Special Collections collecting policies don’t include music as a focal area. However, numerous works relating to it have been acquired, not because of the musical format, but because the item’s theme or subject fits one of our collecting areas. Songs, performers, and musical expression form an essential part of our social, cultural, and political lives. Music serves many purposes: entertainment, personal expression, propaganda, worship, or protest, to name just a few. Given the expansive role music plays in human life, it’s not surprising to find it intersects with the breadth and depth found in our collections. Some examples of our holdings relating to music are on display here. The Dimensional and Artists’ Books collection contains numerous works about famous artists or popular songs, and temperance songbooks are included in the Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing collection. Hymnals from the Dimensional and Artists’ Books collection and books about the role of music in religious life from the Early Tennessee Imprints and General Collections round out this sampling of musical works.
Collections: Dimensional and Artists’ Books; Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing; Early Tennessee Imprints; General
Peter & Donna Thomas, Santa Cruz, California. 1999
The Thomases are legendary figures in the book arts world, noted for their work in papermaking, letterpress, imaginative mixed media books, and last but certainly not least, Peter’s love for the ukulele which the two artists celebrate in this limited edition accordion book. The covers of each copy are cut from scraps of wood leftover from instruments made in Santa Cruz.
Gilbert & Sullivan, Bisbee Press, Arizona. 1994
This diminutive artists’ book produced by Pat Baldwin at her Pequeño Press contains the lyrics from the Lord High Executioner’s song in The Mikado, an enormously popular comic opera first performed in London in 1885. The stab binding and decorative motifs are a nod to the opera’s fictionalized Japanese setting.
J. N. Stearns, New York. 1886
John Wesley Work
Nashville, Tennessee. 1915
John Wesley Work, Professor of Latin and History at Fisk University, has been described as the first African American collector of folk songs and spirituals. He directed the Fisk Jubilee Singers and published multiple collections of folk songs, one of which included the first publication of Go Tell It on the Mountain.
G. D. Pike
Part of Special Collections’ mission is to preserve materials with significant local importance. The history of Nashville’s Fisk University a cappella singers and the role they played in supporting education for freedmen and subsequent generations of African Americans is unique and compelling. The Jubilee Singers, organized initially in 1871 to tour and perform fund-raising for Fisk, succeeded in bringing $40,000 back to their school from that first venture. Their performances introduced Negro spirituals to a wide, new audience. The group has now added a Grammy award (2021) to its list of accomplishments.
Special Collections’ Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection covers all aspects of production, distribution, regulation, and consumption of alcohol. The great moral debate in the United States and elsewhere about imbibing intoxicating drink gave birth to the Temperance Movement whose arsenal included a large repertoire of anti-alcohol songsters, three of which are displayed here. From the 1840s through the 1920s, songs were used to convey the message that drinking destabilized family life and led to moral and physical decay. Marching Songs, intended for a young audience, references The Cold Water Army, a wing of the temperance movement popular with children in the mid-19th century. It’s best-selling author, Anna Adams Gordon (president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from 1914 to 1922), firmly believed temperance adherence should be instilled during childhood.
New York. 2003
Pop-up books are not just for kids. This celebration of country music produced by the staff of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is stuffed with, among other things, a pop-up Ryman, die cut of Merle Travis’s guitar, sliding transformation view featuring Garth Brooks in Central Park, and a pull-out tunnel version of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. The combination of interactive elements, historical anecdotes, and personal recollections from the stars in the country music firmament simulate a participatory museum experience.