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.