Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Series 3: African-American Music

Collection ID:
DeVincent, Sam, 1918-1997
circa 1828-1980
Physical Description:
79 Boxes
Sam DeVincent loved music and art and began collecting sheet music with lithographs at an early age. Series 3: African-American Music, contains circa 7,800 pieces of sheet music and folios dating from the 1820s to the 1980s; most of the material dates from after 1890. An overview to the entire DeVincent collection is available here: Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music.

Scope and Contents note
Scope and Contents note
The African-American series contains circa 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), often written in dialect and usually filled with negative stereotypes. Most, but not all, of the composers of this material were white. 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 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 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.

Arrangement note
Arrangement note
Arranged in 9 subseries.
  • 3.1: Minstrel Shows and Blackface Entertainers
  • 3.2: Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • 3.3: African-American Folk-songs 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
  • 3.9: Ephemera

NMAH Staff
Immediate Source of Acquisition note
This collection was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution in 1988 from Sam and Nancy Lee DeVincent.

Digital Content
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Using the Collection
Preferred Citation note
The Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Conditions Governing Access note
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use note
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.

Materials in Other Organizations
Materials in Other Organizations
Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
This collection contains duplicates of materials in the Smithsonian collection, as well as materials acquired by Mr. DeVincent after the donation to the Smithsonian. The phonograph records described above were transferred to the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Donald J. Stubblebine Collection of Musical Theater and Motion Picture Sheet Music and Reference Material, 1843-2010 (AC1211)

Forms Part Of
Forms Part Of
Series 3: African-American Music forms part of the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music .
An ongoing, updated list of DeVincent topical series is available via the Smithsonian finding aid portal.

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