I’m a sucker for vintage sheet music, but most of my
favorite examples are movie-related. I never realized how many songs were
written as paeans to the city of Los Angeles and its way of life, or how great
a role these songs played in the boosterism that made Southern California a
sun-kissed Mecca for thousands of people in the early 20th century. City
fathers were still pursuing that public-relations angle as late as 1959, when
Oscar-winning tunesmiths Jay Livingston and Ray Evans composed a commissioned
city song called “Angeltown.” All of that is documented in an eye-opening,
lavishly designed volume called Songs in
the Key of Los Angeles: Sheet Music from the Collection of the Los Angeles
Public Library, published by the pop-culture mavens at Angel City Press.
It was the discovery of this nearly-forgotten collection at
the Los Angeles Public Library by USC professor Josh Kun that led to the
publication of this book and a number of related events. If you live in L.A.
you can attend a musical event this coming Thursday (which you can read about HERE)
but anyone can click and listen to newly-minted recordings of selected songs
and find other related material online HERE. Way back when, the Library did not
loan out these sheets but had rehearsal rooms with pianos where visitors could
try out the songs right on the premises. Gone are the days…
The handsome, oversized book is more than a mere catalog of
reprinted sheet music, however. Kun, who directs the Popular Music Project for
the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, offers
an informative essay that places these artifacts into social and historical
context; other scholars and musicologists (including Stew and the redoubtable
Van Dyke Parks) offer their own points of view.
What a lovely discovery!