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Sheet music cover for George M. Cohan's song "I wanted to come to Broadway" from the show "Hello Broadway." Cover art features two men dressed in tuxedos and top hats with arms extended and shaking hands. A sketch of New York City streets fills in the background.
Cohan, George M. “I wanted to come to Broadway” from Hello Broadway, sheet music. New York: The Cohan & Harris Publishing Co., 1915. Music Division.

By the People: Transcribing Sheet Music of the Musical Theater

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The Library of Congress launches its newest “By the People” crowdsourced transcription campaign today with its largest one to date: 16,000 pieces of Sheet Music of the Musical Theater! The campaign includes vocal-piano selections from musicals, revues, and operettas spanning the years 1800-1922. The public – that means you! — is invited to transcribe lyrics, cover text, and advertisements (not musical notation), ultimately making the sheet music keyword searchable. Such a transcription opportunity should appeal to a wide variety of people; teachers wanting to engage students with primary source material in a new way, musicians wanting to deep dive into musical theater repertoire, veteran “By the People” transcribers interested in working with a new format, and truly anyone with an interest in music history.

Last year “By the People” released its first ever campaign of sheet music drawn from women’s suffrage-related sheet music held in the Music Division’s collections. A far smaller collection, the campaign of approximately 200 sheet music titles was completely transcribed a mere eight days after its launch. Now, thanks to those transcriptions, researchers are able to keyword search all textual content in the digital collection Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music. For instance, let’s say that you are curious to find any women’s suffrage-related song that references the president or suggests that a woman might become president one day. Try entering “President” in the search bar in the top right corner of the page (with “This Collection” selected from the drop-down menu to the left), and you’ll find about a dozen titles that include the word “president” somewhere in the music, be it on the cover or within the lyrics.


Screenshot from Library of Congress website search of Women's Suffrage in Sheet Music digital collection. A blue arrow highlights the search term "President" in the upper right corner search bar. Underneath is a gallery view of sheet music selections that include the word "President" in the music's cover text, lyrics, or advertisements.
Keyword search “President” in the Women’s Suffrage in Sheet Music digital collection to locate titles that include the word “President” in the cover text, lyrics, or advertisements.



Sheet Music of the Musical Theater, the Library’s newest sheet music transcription campaign, asks the public to transcribe thousands more titles than did our pilot campaign. In the titles and lyrics for this class of songs, transcribers will encounter societal attitudes toward historical events, technology and inventions, social movements, and various other popular topics of the day. The collection includes some of the best-known composers and lyricists in the history of American popular music: Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, George Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and more. Women composers and lyricists such as Anne Caldwell, Rida Johnson Young, and Mabel Daniels are represented, as well as trailblazing creative artists who shaped Black musical theater like Bob Cole, J. Rosamond Johnson, and Will Marion Cook. American Yiddish Theater is also showcased with selections by notable composers Isidore Lillian, Joseph Rumshinsky, and Sholom Secunda.

Sheet music cover for Rumshinsky's song "Men Tur Nit" from his show "Song of Love." Cover art features blue ink on a white background, with a drawing of two lovers embracing and kissing underneath a tree.
Rumshinsky, Joseph. “Men Tur Nit” from Song of Love, sheet music. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1911. Music Division.

Before you jump into transcribing, make sure to review our special sheet music instructions! Thousands of pages of music are awaiting your attention. Explore the campaign, and let us know how you find cool ways to bring transcriptions into the classroom, or what you learn digging into the transcribing yourself. And, as always, email our reference librarians with any questions about the collection. Ready, set, go!

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