"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song!"

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" Paul Dresser's Lincoln, Grant & Lee, or, The war is over many years," by Paul Dresser, New York : Howley, Haviland & Dresser, c1903. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Sheet Music from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.

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" Funeral march to the memory of Abraham Lincoln...," by Gaetano Donizetti, Boston : Oliver Ditson & co., [1865?]. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Sheet Music from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.

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" We mourn our country's loss : national funeral march...," by Augustus Buechel, New York : P.A. Wundermann, c1881. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Sheet Music from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.

"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song!": About the Collection

"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song!": Sheet Music about Lincoln, Emancipation, and the Civil War from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana includes more than two hundred sheet-music compositions that represent Lincoln and the war as reflected in popular music. The collection spans the years from Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1859 through the centenary of Lincoln's birth in 1909.

This sheet music is among the many treasures of Lincolniana that came to the Library of Congress in 1953 through the generosity of Alfred Whital Stern (1881-1960), a businessman from Chicago. The Alfred Whital Stern Collection in the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division contains more than 10,500 books, as well as pamphlets, broadsides, sheet music, autograph letters, prints, cartoons, maps, drawings, and other memorabilia that offer a unique view of Lincoln's life and times. Highlights of the collection include copies of three speeches that Lincoln delivered during his term as a U.S. representative from Illinois, Lincoln's scrapbook documenting his debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the Illinois senatorial campaign of 1858, and materials relating to the 1860 presidential election and to Lincoln's assassination and funeral.

Stern's gift to the Library represents the most extensive collection of Lincolniana ever assembled by a private individual. Begun in the 1920s, it documents the life of Abraham Lincoln through writings by and about him, contemporary newspapers, sheet music, coins, letters, and a large body of publications concerned with slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics. Since Stern's death, the collection has continued to grow through the provisions of an endowment established by his family.

The sheet music Stern collected concerning Lincoln's campaigns, beliefs, political platforms, and assassination provides a unique view of his popularity during his years at the center of public attention. Some music titles celebrate the man, while others, such as "The Martyr of Liberty," begin to mythologize him.

The music was written by composers who were born in or immigrated to America, as well as by Europeans. One example of the latter is the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti. Donizetti died seventeen years before Lincoln, but his familiar "Funeral March" gained popularity in America after it was performed during the president's funeral ceremonies.

The major music publishing houses of the period, such as Oliver Ditson in Boston, Chicago's Root & Cady, William A. Pond in New York, and Philadelphia's Lee & Walker, are represented in this collection. The Donizetti march, for example, was republished by Oliver Ditson with Lincoln's image on the cover. In addition, the names of smaller publishers in Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, and elsewhere around the United States appear frequently among the titles Stern collected. Lincoln's prominence as a public figure made him a favorite subject for songs and sheet music from publishers nationwide.

Some publishers are represented in this collection by many titles, spanning years that brought changes in the fields of music printing. A chronological survey of imprints by individual publishers shows the development of chromolithography and the introduction of advertising on verso pages that had formerly been blank.

The nation's outpouring of grief at Lincoln's death was expressed in songs with titles such as "We Mourn Our Country's Loss" and "Farewell, Father, Friend and Guardian." Some songs dramatized the events surrounding Lincoln's death. "The Assassin's Vision" tells of John Wilkes Booth escaping on horseback through the forest, only to be accosted by a haunting vision that stops him in his tracks. "Live But One Moment" puts to music the words Mary Todd Lincoln allegedly spoke to her husband as he passed away. Seven years later, "Do Not Leave Me, Mother Darling" dramatized the last words Lincoln's son, Little Tad, spoke to his mother before his own death. Another title, "The Savior of Our Country", imagines a conversation between Lincoln and Little Tad beyond the grave.

In the years after his death, songs about Lincoln were written and published as remembrances, commemorations, and laments. Lincoln funeral marches continued to be published well into the 1880s. Music such as "Lincoln Park March" (1874) and "Lincoln's Grove March" (1887) marked the dedications of memorial parks. In the song "Give Us Just Another Lincoln," Paul Dresser mourns the state of American government in 1900 and wishes for another great leader.

Decades before the invention of radio and television, sheet music was a means of expressing popular attitudes toward public figures and current events. The sheet music collected by Alfred Whital Stern provides a unique and valuable view of one of our greatest presidents, as well as a few tunes to hum.

"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song!"