Songs in the Key of L.A.

“Songs in the Key of L.A.” was the first in a series of collaborations between the Library Foundation and the Los Angeles Public Library to mine the Library’s vast special collections.

The project, curated by a research team led by USC Annenberg Professor Josh Kun, explores a portion of the Library’s sheet music collection, which, according to Kun, is the world’s only library collection of Southern California sheet music. Through a comprehensive anthology, new recordings, documentaries, a special exhibition at Central Library, an ALOUD program, a free concert with Grand Performances and more, the Library and Library Foundation brought the Library’s collection to light for contemporary reflection in Summer 2013, offering an opportunity to explore the history of Los Angeles through its sheet music.

About the book

Songs in the Key of Los AngelesCulled from the Sheet Music Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library and published by Angel City Press, “Songs in the Key of Los Angeles” tells the story of Los Angeles through its songs. Featuring the elaborately designed covers of more than one hundred pieces of vintage sheet music, the unprecedented anthology offers a rare musical window into Southern California history—from California lullabies and Los Angeles waltzes, sunshine rags and sunset serenades, to emerging West Coast jazz and the legacy of Mexican folk traditions. Copies available at The Library Store.


As part of “Songs in the Key of L.A.,” five L.A. artists representing a range of sounds, scenes and genres — Aloe Blacc, La Santa Cecilia, Julia Holter, I See Hawks in L.A., The Petrojvic Blasting Company — were invited to pick some sheet music, study it, and then interpret it in the style of their choosing. The results were incredible.

All recordings are based on sheet music contained in the Los Angeles Public Library Sheet Music Collection and featured in the book “Songs in the Key of Los Angeles,” published by Angel City Press, 2013. The recording sessions were online in five short documentaries and on-air in a half-hour television special produced by KCET’s transmedia award-winning arts and culture series, Artbound.

About the Sheet Music Collection

The Central Library’s Art, Music & Recreation Department houses a large collection of printed sheet music ranging from classical, popular and folk songs to musical theater and jazz. The collection includes an orchestrations collection of over 2,700 separate works and individual parts and sheet music for more than 130,000 songs, available in songbooks and as individual sheet music. The individual sheet music spans the genre’s heyday from the 1850s through the 1950s, as well as later work up through the 1990s. A portion of the library’s collection covers the period of L.A.’s growth from remote outpost into sprawling metropolis and provides a rare window into early Southern California music history.  This specific sheet music spans genres from pop to jazz, Mexican folk to blues, includes songs about L.A. and Southern California, features key regional songwriters and personalities and many were an integral part of Los Angeles’ music industry at the turn of the 20th century. For more information about the collection, contact the Art, Music & Recreation Department. Also, see our Sheet Music Locator research guide.

Photos from the Exhibit

This is just a glimpse, see the entire photo set here.

Interesting Links

Songs in the Key of Los Angeles: Quetzal from ALOUDla on Vimeo.
An evening with Van Dyke Parks
See the full set from: “An evening with Van Dyke Parks”
Ozomatli and Friends
See the full set from: Grand Performances: Songs in the Key of L.A. with Stevie Wonder & Ozomatli