The Library of Congress has made 13,501 items of sheet music from the First World War freely available to view online.
The World War I Sheet Music collection covers the years 1914 to 1920 (although there is material from as early as 1911), with the majority of material dating from 1917 onwards.
The collection includes commercially published songs as well as unpublished manuscripts and vanity press material.
Although some of these songs may have been written in Europe all of the known places of publication are in the United States.
The Library of Congress also offers access to free sound recordings from their collection under the title National Jukebox.Some of the songs available as sheet music are available as sound recordings from the time. To listen to ‘Over there’ performed by Nora Bayes on 13th July 1917 please click here.
The resource also offers articles and essays under the heading ‘America’s War, as viewed by Publishers and the Public’. These can be viewed here. The essay ‘Major Themes’ discusses George M. Cohan’s quick musical response to the declaration of war:
“George M. Cohan was already a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter and Broadway composer/producer when, on the day after war was declared, he composed what became America’s iconic WWI song, “Over There”. His earlier work had often displayed patriotic zeal …“Over There’s” bugle call chorus and stirring lyrics rank among his best songs. The song’s success1 inspired imitations and helped spur the popularity of songs about American involvement turning the tide and winning the war. It may be difficult (and perhaps unwise) to distinguish these from the general term patriotic songs, but they speak to a particular mindset or objective, that of a confident nation establishing itself in the arena of world powers.”
The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division has made available approximately 1900 posters created between 1914 and 1920. The image above is titled ‘Join the young brave throng that goes marching along’ and was published as a recruitment poster in London around 1915.
The World War I Posters website has an online catalogue here.