By Nicole Possert
If you are not familiar with these rather obscure songs you are not alone. While these songs written over the decades have been long forgotten, they live on in the vast Southern California Sheet Music Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. Now, these and other songs included in the archives will once again return to the spotlight thanks to a new project and book, “Songs in the Key of Los Angeles,” written by USC professor and Montecito Heights resident Josh Kun.
“Archives should not just be preserved and maintained. Archives should come back to life,” is the motto for Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, a multi-platform project that includes Kun’s book, which will be celebrated with a pre-publication launch party on Saturday May 18 in Highland Park. “Consisting of sheet music pieces that range from the 1840s through the 1950s, the Collection offers a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music and visual art,” Kun states on his blog.
With over 50,000 items in the library’s collection, Kun uncovered music about L.A. and Southern California, with many of the songs never having been recorded.
“As a fan and scholar, I am keenly interested in the relationship of music to our City as a way of understanding history and our cultural identity,” Kun said. ” This project gets to the heart of how to think about analog archives in the digital age and how to re-animate this history to make it matter to contemporary audiences.”
In addition to the book, the Songs in the Key of Los Angeles project will also host live performances of this music at Grand Performances (Fri Aug 2) with Ozomatli & Friends and other music venues. There will also be a web series, talks, recordings and performances with today’s music and cultural makers.
The eye-popping design of this book certainly brings LA’s music history back to life. Noted book designer Amy Inouye of Highland Park-based Future Studio Design was up to the challenge of bringing a contemporary design framework to highlight the compelling range of historic designs of sheet music covers. Inouye’s Figueroa street studio and gallery will host the pre-publications party on Sat. May 18, from 2 p.m to 5 p.m. The party is free but a RSVP by email is required.
Kun will be available to sign books, which will be available for purchase. Meanwhile, entertainment will be provided by Rob Waller & Paul Lacques of “I See Hawks in LA,” who will perform a song from the book that they have recorded.
Maybe it’ll be “Echo Park” performed in Highland Park?
Nicole Possert is an artist, writer, historic preservationist from Highland Park.