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Janice Cleary

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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.

Items in the Janice Cleary Collection

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…

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…

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…

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” 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…