Vintage Sheet Music Cover Art
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The Vintage Art of Sheet Music Illustration

"When skies are cloudy and grey
They're only grey for a day
So wrap your troubles in dreams
And dream your troubles away."
"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" by Koehler, Moll & Barris

Sheet music cover for Painting the Clouds With Sunshine, from Gold Diggers of Broadway

We're at a loss, really, if we need to convert any of you to our love for the popular music of the 1920's and 30's. Would we promote hot music or sweet music, vaudeville songs, race records, blues, musical comedy and British music hall recordings, or any of the many other styles that flourished in the early days of radio?

Composers and songwriters like Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harry Warren, the Gershwins, Dorothy Fields and countless others provided the material that flooded the airwaves during those decades - when musicians suddenly had a means of broadcasting their music from coast to coast. The sort of music you may know from the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack was hugely popular because of the large numbers of rural families who had moved to the cities - but the music of the cities travelled just as well and just as far.

In fact the infancy of radio is the best analog we know for the rapid establshment of the World Wide Web. Radio stations faced new technical challenges, for one thing, but also, at the beginning there was no real consensus as to how the new medium would pay for itself.

Sheet music cover for A Little Bungalow, from the Marx Brothers' musical comedy Coconuts

But what we care about right now is the music itself and the way it was packaged. Up through early radio days people were far more likely to play music at home than we are today. When a song was popular its sheet music sold very widely - as Irving Berlin realized almost at once, and turned to his advantage by publishing his own work.

Sheet music was cheap, readily available, and popular. So in order to keep selling it in the face of competition the publishers packaged and branded it. Much popular music came from Broadway shows and talking motioon pictures - so when a show or film was released the publishers packaged all its songs in the same format, as we can see in the Gold Diggers designs, or for "A Little Bungalow" from the Marx Brothers' show (and later, film) The Coconuts.

Sheet music cover for Irving Berlin's Some Sunny Day

Tunes were covered by different performers, who might be pictured on the covers - like Joe Candullo on our "Whisting in the Dark" cover.

And of course many of these covers just featured striking art deco or American Arts and Crafts designs, as does "Some Sunny Day".

We don't get to choose where we love. If you're going to love this as we do, you already love it: we can't talk you into it. Go have a look, and see for yourself.

Use the links in the left (or lower) menu, below "Sheet Music of the 20's & 30's", to see the t-shirts, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and posters.