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Musical Treasures of the Smithsonian

A Winter Party by Utagawa Toyoharu

A Winter Party

Freer and Sackler Galleries

Many of Japan’s greatest artists with works in FreerǀSackler collections depicted the three-stringed shamisen in settings as diverse as kabuki and puppet theater, the pleasure houses of old Edo, and picnic outings among common folk. This exquisite painting from circa 1800 show one of these settings in evocative detail. 

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Clock

Clock

Cooper-Hewitt

Made in Paris while Napoleon was in power, this clock has lyres on either side of it above a woman, purportedly Josephine, playing a pianoforte.

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Frances Densmore with Mountain Chief

Frances Densmore with Mountain Chief

National Museum of Natural History

Mountain Chief, Chief of Montana Blackfeet, in native dress with bow, arrows, and lance, listening to song being played on phonograph interpreting it in sign language to pioneering ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore, in front of the Smithsonian “Castle” building, March 1916. 

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Hammond B-3 organ owned by musician James Brown

Hammond B-3 organ owned by James Brown

National Museum of African American History and Culture

A Hammond B-3 organ owned by musician James Brown, one of the leading figures of soul music.   

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Kundi Harp

Harp (kundi)

National Museum of African Art

This early 20th century Zande harp (kundi) has typical traits of the Zande style: a beautifully carved head with detailed coiffure and earrings, and a carefully stitched animal hide that covers the sound box.

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Portrait of Katy Perry

Katy Perry

National Portrait Gallery

Pop star Katy Perry (born Katheryn Hudson) collaborated with New York City–based painter Will Cotton, who painted this portrait, on the design of the world featured in her video for California Gurls.  © Will Cotton

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Lakota hand drum

Lakota Hand Drum

National Museum of the American Indian

A hand drum—probably Lakota—that depicts a warrior on a blue horse; the horse’s mane and tail are tied up, indicating he would be ridden in battle.

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Yellow Electric Guitar owned by Prince

Prince's Yellow Cloud Electric Guitar

National Museum of American History

Custom-made in 1989 by the Minneapolis, Minnesota firm of Knut-Koupee Enterprises, this yellow-cloud electric guitar was designed and used by musician Prince. 

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Side view of a violin, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari

Stradivari Violin

National Museum of American History

This violin, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy around 1700, represents an artistic standard of perfection recognized by classical musicians in the United States and around the world. 

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Beatles concert ticket stub

The Beatles Concert Ticket Stub

National Museum of American History

Ticket stub from the Beatles’ first performance in the United States, February 11, 1964, at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C.  

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Record Turntable owned by Grandmaster Flash

Turntable, used by Grandmaster Flash

National Museum of American History

This Technics brand turntable was used by Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler), whose innovations and techniques established him as one of the pioneers of hip hop and deejaying.

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Yo Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma

National Portrait Gallery

A remarkably versatile and exuberant performer, Yo-Yo Ma is the preeminent cellist of our time.  © Everett Raymond Kinstler

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“Dizzy” Gillespie's trumpet and case

“Dizzy” Gillespie's Trumpet

National Museum of American History

This custom-made “Silver Flair” trumpet belonged to renowned trumpeter, bandleader, and composer John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, a founder of the modern jazz style known as bebop. 

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William H. Johnson's "Blind Musician"

"Blind Musician" by William H. Johnson

Smithsonian American Art Museum

William H. Johnson may have based "Blind Musician" on singers and performers like Blind Boy Fuller or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who made their way from the South to Chicago and New York City, where their recordings helped make the blues tradition to mainstream audiences. 

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"Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" sheet music

"Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" Sheet Music

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

"Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" sheet music, composed by Fred Fisher and lyrics by Alfred Bryan in 1910, during the early years of aviation, tells of a young man courting his gal by "flying machine" and expresses the technological optimism of the era.  

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Hommage à Bessie Smith

"Hommage à Bessie Smith"

National Museum of African Art

"Hommage à Bessie Smith" is part of an important series of paintings that Senegalese artist Iba N’Diaye devoted to the great performers of jazz and gospel music.

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Accordion with mother of pearl keys

Accordion

National Museum of Natural History

An accordion with mother of pearl keys, probably made in England or France, but collected in Tahiti, pre-1858. 

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Dance Rattle from Alaska

Alaskan Dance Rattle

National Museum of the American Indian

This carved wooden dance rattle, made by the Tlingit people in Alaska, depicts raven and human figures.

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Pete Seeger's album cover for "If I Had a Hammer"

Album cover for Pete Seeger’s, "If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle"

Center for Folklife Culture and Heritage

Album cover for Pete Seeger’s, "If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle" released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 1998.

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Chair made into the shape of a banjo

Banjo Chair

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This chair was likely created for a minstrel show, a popular form of entertainment in the late nineteenth century, in which instruments often appeared as decorative furniture, clocks, and wall hangings. 

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Bardic Divas album cover

Bardic Divas Album

Center for Folklife Culture and Heritage

Album cover for Bardic Divas, from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series of the Music of Central Asia.

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Bell (ling) with taotie

Bell (ling) with taotie

Freer and Sackler Galleries

The Smithsonian’s oldest musical instrument is almost certainly a bronze bell from ancient China dating to 1300 BCE, during the late Shang Dynasty.   

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Bob Dylan Poster

Bob Dylan Poster

Cooper-Hewitt

For this poster featuring Bob Dylan, Sharp drew inspiration from the musician’s signature curly hair, which is illustrated with radiating circular motifs that borrow from a famous series of knot patterns from 16th century artist Albrecht Dürer.

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Cuban Rumba Dress owned by Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz's Cuban rumba dress

National Museum of American History

The Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa,” wore this Bata Cubana, or Cuban Rumba dress, in many performances, and donated it to the Smithsonian in 1997.

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Ch'uta (Chuta) Guitar

Ch'uta (Chuta) Guitar

National Museum of the American Indian

This ten-stringed instrument, called a charango, is commonly played by Aymara men at indigenous festivals of the Ch’uta people throughout the Andean regions of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. 

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Cigar box guitar

Cigar Box Guitar

National Museum of American History

This cigar box guitar was made by an unknown maker in North Carolina between 1875 and 1899, and is an example of homemade instruments such as cigar box guitars and fiddles that played an important part in jug bands and blues music in the late 19th century through the Great Depression.  

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Haida dance rattle

Dance Rattle

National Museum of Natural History

A dance rattle depicting a raven figure with whistling demon and kingfisher, from the Haida people, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, ca. 1850-83.  

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Doug Aitken’s 2012 video projection Song 1 on the Hirshhorn Museum

Doug Aitken’s 2012 video projection Song 1

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Redefining cinematic space, Doug Aitken’s 2012 video projection Song 1 uses eleven high-definition video projectors to transform the distinctive exterior of the Hirshhorn into “liquid architecture.”

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reed-and-drum band (naqqara-khane)

Drum and Reed Band

Freer and Sackler Galleries

The reed-and-drum band (naqqara-khane)—the world’ s most popular musical ensemble for nearly a thousand years—was a band of timpani drums and double-reeds (with optional long trumpets) invented for military purposes in the Near East and transported with Islam to West Africa and Indonesia and beyond to China and Europe, where it became used for battle, sports, rituals, and parades.

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Enrico Caruso portrait

Enrico Caruso

National Portrait Gallery

Enrico Caruso, an Italian operatic tenor, drew his own portrait in 1919. 

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George Antheli's letter to John Storrs about the premier of "Ballet Mécanique"

George Antheil letter to John Henry Bradley Storrs with enclosed broadside, 1926 June

Archives of American Art

In a letter to artist John Storrs, composer George Antheil included a broadside for the Paris premier of his "Ballet Mécanique"—notable because this concert famously incurred a riot in the streets from dissatisfied audience members who disliked the cacophonous nature of the piece.

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Letter written on piano roll

George Brecht letter to Joseph Cornell, 1967 Jul. 19

Archives of American Art

Avant-garde composer, Fluxus artist, and chemist George Brecht wrote a letter of admiration to artist Joseph Cornell on unusual stationary. . .a player piano roll.

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Harpsichord by Johannes Daniel Dulcken

Harpsichord by Johannes Daniel Dulcken

National Museum of American History

This harpsichord, with two keyboards, was made in 1745 by Johannes Daniel Dulcken in Antwerp, and is used in concert and featured on recordings by the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society.

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Hunting Horn

Hunting Horn

National Museum of African Art

This late 15th century hunting horn can be attributed to Sierra Leone, but certain of its features suggest that it was made by a Bullom or Temne artist for a European client.

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Bowl with Jazz related decorations

Jazz Punch Bowl

Cooper-Hewitt

First commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt when Franklin was Governor of New York, this Jazz Age icon was creator Victor Schreckengost’s response for a design with a New York theme; it includes musical bars and instruments in the neon glow of New York night life.

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Vest worn by Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix Vest

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Vest worn by rock guitarist and innovator Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. 

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Handwritten sheet music of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

National Museum of American History

This is the first page of saxophonist John Coltrane’s original manuscript for A Love Supreme, his most celebrated work, recorded in 1964.

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Kongo Bell

Kongo Bell

National Museum of African Art

This late 19th century- early 20th century Kongo bell (dibu) was used for hunting since Kongo hunting dogs cannot bark, they are located by their bells.

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Marian Anderson's jacket and skirt

Marian Anderson Jacket and skirt

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Jacket and skirt worn by contralto Marian Anderson at her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial.  

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Mask from the musical called King and I

Mask from the "King and I" Musical

National Museum of American History

This exquisite mask, based on 19th-century Thai ceremonial headgear, was created by Australian designer Roger Kirk for the 1996 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 musical, The King and I, one of American musical theater’s most enduring works.    

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Mingering Mike

Mingering Mike

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Although the artist known as “Mingering Mike” achieved musical stardom only in his handmade body of cardboard records and album covers, his imaginary career powerfully, and often humorously, evokes black American in the 1960s and 1970s. 

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Music Stand

Music Stand

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This music stand—a biomorphic example of Wendell Castle’s efforts to create furniture “equal to sculpture”—reflects his belief that the base of a piece is as important as what it supports. 

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Single-string Apache violin

Musical Instrument Similar To Violin

National Museum of Natural History

A single-string Apache “violin,” made by Dominick, collected in Arizona in the 1890s, Arizona.  

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Norwegian Post Horn

Norwegian Post Horn

National Postal Museum

This post horn was used in Norway during the 1850s to announce the arrival of the mail. 

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Patsy Cline full height pink outfit

Patsy Cline Outfit

National Museum of American History

Made for country music star Patsy Cline by her mother in about 1958, this Western-style performance outfit features record-shaped patches stitched with the titles of Cline’s records.

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Steinway & Sons piano, designed by Walter Dorwin

Piano made by Steinway and Sons

National Museum of American History

Piano made by Steinway & Sons in New York in 1939, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for the United States Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

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Puyero de Güiro

Puyero de Güiro

National Museum of American History

From Puerto Rico, a puyero de güiro, or guiro pick, used to play the guiro, which provides an essential rhythmic element in genres as distinct as the street-oriented plena and the slaon-oriend danza.

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Sarangi (violin)

Sarangi (Musical Instrument)

National Museum of Natural History

A sarangi (violin), made in the 1960s, collected in the hills around Pokhara, Nepal, where the sarangi is played by the Gaines, a musicians caste.  

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Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

National Portrait Gallery

Known as the "queen of Tejano music," Selena Quintanilla-Pérez brought wide recognition to this South Texas blend of Mexican and American musical styles. ©1993 Al Rendon

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George Gershwin

Self-portrait of George Gershwin

National Portrait Gallery

From inauspicious beginnings, George Gershwin became one of the great American composers of the twentieth century, with such hits as Someone to Watch Over Me, Rhapsody in Blue, and An American in Paris.

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Sheet Music for the "Smithsonian Polka"

Sheet Music for the "Smithsonian Polka"

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Cover of sheet music for the "Smithsonian Polka" by W. Bergman. 

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Statue of Shiva Nataraja

Shiva Nataraja

Freer and Sackler Galleries

The world’s most (mythically) powerful dance music may be that which accompanied the Hindu god Shiva in his cosmic dance of creation, in which he plays the damaru drum in his top right hand, an event captured by a master bronze caster in this 10th-century statue in the Freer collection.

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Telegram from Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald

Telegram from Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald

National Museum of American History

Composer and bandleader Duke Ellington, a friend of singer Ella Fitzgerald who made recordings with her, sent her this congratulatory telegram in 1957.

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New Lost City Ramblers perform at the Newport Folk Festival

The New Lost City Ramblers perform at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival

Center for Folklife Culture and Heritage

The New Lost City Ramblers perform at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, as photographed by Diana Davies.  

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Stand with an image of Tito Puente

Tito Puente Stamp

National Postal Museum

Portrait for a US postage stamp of Tito Puente, an American mambo musician and Latin jazz composer, to honor Hispanic Heritage Month.

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Louis Armstrong's trumpet

Trumpet owned by Louis Armstrong

National Museum of African American History and Culture

A trumpet owned by Louis Armstrong—trumpeter, singer, bandleader, and one of the most influential musicians in American history.

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Electric Guitar owned by Van Halen

Van Halen Frankenstein Electric Guitar

National Museum of American History

This guitar was played by Dutch-American musician Edward “Eddie” Van Halen while on tour in 2007, and is a replica of the guitar invented by Van Halen in 1977 and named “Frankenstein” by fans.

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Voyager Golden Record

Voyager Golden Record, Sounds of Earth

National Air and Space Museum

The Voyager Golden Record, Sounds of Earth, contained images, spoken greetings in fifty-five languages, and music selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth that went with the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 and this duplicate cover illustrates how to play the record if found by another civilization.

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Record of Woody Guthrie's, "This Land Is Your Land"

Woody Guthrie’s, "This Land Is Your Land"

Center for Folklife Culture and Heritage

Original master acetate recording of one of the most popular tunes in the American songbook, Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land", recorded in 1944 for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Recordings, now Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

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Yaacov Agam’s Art Installation of Transparent Rhythms II

Yaacov Agam’s Transparent Rhythms II

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Occupying an entire wall, Yaacov Agam’s Transparent Rhythms II (1967-1968) zigzags slightly and the forms seem to change in size as the viewer walks by. 

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