Popular songs about the State of California, from the Gold Rush through the vaudeville era, are celebrated in the new exhibition Singing the Golden State, which opens on April 6 at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. The exhibition spotlights graphically striking sheet-music covers published from 1849 through the 1930s.
"In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, publishers understood that potential sheet-music buyers judged pieces of music—like books—by their covers," says James M. Keller, curator of the exhibit. These images were sometimes by notable illustrators and artists.
In Singing the Golden State, the subject is California—its history, its geography, its people. The exhibit includes sheet music organized by such topics as the Gold Rush, fairs and exhibitions, commerce and advertising, clubs and organizations, sports and amusements, children, minorities, transportation, and a tour of the Golden State. There is a section on the state song, "I Love You, California," composed in 1913.
Until the 1930s, when the dissemination of popular music shifted to radio, sheet music served as a form of media. "If something happened," says Keller, "there's a fair chance someone wrote a song about it." The examples on display include sheet music for several songs relating to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and the "California Flood Mazurka," memorializing the great 1862 flood in the Central Valley, the largest in California's recorded history.
Singing the Golden State is a traveling exhibition from Exhibit Envoy, The Society of California Pioneers' Sherman Music Collection, and The James M. Keller Collection, curated by James Keller. It will be at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum through June 1, 2014. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Exhibit Envoy provides traveling exhibitions and professional services to museums in California. For more information, please visit www.exhibitenvoy.org.