Popular Music of WWI: Stories


Popular Music of WWI: Stories

Popular Music of WWI: Stories

Popular Music of WWI: Stories

This page will . . . eventually . . . become very large. It may even breed an equally large family of pages—we’ll have to see about that. Since I have accumulated quite a bit of information about the songwriters, publishers, and all the rest who are present on the sheet music archive, I will shape that which seems interesting to tell, briefly, the stories of each of the people. And that’s what you will find here.

Popular Music of World War I: Proposals

Charles Ives

I have been bedazzled by the playground (says Lou Harrison) left to us by Charles Ives for nigh on fifty years, so you would think that this page would be overflowing . . . but it’s not . . . yet . . .

Just another disappointment for you, I’m sure . . and I do apologize . . .

John Cage

And for Mr. Cage, the news isn’t good, either: there’s nothing here.

But I have put a few tidbits up on academic.edu, if you’re so inclined. And there will, eventually (but when??), be some more substantive contributions on this very page that is so useless currently. Honest, there will . . .

Popular Music of World War I: A Living Archive

The Spreadsheet

Underpinning any archive is a spreadsheet. The one on this page was begun twelve years ago and is still being corrected, changed, and supplemented. That process will continue, and if you plan to revisit the archives or these web pages, please check back at each visit; very possibly a new version will have been uploaded by then. The file is always dated, right at the start of the filename; thus this one is called “2020_12_30_WWI_sheet_music_website.”

Please download it and manipulate it however you want: sort, filter, reorder columns, rename, add notes—anything that will be useful for your purposes. It is your tool to use for your research, even if your objectives are largely independent of the image and metadata archive. 

Most of the information is straightforward and the layout, obvious; but it might help to provide a very few explanations, nonetheless.

Scope and contents

It must be emphasized that this spreadsheet contains information only about digitized copies of sheet music. There are surely dozens—in some cases, hundreds—of copies of a particular title that reside physically in libraries across the country. No attempt has been made to locate or view these.

It follows that when a title appears in several editions, printings, or variants (for definitions of these, see the “Conventions”), the order of these is usually speculative. That is, one or another of those physical copies might indicate that the “2nd printing” is actually the “3rd printing,” because the physical copy postdates the copyright deposit but precedes the so-called “2nd printing.” The ordering is useful: it often indicates how long a title remained current, and it often tells us something about the performance history, about recordings or piano rolls, or about the changing historical context. But the ordering is not a proper exhaustive bibliography of publications; that task is not manageable at present.

The spreadsheet brings together the Myers and Driscoll collections; it is therefore useful for joint searches or integrated comparisons, since these would otherwise entail two different searches and multiple pages in the digital archive. But the spreadsheet also includes additional digitized copies found online at other repositories. These grant a more complete picture of the history of a particular title; they make research and conclusions more secure, bearing in mind the caveat about physical copies, above. Online collections are constantly being created or supplemented, and every few years a semi-systematic pass through the archive is made to discover new additions. The key point? Once again: nothing is complete or final.

Each row in the spreadsheet corresponds to a single item of sheet music. The rows are color-coded: yellow for items in the Myers collection, blue for the Driscoll, green for items that appear in both, white for items located elsewhere.

Columns A through J

Columns A (“Driscoll Identifier”) through J (“© register”) replicate—or should replicate—metadata that is (or will be) entered into the online archive. They are provided here to facilitate searching and filtering. For example, using the spreadsheet it is relatively simple to construct a list of the music issued in Boston, ordered chronologically: just sort the spreadsheet first by “Place” and then by “pub date” or “© register”. That would be well-nigh impossible using the search mechanism on the website. But the website search mechanism allows for different kinds of research—to locate all the titles that have anything to do with a “liberty loan” drive, for example. For more information about this, see the “User’s Guide.”

There is one small difference between the spreadsheet data and the metadata in the archive: if no copyright was registered, the archive line will read “no copyright registered,” but the spreadsheet enters the year followed by double zeros: 1917 00 00. (All dates on the spreadsheet are entered in this form—YYYY MM DD). This alteration helps to preclude sorting that would mix numerical and alphabetical entries.

Columns K through O

It is very important to understand that copyright in the 1910s proceeded in two stages: first someone registered copyright, and then someone deposited copies of the object being copyrighted. Two copies were deposited for published music, except for foreign publishers, who needed only to deposit a single copy. One copy was deposited for music in manuscript.

Under “details” (Column K) is entered, in short form, anything about the publication that helps to date or contextualize it.

An entry here normally begins with the date of the copyright deposit—for example, “2 c. 1918 03 07.” Most often this is within a few days of the registration (column J), but not infrequently the two dates are weeks or even months apart. In general, it can be assumed that music was not made publicly available until after the copyright deposit—and certainly not until after copyright was registered. (There are some notable exceptions, but this rule seems generally to hold.) Hence the timing of a publication—crucial when it is linked to current events—depends more on the deposit date than the registration.

The timing also depends on information that can be gleaned from details on the publication itself. Nearly all commercial publishers advertised other titles on the back cover, and sometimes on inner pages as well. These advertised titles are also noted in column J, together with their copyright dates. From the principle sketched above, it follows that a particular printing or edition must postdate the latest copyright date of all the music advertised. Consider by way of example a title that was issued in several versions—“Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight,” for instance. The copyright deposit was 1918 01 06; hence, all the versions postdate that day. But one version advertises “For the Two of Us” on the back cover. “For the Two of Us” was copyrighted on 1918 02 23; hence that particular version of “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight” postdates 1918 02 23, over two months later.

From this information—and sometimes from details on the front cover or even, rarely, advertising history—an earliest possible date of appearance can be deduced. That date is recorded in column L (“earliest date”). Again, this is useful primarily because it permits the construction of an accurate longitudinal understanding of popularity: a title was only briefly popular (or not at all popular) and issued only in one form, or in forms that closely follow the copyright; or a title was popular over a long period, as evidenced by forms that can be dated months or years apart. The reason for the “earliest date” is given in column M, in shorthand: fc (front cover), bc (back cover), “2nd printing” (which presumably would follow the first by at least a day), and so forth.

The remaining columns are less complete, because detailed study of individual titles is still under way. Column N (“version”) contains a shorthand code or tag that helps identify recurring covers or inner pages. The number is of the edition, usually; letters taken from the front of the alphabet (a, b, c, etc.) indicate different front covers, in order of publication; letters in reverse order from the end of the alphabet (z, y, x, etc.) indicate different back covers; letters in the center of the alphabet (m, n, o, etc.) indicate different inner pages. And the final column, “order,” is a working hypothesis of the order in which different versions appeared.

For you (and me) to do

Again: this is not research; this is a tool for research. There is much that remains to be done. I, for example, would like to insert a column for cover artists, and I hope a future version of the spreadsheet will contain that. I also need to complete, edit, and clarify existing entries. And, as I noted, more entries will appear, almost certainly, with every web search that is done.

But you might want to do something very different—which is exactly why I offer you raw data, rather than a set of interpretations. My only request is that, if possible, you inform me of your discoveries and insights, particularly if these will enrich the spreadsheet (and perhaps the online archive) further. Public, open access to data makes us all collaborators—and that, in my judgment, makes the world a better place. 

Popular Music of World War I

This set of web pages is in part a companion and guide to two digital archives: the World War I Sheet Music from the James Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music and the James Edward Myers World War I Sheet Music Collection. It is titled, however, Popular Music of World War I: A Living Archive, because its contents extend well beyond a simple introduction to the collections. Included are an introduction, a summary of the conventions that govern metadata for the two archives, a history of the entire project from my undergraduate years to 2018, a spreadsheet that presents the metadata in an alternative form, and a “User’s Guide” for persons wishing to use the whole for their own research. Ancillary pages list, briefly describe, and sometimes supplement publications and lectures that have derived from the project. 

These pages are designed to be used, not read. And it is my hope that in exploring their use, both pleasures and rewards will be found. Happy explorations!     

—William Brooks


Popular Music of World War I: A Living Archive

A tool for research

to accompany the digital archives
World War I Sheet Music from the James Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music
and the
James Edward Myers World War I Sheet Music Collection


Conceived, researched, and written
William Brooks


Archival metadata written, entered, and edited
William Brooks


Digitized images created
Newberry library staff, under the direction of
Jen Wolfe, Jennifer Thom, and John Powell
and by
University of Illinois library staff, under the direction of
M. J. Han, Angela Waarala, and Patricia Lampron


Initial inventory created
Newberry Library volunteers, directed by Douglas Knox
and by
University of Illinois Library School students, directed by Scott Schwartz


Funding provided
The Arts and Humanities Research Board
The Hampsong Foundation
The National Endowment for the Humanities
The University of Illinois
The Newberry Library


Special thanks to
Scott Schwartz, Patricia Lampron, M. J. Han, and Angela Waarala
at the University of Illinois
and to
Doug Knox, Jennifer Thom, Jen Wolfe, and John Powell
at the Newberry Library


Continue to the Introduction

all content © William Brooks

December 20, 2020