Songs in the Key of Los Angeles: Sheet Music from the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library

Long before MP3 files and ringtones dominated the music realm of pop culture, sheet music was all the rage. From the 1850s through the 1950s, stores cropped up selling nothing but the stuff, with institutions like the Los Angeles Times giving away free printed songs as special supplements to its regular newspaper. The Los Angeles Central Library has since amassed the now-rare items into a sheet-music collection 50,000-pieces strong, providing a huge resource for professor Josh Kun, director of the Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, and his students to research material for a new book from Angel City Press: Songs in the Key of Los Angeles: Sheet Music from the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

In conjunction with the book’s recent release, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles highlights some of the most vivid sheet-music samples in a related exhibition at the Los Angeles Central Library; Songs in the Key of LA kicks off July 1, followed by a musical conversation with author Josh Kun and Quetzal July 18 and two special programs at Grand Performances: Off the Shelf: Creating LA’s 21st Century Library July 25 and Songs in the Key of LA with Ozomatli and Friends August 2.

Los Angeles City Librarian John F. Szabo says, “We are pleased to bring this incredible collection to light, as it demonstrates this important fact: Public libraries are every-person institutions, where everyone, from scholars to middle schoolers, can unearth treasures that can teach, inspire, and even change their lives.”

“This unprecedented collection would be lost to us if not for the intrepid public librarians who recognized its importance in the building and defining of Los Angeles,” says the Library Foundation’s Ken Brecher. “It is our pleasure to work with the Library to unveil these songs ā€” some for the first time in 100 years ā€” to the people they belong to, the people of Los Angeles”

Check out some of the amazing items from Songs in the Key of LA below.

“I’m Going Back to California, That’s Where I Belong,” 1916 (Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Sheet Music Collection)