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Finding aid prepared by Christopher Popa
11th floor, 3 record storage boxes = 3 cubic feet
The sheet music in the Collection originally belonged to Donald M. Simmons (1889-1960), a New Jersey native. With the help of a salesperson at G. Schirmer's, a music store on East 43rd Street, Don's assortment of song sheets began to grow. "When he saw his piles of music growing threateningly on the top of his upright piano, getting mixed up and dog-eared as well, he was inspired to have it bound by the year, availing himself of the new spiral-binding that was just becoming available," his daughter Mary Elizabeth (Daisy) explained. "Late in January every year he would come home one evening bearing the new bound volume from the previous year, flashing its spiral-binding, the year brightly embossed on the cover," she remembered. But in 1941, several factors, including employment obligations, the onset of World War II, and a move away from New York City, affected Simmons' sheet music purchases. "The collection becomes smaller from that year on," Daisy observed, "so that one suspects that he didn't get to New York as often as before to see either the shows or his friend at G. Schirmers [sic], to get his guidance." Simmons retired to the Pittsburgh area in 1954 and, according to his daughter, spent the remaining years of his life playing daily the music from his collection. In 1994, family members Daisy Ford and Doris Simmons donated the sheet music to Kent State.
The collection has been arranged in a straight alphabetic order by song title for the ease of retrieval by researchers. Each piece of music has the words ("lyrics") including verse and refrain, the music ("melody"), and chord symbols. The music pages were removed from the spiral bindings for preservation reasons. However, the original order of the yearly binders has been maintained through a list. The binder covers were retained as well and can be found at the end of the collection.
This collection will be of interest to scholars interested in popular music from the 30s and 40s. Works of such legendary songwriters Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Irving Berlin, are represented among others. A broad spectrum of music, including Broadway, Hollywood, the "Hit Parade," and classical pieces, was gathered by Simmons. The song titles and lyrics symbolize many aspects of our American culture during the 30s and 40s, particularly love and romance, but also hope, wholesome values, war and patriotism, economics, dance crazes, etc.
Donald Simmons graduated from Princeton University in 1911 and later became an executive with the General Cable Company of New York City. One of his personal interests was music, especially opera and Broadway show tunes. "Don was a good amateur pianist," his daughter, Mary Elizabeth Ford, recalled. "Through his life he brought pleasure to many people with his playing of this music that he loved." Simmons moved with his family to New York City in 1929, and he and his wife, Rachel, enjoyed attending Broadway shows. "They loved the theater and saw everything they could, dramatic and musical," Mary stated. "It was then that Don began collecting show music--just for his own pleasure."