I find the title kind of funny as well. Al Jolson’s vocals are amazing.
This will be the first in a series of posts where I’ll be displaying some of the wonderful front cover artwork from the published sheet music of a hundred years ago (most of these songs were published or recorded in 1914). It’s been a real pleasure going through these images. The typography and illustrations of this era are beautiful and fascinating. So far I’ve only selected artwork for which I can also include a period recording. I hope you enjoy it.
The Yellow Dog Rag by W.C. Handy
The cover is vibrant red, there’s yellow in the title, and the song is written by W.C. Handy, a man often credited with popularising the blues. Now there’s a colourful story.
This version is sung by Peerless Quartet. The lovely illustration sets the tone for the song.
You Broke My Heart to Pass the Time Away performed by Manuel Romain
O! The cruel vagaries of love! Such a wonderfully melodramatic song. The wide-brimmed hat of the cold-hearted woman on the cover seems to say… Don’t get too close.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm performed by Albert H. Campbell and Irving Gillette
Though this version is sung by Albert H. Campbell and Henry Burr (credited here as Irving Gillette), the beautifully illustrated sheet music artwork features a photographic inset of popular singing duo The Manson Twins.
In the Palace of Dreams performed by Helen Clark and Emory B. Randolph
The front cover artwork features singer and actress Reine Davies.