Covers of sheet music from the Dorothy Starr Collection will be on display in the Art, Music and Recreation Center of the Main Library. This cover art will explore a variety of themes in popular song, decade by decade.
While the architects were drawing up the plans for the New Main Library, members of San Francisco’s music loving public were organizing and fundraising to save a valued San Francisco institution. Dorothy Starr, the beloved proprietor of the Music Stand, a Hayes Valley sheet music store, died on January 31, 1990 at the age of 81. Her death set into the motion the Library’s acquisition of the stock of her store through the assistance of The Friends of Dorothy Starr who organized performances to pay for the collection.
The Music Stand made its first appearing in the San Francisco phone book in 1959 at the address of 381A Hayes Street with the phone number HEmlock1-1531. Toward the end of her life, she moved her business to a second floor flat on Linden Alley. Although her apartment had tall stacks of music in every room, she was able to hone in on whatever music her customers sought.
The Collection was quite large, estimated to have more than 300,000 items. Before the New Main Library was finished, the collection bounced around a bit, first residing at the U.S. Public Health Service hospital at 15th Avenue and Lake Street and then at 45 Hyde Street, an out-building adjacent to the old Main Library. The Dorothy Starr Collection was finally given a stable home with the opening of the New Main Library on April 8, 1996.
When the New Main Library opened, the Dorothy Starr Collection was first made available to the public through a database containing 5,000 cataloged items. The Library made a decision to focus on cataloging the vocal music within the collection since this was Ms. Starr’s area of expertise and what her customers sought the most. Today we are closing in on 40,000 unique items of vocal music in the catalog. The songs have been entered into the database by Library staff and volunteers over the past 23 years. Every cataloged item is stored in an acid free folder for its long term preservation.
While Dorothy Starr would order newly published sheet music for her customers, she specialized in acquiring used music of all kinds. She was very catholic in her approach, collecting and selling music of all styles and times. She was especially valued by her musical customers and friends for encyclopedic knowledge of what is today known as the “great American songbook” - songs of the Tin Pan Alley era, including the great Broadway musicals as well as motion picture songs. When we collect and catalog the music we pay attention to including all variations of edition, cover art, vocal range, arrangement and format. The Collection includes every manner of vocal music from show tune to popular song, soloist or choir.
Since Dorothy Starr accepted every manner of music into her stock, we have also added to the collection through donations. The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library regularly give us access to the donated music they receive. Another noteworthy donation was the collection of Richard Kramer, one of the early conductors of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, which greatly enhanced the choral music in the collection. We also purchase newly published sheet music using funds from the songwriting royalties of 1930s songwriter Vee Lawnhurst that were bequeathed to the Library.
Sheet music can have a fascination for even non-musicians. The cover art reflects the technology and the tastes and trends of the times. These covers also the depict the celebrated singers and film performers associated with a song.