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Ragtime Music in Canada

 

Chapter 7: Ragtime Sheet Music Art Work

 

By Ted Tjaden

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Much has already been written about the colourful art work on sheet music from the ragtime-era. Many pieces of sheet music have rich, vibrant colours and fanciful designs. However, many covers also portray stereotypical caricatures of African-Americans (or other ethnic groups) that are quite offensive for most people. Bill Edwards provides an interesting overview on the issue of racial stereotyping present in the cover art for many ragtime pieces (especially page two of his article). Edwards' research on this topic is extremely detailed and highly entertaining, containing many examples of sheet music covers and information about the artists. Rather than attempt to repeat this information, readers should see his article in the preceding links. Instead, in this section, I set out a few preliminary observations I have on Canadian sheet music covers. For more detailed information on Canadian sheet music, see Maria Calderisi's online essay from Library and Archives Canada entitled "Canadian Sheet Music Before 1867."

One initial observation in looking at the sheet music covers in the table in Chapter 8 is the relatively large number that have simple brown or off-white covers with little colour or art work (for an example of this, see the cover of The Maltese Cross Brand: Rag Time March and Two Step below):

 

Maltese Cross Brand: Rag Time
                                    March & Two-Step Sheet Music
                                    Cover

Left: Example of "plain" sheet music cover from Wilfred G Astle's Maltese Cross Brand: Rag Time March & Two-Step. Toronto, ON: Anglo-Canadian Music Publishers Assn, 1905.

[view sheet music]

Source:  Library and Archives Canada [top]

 

Although by no means a scientific observation, one wonders whether Canadian publishers were concerned about the cost of producing colour cover sheets or whether there were other factors involved. This is not to say that Canadian-published sheet music of this era was devoid of colour. The cover of Clodia (below) is rich in saturated color:

 

Clodia Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "colourful" sheet music cover from Wilfred Beaudry's Clodia. Montreal, QC: J Beaudry, 1908.

[view sheet music]

Source:  Library and Archives Canada [top]

 

Other covers portray realistic art or actual photographs of geographical locations – for examples see The Ottawa Rag (below) which has a photo of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, The Souvenir March and Two Step (below) which has artwork showing Toronto's original City Hall, now a courthouse, and Newfoundland March and Two Step (below) which has a historic photo of St Johns, Newfoundland.

 

The
                                    Ottawa Rag Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "geographical" sheet music cover from George Lynn's The Ottawa Rag. Ottawa, ON: The Northern Music Co, 1913.

[view sheet music]

Source:  Library and Archives Canada [top]

Souvenir: March and Two Step
                                    Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "geographical" sheet music cover from HW Arthurs' Souvenir: March and Two Step. Toronto, ON: WH Hodgins, 1901.

[view sheet music]

Source:  Library and Archives Canada  [top]

Newfoundland: March and
                                    Two-Step Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "geographical" sheet music cover from Peter Spedick's Newfoundland: March and Two-Step. Brooklyn, NY: CW Held, 1896.

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

 

One of my favourite covers is for The Saskatoon Rag (see below) which shows, in vivid colour, a girl skiing with very high mountains in the background. Clearly, the artist is using his or her imagination since mountains like those depicted in the cover art do not exist in Saksatoon!

 

Saskatoon Rag Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "geographical" sheet music cover from Phil Goldberg's Saskatoon Rag. Chicago, IL: Roger Graham, 1915.

[view sheet music]

Source: University of Saskatchewan Library [top]

 

On the issue of racism in Canadian sheet music covers, there appears to be fewer incidences of overt stereotypes or caricatures. Some of the covers below portray ethnic themes but would not necessarily be considered offensive by even today's standards – see Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo Two-Step (below) for a portrayal of a native Indian and Hakama: A Japanese Jingle (below) and Yokohama March and Two Step (below) for a portrayal of Japanese women.

 

Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo
                                  Two-Step Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "ethnic stereotype" sheet music cover from Wilfred Beaudry's Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo Two-Step. Quebec, QC: J Beaudry, 1905.

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada   [top]

Hakama: A Japanese Jingle Sheet
                                  Music Cover

Left: Example of "ethnic stereotype" sheet music cover from Wilfred Beaudry's Hakama: A Japanese Jingle. Toronto, ON: HH Sparks, 1905.

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada  [top]

Yokohama: March and Two-Step
                                  Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "ethnic stereotype" sheet music cover from Mollie King's Yokohama: March and Two-Step. Montréal, QC: WH Scroggie 1904.

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada  [top]

 

From the table of sheet music in Chapter 8, the most stereotypical cover art is likely the portrayal of an African-American couple in Raggity Rag (see below).

 

Raggity Rag Sheet Music Cover

Left: Example of "ethnic stereotype" sheet music cover from Raggity-Rag

 

Set out below is a non-exhaustive bibliography I have created providing more information on sheet music cover art and sheet music generally:

  • Allen, RT. "A Piano is Polite, Genteel (Some Changes in Fifty Years)" (reprinted from the Toronto Star, 14 Oct 1972) (May-Jun 1978) The Ragtimer 15-20.
  • "Big Seizure of Illegal Song Sheets in Montreal" (Mar 1932) 32:10 Canadian Music Trades Journal 22.
  • Dostie, B. "The Changing Scene: Sheet Music Publishing in Quebec" (Jan 1978) 127 The Canadian Composer.
  • Dunson, SE.  "The Minstrel in the Parlor: Nineteenth-Century Sheet Music and the Domestication of Blackface Minstrelsy" (Ph.D, Univ of Massachusetts Amherst, 2004).
  • Levy, Lester. "Grace Notes in American History: Popular Sheet Music from 1820-1900." Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.
  • "Retail Price of 25 Cents Announced for Popular Songs" (Feb 1931) 31 Canadian Music Trades Journal 35.
  • Tsou, J. "Gendering Race: Stereotypes of Chinese Americans in Popular Sheet Music" (Fall 1997) 6 Repercussions 25-62.
  • "Woolworth Stores Discontinue Selling Sheet Music" (May 1921) 21 Canadian Music Trades Journal 70.

 


In the next chapter, I set out sheet covers and sheet music for Canadian ragtime music and ragtime-related compositions.

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: February 2017.