Janice Cleary


Janice Cleary


Janice M Cleary, a lifelong resident of Omaha, Nebraska, has always enjoyed music. Her father studied voice, and her parents sang in the St. John’s choir and hosted music parties in their family home. Janice became interested in ragtime in the late 1950s, and began collecting sheet music. At first, she limited her collection the works of Irving Berlin and ragtime tunes, but her passion for sheet music soon widened in scope. Her collection has grown to nearly 50,000 pieces of American popular music. Janice shared items from her collection that were either written by Omahans or were published in Omaha. Music by Maceo Pinkard, one time Omaha booking agent, music publisher, band leader and eventual composer of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” is just one of the artists in her collection. She also has the “Happy Feeling Rag” sheet music from the legendary Dan Desdunes and the “Omaha Blues” written by Effie and Charles Tyus.

Before recorded music began to enter homes in the 1920s and 1930s, sheet music was the only way for individuals to enjoy popular music in their own homes. Pianos were popular entertainment sources for middle-class homes, and the American sheet music industry thrived during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. Popular jazz musicians borrowed heavily from African-American culture, and the industry often depended on stereotypical depictions of African Americans and African American culture in its music, lyrics, and artwork. Some of Mrs. Cleary’s items feature the stereotypical imagery of minstrelsy.

Sources Referenced:

Cook, Nicholas, and Anthony Pople, eds. The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Mahar, William J. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. University of Illinois Press, 1998.


Janice Cleary, North Omaha History Harvest, 2011


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Collection Items

"I'm a Real Kind Mama (Looking For a Loving Man) Sheet Music"
This 1917 “cabaret song hit”, was written and composed by Maceo Pinkard of “Sweet Georgia Brown” fame. Janice Cleary who owns this amazing collection, informs us Pinkard was a booking agent in Omaha before he moved on to New…

'When He Sang that Baritone He Sang Some Bear' sheet music
This pre-World War I song is about a baritone singer named William Washington Malone who, “Made them get so hot, they’d rag a new fox trot. The girls would Salome, they all would come and fetch the mo’ to hear old William Washington…

'Omaha Blues' sheet music
A man’s longing for his hometown, the city of Omaha Nebraska, inspires this post World War I blues song, printed as sheet music. The song is about his dreams of returning to Omaha after a life of roaming and his desire to settle down near his…

“I’m Free, Single, Disengaged, Looking For Someone to Love” Sheet Music
This post-World War I foxtrot is about a person looking for a “sweetie” who would, “Buzz around me like a Bumble Bee”. The lyrics mention being blue and suffering sleepless nights, “Regretting the day that I was…

'Alibi-ing Papa' sheet music
“Alibi-ing Papa” is about a woman who is fed up with her husband’s nights spent away from the family and the lies he tells to cover up his nocturnal adventures. The narrative takes place in Mobile, Alabama where alibing Sam always…

'Happy Feeling Rag' sheet music
This sheet music is a ragtime instrumental song composed by Dan Desdunes in 1912. Janice Cleary who owns this amazing collection remembers seeing Desdunes leading his band in Omaha parades when she was young. Those memories make this artifact…

'Sweet Georgia Brown' sheet music
This is an original version of the legendary song with music written by Maceo Pinkard, lyrics by Kenneth Casey and popularized by Ben Bernie. Janice Cleary who owns this amazing collection, assures us from her research that Pinkard was a booking…

'I Want to See My Girl in London' sheet music
This World War I song is about a soldier’s faithfulness to his country and his girl. The lyrics use the name Tommy Atkins, a term used to denote a generic British soldier, rather than a specific individual. Tommy, “while down in a trench…

'I'm Going Back Home' sheet music
This “Terrific Hit” song written by Maceo Pinkard of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown” fame is about a man returning to his home in “Dixie land”. He tells his girl, “Now you can stay up here and have all I’ve…

'The Blue Melody' sheet music
This “1917 Jazz Band Sensation” is an instrumental song composed by Maceo Pinkard of “Sweet Georgia Brown” fame. Janice Cleary, who owns this amazing collection, informed us that Pinkard was a booking agent in Omaha before he…
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