(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- The Morris Museum presents Those Beautiful Rags, a tribute to Ragtime music and Tin Pan Alley, on display from January 30, 2021 through October 10, 2021. American ragtime, a precursor of early jazz, is a musical style that enjoyed immense popularity in the late 1800s through World War I. Ragtime was coined for its “ragged,” syncopated rhythms that arose from African-American musical traditions.
The emergence of ragtime occurred at the height of the Industrial Revolution when the expanding middle classes could increasingly afford new inventions for home and business entertainment. A wide range of musical boxes, player pianos, nickelodeons, and early phonographs provided families and customers with access to the newest, most popular music of the day.
A piano in the parlor became a middle-class status symbol, with manufacturers rising to meet the challenge of intensified public demand. For the upwardly mobile, the piano represented disposable wealth, signaling the luxury of leisure time for practice and social enjoyment. This cultural phenomenon transformed the music-publishing industry, which churned out inexpensive sheet music with popular tunes on short demand and in mass quantities. Publishers on “Tin Pan Alley”—a block on 28th Street in New York City between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, named for the constant jangling sounds emanating from live pianists, promoting new releases in the show windows of music publishers—competed with one another by enlisting talented artists to create stimulating and evocative cover art for their compositions to catch the eye of the consumer.
This exhibition features rare ragtime sheet music cover art from the world-renowned Guinness Collection, and highlights a variety of mechanical musical instruments, such as the Seeburg “L” coin piano, and an early, coin-operated “jukebox” containing Edison cylinder records. Available at interactive listening stations are examples of early “ragged” and syncopated arrangements performed by musical machines. The mechanical instruments, audio kiosks, and provocative period illustrations on sheet music covers encourage visitors to come away with a deeper appreciation of the art and the music of this uniquely American product.
Founded in 1913, the Morris Museum is an award-winning, multifaceted arts and cultural institution serving the public through its exhibitions and performances which strive to interpret the past and discover the future through art, sound, and motion. The Museum is home to the historic and internationally-significant Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata. Changing exhibits of contemporary content further illuminate its Permanent Collection. The Museum’s Bickford Theatre is a 312-seat performing-arts facility, offering unique programming in film, jazz, and live performance through its innovative series, Live Arts at the Morris Museum. The Morris Museum has a proud tradition of meaningful educational programs and family events. During the pandemic this summer, the museum presented the Lot of Strings Festival on its Back Parking Deck. Thousands of music lovers experienced first-class musicians like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, among others, live, in safe, socially distant environment. New Jersey’s only Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, Morris Museum is also the first museum in New Jersey to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, it has been designated a Major Arts Institution and has received the New Jersey State Council on the Arts’ Citation of Excellence, among other awards. The Morris Museum is a Blue Star Museum, offering free admission to active duty military personnel and their families, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.