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Songs In The Key Of Los Angeles

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin July 9, 2013 at 12:00AM

I’m a sucker for vintage sheet music, but most of my favorite examples are movie-related. I never realized how many songs were written as paeans to the city of Los Angeles and its way of life...
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Home in Pasadena-300
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Sheet Music Collection

I’m a sucker for vintage sheet music, but most of my favorite examples are movie-related. I never realized how many songs were written as paeans to the city of Los Angeles and its way of life, or how great a role these songs played in the boosterism that made Southern California a sun-kissed Mecca for thousands of people in the early 20th century. City fathers were still pursuing that public-relations angle as late as 1959, when Oscar-winning tunesmiths Jay Livingston and Ray Evans composed a commissioned city song called “Angeltown.” All of that is documented in an eye-opening, lavishly designed volume called Songs in the Key of Los Angeles: Sheet Music from the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, published by the pop-culture mavens at Angel City Press.

It was the discovery of this nearly-forgotten collection at the Los Angeles Public Library by USC professor Josh Kun that led to the publication of this book and a number of related events. If you live in L.A. you can attend a musical event this coming Thursday (which you can read about HERE) but anyone can click and listen to newly-minted recordings of selected songs and find other related material online HERE. Way back when, the Library did not loan out these sheets but had rehearsal rooms with pianos where visitors could try out the songs right on the premises. Gone are the days…

The handsome, oversized book is more than a mere catalog of reprinted sheet music, however. Kun, who directs the Popular Music Project for the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, offers an informative essay that places these artifacts into social and historical context; other scholars and musicologists (including Stew and the redoubtable Van Dyke Parks) offer their own points of view.

What a lovely discovery!

If you’d like to see some of my earlier posts about movie sheet music, click HERE and HERE.

Songs in the Key of LA Sheet Music-650
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Sheet Music Collection



This article is related to: Book Reviews, Sheet Music