Some of the time I look at the world through the images drawn on the covers of old sheet music. I started collecting sheet music about 25 years ago while sitting in an antique store waiting for my wife to finish shopping. I discovered a pile of sheets and started looking through, quickly discovering a sheet from an early African American musical called "Blackbirds of 1928." I quickly fell in love with the graphics on the covers and realized how much sheet music reflected what was popular in popular culture in any specific year. My love of sheet music led to my in-depth research of African American songwriters and thus to my award winning first book, "From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music, From 1895-1930."
Sheet music collecting has grown easier over the years with the advent of eBay, the large on-line auction house. Everyday there are thousands of sheets for sale, with new ones arriving all the time. I have used eBay as a way to not only keep up with the prices of some of my rarer sheets but also to buy ones that were previously hard to get. I have also used eBay as a way to collect the images of sheets that I am interested in just for just the covers and don't want to plunk down the cash to buy. Over the years, as I examined sheet after sheet, trends in popular culture became more evident.
The world's attention turned to Egypt in 1922 when Harry Burton discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen, thus bringing the Golden Age of the Pharaohs to life. Sheet music and Americans were interested in Egypt before this, particularly the most visible long-lived monuments of the pyramids and the Sphinx. After King Tut made the scene, there was an explosion of musical tributes to the exotic African country. This happened again when the first major exhibit of material from King Tut's tomb toured America in the late seventies. I went to Washington to see the exhibit and was blown away, like others, by the riches recovered from the burial site. Just like in the early twenties, America went Egypt crazy, with the most visible sign being an American comic, Steve Martin, making his living for a few months with a song and skit dedicated to the noble boy king.
Recently I have turned up some sheets of this earlier era that I have never seen before and in the process have discovered that the Sphinx has boobs, or at least is portrayed as such in a sheet from that time. Now I know that the Sphinx has its origins in sculpted figures of lionesses with female human heads but I never knew it went below the neck line. So here is the proof below; take it with a grain of salt as many times illustrators of sheet music never really saw their subjects.
I wonder, since a new exhibit of King Tut is now touring a few select cities in the US, what its effect will be on American culture or whether has America grown too blase to care. There could be a new line of Sphinx inspired bras: only time will tell.