Edited by Wyatt Doyle, Hal Glatzer and Norman Von Holtzendorff
New Texture, 2022. 180 pages, 8.5 x 0.63 x 11 inches
S ongs are hits, nowadays, because so many people hear them. But songs used to be hits because so many people played them and sang them.
Many homes had a phonograph or a radio or both; but until the end of World War II, the most important music machine was the piano in the parlor. And displayed on the stand above the keyboard were song sheets from Tin Pan Alley, with colorful covers that made people pick them up and exclaim, “Oooh! Let’s play this one!”
Sheet music was a big business in America. In the 1920s and ‘30s, you could buy five songs for a dollar; and the most popular songs sold literally millions of copies.
You could buy them practically anywhere – not just in music stores. Department stores like Macy’s, retail chains like Woolworth’s, and even the biggest drugstores all had music sections, with upright pianos, performers, called pluggers, and walls festooned with colorful song sheets. So even if a plugger didn’t happen to be playing a song when you got to the store, the cover was there to make you want to buy it. The cover was the sizzle that sold the steak.
Of all the artists who designed those covers, one of the most prolific was the late Sidney Leff.
Things That Were Made for Love: The Songsheet Art of Sidney Leff is a new book that celebrates his graphic designs – he did the lettering by hand, too!
I wrote most of the text; the illustrations come from the collection of Norman Von Holtzendorff; and the book is published by Wyatt Doyle, under the New Texture imprint. The hardcover edition is $39.95; the paperback $24.95; they are available from Amazon, but I would urge you to order from New Texture.