SAM DeVINCENT COLLECTION OF ILLUSTRATED
AMERICAN SHEET MUSIC, ca. 1790 - 1987
Series 3: AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSIC, ca. 1828-1980
by: Karen Linn, 1989
Scope and Content:
Subseries 3.1-3.7 are organized by musical genre and arranged by the chronological first appearance
of the genre in American popular culture. The last subseries, 3.8, is a composer/performer aggregation
including many musical genres but only African-American musicians.
The African-American series contains ca. 7,800 pieces of sheet music and folios dating
from the 1820s to the 1980s; most of the material dates from after 1890. Many of the pieces
were composed or performed by Afro-American musicians; other pieces were created by white musicians
using black musical styles (for example Joseph Lamb's classic ragtime compositions). A large
part of the series consists of songs about African-Americans (minstrel show songs, "coon
songs"), often written in dialect and usually filled with negative stereotypes. Most, but
not all, of the composers of this material were white.
The DeVincent Collection holds a wealth of ragtime material which forms an important part of
series 3. There are approximately 530 items of vocal ragtime and approximately 2,800 instrumental
ragtime items. The principle composers of ragtime have separate folders and are indexed by name
(however, some of their material may be in the general ragtime folders). One of the strengths
of the DeVincent ragtime file is its diversity and inclusion of lesser-known figures. Sam DeVincent
built the ragtime section with a broad conception of the genre, a conception in keeping with
the thinking of the time. Characteristic two-steps, syncopated marches, and some dances from
the ragtime dance craze (turkey trots, a few tangos, etc.) are included in the general file
indicating the widespread infusion of ragtime rhythms into American popular music during the
early 20th century.
A large part of series 3 is organized and indexed by composer or performer; subseries 3.8 is
solely organized this way. African-American composers who wrote only ragtime music, such as
Scott Joplin, have been kept in subseries 3.6, "ragtime composers and publishers,"
which includes both black and white musicians.
The jazz holdings in subseries 3.7, "blues and jazz music," are quite small; most
of the items are about jazz rather than the creations of jazz musicians. DeVincent organized
most of his jazz materials by composer and performer. African-American jazz musicians have been
incorporated into subseries 3.8. White jazz musicians are not in series 3. For help in locating
jazz material in the DeVincent Collection, see the appendix "Finding
Aid to Jazz Sheet Music and Ephemera."
There are four indexes in this register. The first two are for series 3: a Topical Index and
a Select Name and Title Index . Following are the two composite indexes which combine the indexes
of series 1, 2, and 3. These composite indexes are an important cross-reference tool.
For example, someone doing research on James Reese Europe would naturally start reading the
register for series 3. The index to series 3 lists folder 3.8 BB under the heading for Europe.
In the composite index, we learn that folder 2.4 XX also has a composition by Europe. Sam DeVincent
placed in the Armed Forces file a piece by Europe that he wrote while serving in the Army as
director of the 369th Hellfighters Band.
This series is arranged in the following subseries: 3:1 Minstrel Show and Blackface Entertainers;
3:2 Uncle Tom's Cabin; 3:3 African-American Folk-song and and Spirituals; 3:4 Songs about African-American/Vocal
Ragtime; 3:5 Instrumental and Ragtime Music; 3:6 Ragtime Composers and Publishers; 3:7 Blues
and Jazz Music; 3:8 Composers and Performers