Top 10 Patriotic Sheet Music Covers: 1861-1918

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With the Fourth of July right around the corner, what better time to explore some favorite patriotic sheet music covers of yesteryear?

Just as with any country or region, Americans love to sing their praises to the land they love, and we've been singing practically since the founding of our nation. And, as any vintage art aficionado can attest to, with great songs come great graphics. This article will explore my picks for the top ten patriotic sheet music covers from 1861 to 1918.

Let's begin!

10.) Songs for the Union (1863): I will admit to being very biased in choosing this cover, because my reasons for liking it are highly personal in nature.

I stumbled across this as I was researching for this article, and it instantly brought back a memory of when I used to publish books. I remember using the decorative border from this image to design the cover for James Whitcomb Riley's Good-Bye, Jim.

Other than that detail, I like this image because of its use of two colors, which is very effective in graphic design in general. American musician Muddy Waters once said "If you're using any more than three chords, you're just showing off." And arguably that might also be said of designs that use more than two or three colors.

9.) The American Star! (1861): Another Civil War era two-color design. What is especially intriguing is its use of a broader range of fonts as opposed to just sticking with one or two. It's often said that mixing fonts is one of the most challenging tasks in graphic design, but here it is very effectively done!

8.) Hurrah for the U.S.A. (1915): As printing technologies became more advanced, styles changed drastically from what we've observed in the last two examples, and this is one example of that. Although this likewise makes use of a limited color palette, the depiction itself is much more dramatic.

Also, notice how the art was directly reproduced on the sheet music cover without any intermediary steps such as engraving or lithography. This is why we call it the Golden Age of Illustration. The public now had access to the closest thing possible to holding the original artwork in their hands.

7.) Dear Little Mary, Soldiers' Nurse (1917): The most effective designs are the ones that use nuance, depicting an old subject in a new way. We can tell this is supposed to be a patriotic design, not just because of its use of red, white, and blue, but also because of the star at the top. A white star against a blue background is an obvious homage to the fifty stars against the blue background in the American flag. And yet, it's design is fresh because it hints at these things while steering clear of any worn-out visual cliches.

6.) America Today (1917): As America was gearing up to join forces with the Allies in World War I, this song came as a gentle reminder to the public that everything was still going to be okay. The confident and austere likeness of President Wilson, juxtaposed against the Statue of Liberty, with the caption "Liberty's Still Standing in the Bay," as well as the top line "Don't Worry... Uncle Sam's All Right!" would have been very reassuring to someone whose whole world was turned upside down by the American entry into WWI.

From a technical standpoint, of course, the bold lettering, the bold pen strokes, and the bright colors, make for a very confident design as they shout out loud and clear that, although America is at war, under no circumstances will she give up her way of life!

5.) Hail, Columbia! (1898): Feminine patriotic depictions were quite common at the turn of the century, and this is one example depicting a very beautiful young girl proudly showing off her patriotic colors. This depiction is obviously very proud, but its delicate use of line and color add a feminine tone to it. Also, the intricate design elements such as the frame around the girl as well as the hand-lettering at the top and bottom, make for a very well decorated and charming graphic.

4.) For It Is My Land and Your Land (1918): During World War I, the blue star was hung in the windows of those who had loved ones fighting in France, which makes it all the more curious as to why it's being used in a design for a song that is more brazenly patriotic in nature. Furthermore, its relevance is not made clear until the second verse, which says: "The lassies are praying today for the daring brave lads who sailed away ... Dark and drear is the dawn since they have gone nor is the noonday ever fair For the loyal hearts waiting till the lads come back from 'Over There'."

Regardless, the design itself is still very effective for its use of symmetry and decoration, not to mention its abundant use of patriotic colors.

3.) Bunker Hill (1906): This design, for a song commemorating the famous Revolutionary War battle, makes effective use of subtlety and nuance by depicting an old subject in a new way, just as we said of number seven above. The white stars against a blue background can likewise be seen here, and are likewise a reference to the American flag, and of course the bold lettering and the use of red, white, and blue also evoke a patriotic sentiment. All these elements come together effectively in a depiction that is neither trite nor hackneyed, while still effectively communicating patriotism.

2.) I Want a Patriotic Girl (1911): This cover is not only bright and bold, (which, as we have briefly discussed, is an effective way to convey such a strong sentiment as patriotism,) but I also have to applaud its brilliant use of negative space in the girl's dress. All in all, it's a truly wonderful design both for its incredible use of nuance as well as for its stunning simplicity. Very well done!

Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some honorable mentions...

Over There (1917) by Norman Rockwell

Uncle Sam Won't Go To War (1914)

In the Good Old United States (1906)

1.) Over There (1917): A strikingly bold design for a well-known patriotic anthem. This sheet music cover was intended to promote Nora Bayes' successful performance, and it does so in a very celebratory way. All the colors are bright and bold, and so is the lettering. The photograph of Bayes in the center is likewise tinted with the bright bold colors of the American flag, paying special attention to her bright and stunning 1776-inspired costume.

All in all, a knock-out design!

That's it for this list. Which patriotic sheet music covers do you like the best? Are there any you wish I had included? As always, please let me know in the comments, and we can have a nice chat.

Till next time!



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