Sheet Music Art of the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931)

1910s 1920s 1930s Gene Buck Graphic design Henry Clive John Frew Joseph and Saul Wohlman Morris Rosenbaum ragtime sheet music art sheet music covers Starmer Brothers vintage graphic art William and Fredrick Starmer Wohlman Ziegfeld Follies

Last year, I wrote a blog entry about the Sheet Music Art of E. T. Paull, and the reason I did that was because of the visually stunning nature of the covers, which would arguably put them in a class of their own.

This entry is more or less similar in concept, since the Ziegfeld Follies are likewise known to have produced some of the most visually stunning sheet music covers of that time period.

To understand and appreciate the sheet music art, however, we first need to understand what the Ziegfeld Follies actually were. So we are going to begin this entry by taking a journey back in time to learn the history of this wildly successful Broadway franchise.

Impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, the founder of the Ziegfeld Follies, seen here in a Time Magazine photo from 1928.

The Ziegfeld Follies began in 1907, when Florenz Ziegfeld conceived the idea at the urging of his wife, stage performer Anna Held. Produced by Klaw & Erlinger, (whom I also mention in this article on Life Magazine,) the first show was performed at the Jardin de Paris (which, contrary to the name, was not a Parisian theater, but was rather located on Broadway in New York City.)

The Follies shows were a series of elaborate musical stage productions, held once a year, that had a tremendous influence on popular music and culture. Songs such as Shine on, Harvest Moon, (1908) and Row, Row, Row, (1912) were popularized by the Follies, as were certain aesthetic and fashion trends. (To put it in perspective, the Follies had the same sort of influence over trends that, for instance, the Kardashians have today.) Performers for the Follies included such iconic stars as Bob Hope and W. C. Fields. Yet, despite this star studded cast, one of the biggest attractions by far were the Ziegfeld Girls, who were collectively a supporting chorus group made up of gorgeous women, many of whom became stars in their own right. These include big names such as Barbara Stanwyck and Billie Burke. The costumes for the Follies were designed by popular fashion designers such as Ben Ali Haggin, Erté, and Lady Duff-Gordon, (who is arguably best remembered, alongside her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, as being among the few survivors of the sinking of the Titanic.)

As moving picture technology became more advanced, (most notably with the advent of "Talkies," films in which the audio was synced to the video,) and as radio came on the scene, the Follies, like nearly every other form of entertainment that was a product of the pre-radio-and-talkie days, and could therefore be replaced by such technologies, likewise met a slow decline in popularity. The last consecutive Follies show was in 1931, but it was briefly revived in 1934 and 1936. In 1932 and 1936, the shows were aired on the radio as The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. All these later efforts were a complete failure, but films based on the Follies would be produced later in the century, including Ziegfeld Girl (1941, starring James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, et. al.,) Ziegfeld Follies (1946, starring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, et. al.,) and Funny Girl (1964, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Pidgeon.) Given how soon after the last Follies show these were produced, one might assume that these are as close as a modern audience could come to seeing an actual Ziegfeld Follies show as it might have been seen during their heyday.

Now that we have explored the historical context of the covers, we can better understand the aesthetic. These shows were, as we've seen, hugely popular and influential, which would clearly explain the theatrical and "flashy" appearance of the sheet music covers. These were shows, and the sheet music graphics should impart that by sparing none of the showy aesthetic. The resulting art is stunning and very poster-like in its appearance, and beyond any doubt would have easily brought more theater-goers flocking to the next Ziegfeld Follies show.

Here they are, in chronological order, between 1907 and 1931. (The years 1924-1930 are not shown.) Before we look, I wanted to take a brief moment to let you know that, if you enjoy vintage sheet music covers such as these, I have a collection of restored sheet music cover reprints available for purchase here.

Art by the Starmer Brothers (William and Fredrick Starmer)

Art by the Starmer Brothers (William and Fredrick Starmer)

Art by John Frew

Ziegfeld Follies of 1912

Ziegfeld Follies of 1912

Art by André De Takacs

Art by Henry Clive

A print of the above cover is available for purchase here.

Art by Morris Rosenbaum

Art by Joseph and Saul Wohlman

Ziegfeld Follies of 1931


If you enjoy vintage sheet music, you may be interested in exploring our collection of restored sheet music cover reprints, available for purchase here.

Older Post Newer Post

Did you like this post?

Sign up today to get more of these articles delivered straight to your inbox. You'll also receive a FREE gallery wall based on a color of your choice.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published