American Music in the United States

Resource for American Music

The Library of Congress has perhaps the strongest collection of popular music of any library in the world. It has sheet music for standards ("Someone to Watch over Me"), for tunes so well-known it is hard to imagine them as notes-on-paper ("My Melancholy Baby"), and for thousands of songs that hoped for popularity in vain--"popular" in style, unpopular in fact.

Most important to the researcher, it has the many tunes that were once popular and are now little-known. These tunes may be important for conjuring up a time; understanding a reference in a novel (it was in the Music Division that "Seaside Girls," the song Leopold Bloom remembers obsessively in his wanderings around Dublin, in James Joyce's Ulysses, was first found); or documenting the use of a word (the Oxford English Dictionary lists the song "Mr. Jefferson Lord, Play that Barber Shop Chord" as the first use of "barbershop" for a style of harmony).

The Music Division's collection of American popular music is strong from the beginnings (whatever you may define those beginnings to be); for European and Latin American popular music its collection is strong from the 1920s on. Thus, if you are interested in what Josephine Baker sang in Paris--or Charles Trenet, or Jacques Brel--the Library of Congress is your best American source; if you want to find the kind of dance-band arrangements that were really played at the Berlin cabarets between the wars, they are at the Music Division, too.

Or if you are interested in the Cuban conjunto music which forms the basis of Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, you will find much of it--ready to slap on the stands and play--in the Music Division.

Barbershop - Of, consisting of, or relating to the performance of sentimental songs for unaccompanied, usually male voices in four-part harmony: a barbershop quartet.

Music that reflects a nation’s culture:

Classical Music

Rhythm and Blues



Current Music

BMI 50th Anniversary History Book
A current American musical perspective can be seen in documents from the library of BMI. The following categories provide highlights of the music.

Rhythm & Blues at BMI

Rock & Roll at BMI

Country Music at BMI

Hooray for Hollywood at BMI

Jazz at BMI

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all material is from U.S. Department of State – Info USA