The Best Musical Experience Ever!

A Brief Summary about the site African American Sheet Music

As its name states, the African American Sheet Music site is a recollection of African American sheet music that dates from the 18th century until today and it provides alternatives to look up music of all types and themes you can imagine. The sheet music used for this digital project was selected from the sheet music collection at Brown University’s John Hay Library, and it is also Brown University alongside the Library of Congress who created and moderate the site. John Hay Library is perhaps the largest sheet music collection in the United States, as it holds over 500,00 items where 250,000 are currently available for use. Out of the music sheets available, the most important music sheet category is the African Americana (which is music by and relating to African Americans) with 6,000 items available. The themes for this music range from songs about Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Post Civil War music and more. Music from the 19th and 20th century also have photographs of the performers which brings to light the change over time of racial attitudes and perceptions of African Americans during different times in history. Some of the photographs come in the forms of lithographic portraits, vignette portraits, and halftone portraits.

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Moreover, this project provides the examination of the change and evolution of African American music from themes in the lyrics, use of language, culture, attitudes, and for the experts … music compositional techniques.

The intended audience for the site is very ample as it aims to attract researchers, scholars, students of all levels, and the general public. The content of this site is very innovative as it gives people a chance to explore African American music in a way that otherwise might be impossible. Having the sheet music digitized gives people the opportunity to look at these documents and explore to one’s heart content the different themes and changes of African American music over time. Musicians who access this page have the opportunity of looking at these sheets of music and perhaps play some of the tunes to hear how the music has changed over time. Something I  don’t have the opportunity to do and perhaps it is something the site is missing …being a site about music. Looking through some of the title songs I couldn’t help but want to listen to some of the songs, but unfortunately some of these tunes are old enough that youtube could not provide and satisfy for my musical curiosity.

Nonetheless, the Digital Production Services at Brown University, have done a superb job at digitizing the sheet music providing high quality images where, like mention before, the not musically gifted (like me) still have the chance to read the lyrics, analyze and explore their content.


From the beginning: Page Layout and Accessibility

When opening the web page one is greeted by the imagine a beautiful little girl with music notes in the background. On the side you will find the tab headings: about, search and browse, History and Context, references, and Cds Home making the web page easy to navigate and very straight forward. Which is fantastic, since the site is directed not only to researchers and scholars but also to students of all ages who would like to explore the African American music. Therefore, the layout of the site would provide no difficulties in finding things for anyone.


The About tab, lays down the foundation of what you can expect to find in the site and the possibilities of research one can do with the sheet music. It even provides some examples of what themes one might search up or like to consider in their search, which is incredibly helpful for those of us who may not have lots of knowledge of African American music.

The search and browse tab, allows one to either look over the 1,455 items available or search over something you are initially interested about. A gave this a go!, and searched “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on the search box. The first thing you see is that your search is divided and organized for you by the different years, subject, composers, publishers, illustrators, and lyricists that may be connected to your keyword. If you decide not to go by any of these you can keep scrolling down and will find you also have a chance to look at your options one by one. They are all neatly organized in a box with a description, date, collection title, contributors, and other keywords you may find this music sheet under. When you click on a title, a new page comes up where you are able to see the digitized music sheet and an overview of all the relevant information. You are able to see the digitized music sheet, zoom in and out, and make it full screen. Not only that, but the site also provides a variety of formats to view the files in which way you are most comfortable in. The only thing is, you can look up African American sheet music only up to the year 1926 not up 1950 or today as stated on the site.Furthermore if you are not sure what you are searching for, you can always look through the different search options like years, subject, composers, publishers, illustrators, and lyricists provided for you to help you decide.

In the History and Context section you will find a slide show titled, “ A Century of African American Music” where one will find images of music from the 1820’s to the 1920’s where the public can see the changes in the ways African Americans were depicted during those years. A wonderful resource if anyone wants context tied into the images according to the year. Even better, it provides a wonderful learning experience for users as well as an educational tool for educators. One can also find more context thanks to authors Tess Lantos and Jason H. Lee who provide essays about minstrelsy in the 1800’s and its impact on race and racism in America.

As a digital humanities project, this site excels in providing the educational context about African American music one needs as a foundation for further research. It is very accessible and easy to navigate for the public, which is imperative for a project that aims to reach the general public. Navigating through it one can sense that whoever created the layout of the site, kept in mind the site might be accessed by kids or older enthusiasts. Not, only does the site provide for you learning, but it gives one the tools to forward the information. As a future educator, I will most definitely be coming back to use their slides on African American music from the 1820’s to the 1920’s to teach my student about the evolution of African American music. I bet others who encounter the site will feel the need to share and disseminate its content.

Keeping in mind my own project, I hope to able to provide a site as organized and neat in its content as this one. I have encountered other sites that are very difficult to navigate and make the experience a little frustrating. This is not what happened with this site as the experience is fantastic and easy. This website has potential for anyone who encounters it, being a student who will like to explore the images and see an informative slide or, an expert who wants to analyze lyrics and music. Either way, you will be walking away with much more than you thought. This website provides for all!

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