As the sheet music industry grew, the publishers competed for sales. To attract business, sheet music publishers hired artists to make beautiful covers, although sometimes the cover artwork did not resemble the lyrics inside. Sometimes the covers featured a performer’s photo and illustrations. In addition, publishers of commercial sheet music used the back page to advertise their other musical selections.
The biographies of the following sheet music illustrators are from the research done by Bill Edwards, also known as “Perfessor Bill”. Permission has been granted by him to use his research. To find out more about the sheet music illustrators and the sheet music industry, please visit his site at: www.perfessorbill.com.
R.S. [Rosebud] – Rosenbaum Studio: “The identity of the artist (or artists) behind this mystery signature has, to date, not been solved with any level of certainty. However the origin of the famous Rosebud symbol and the owner of the Rosenbaum Studio was Morris Rosenbaum who formed the studio in the 1910s. He is likely responsible for those cryptically signed covers with the rosebud/RS symbol which date back as far as 1906 when he was 19 or 20. The number of minor and major variations of the symbol alone suggests it is the work of four or more artists, including Rosenbaum, which are represented over nearly a 27 year span. For some time the studio was employed almost exclusively by the Leo Feist publishing house (1912-1919), and by the Irving Berlin Company (1919-late 1920s).” (www.perfessorbill.com)
John Frew (1875-1955): John Frew “was able to produce quality artwork on demand, and some of his concepts combine the simple with the intricate. In many cases the subject would be well rendered with careful shading, while the backgrounds were very basic…. His most widely circulated work, due in part to the success of the piece, was Alexander’s Ragtime Band…. He also engaged in comic and magazine/book cover art in the 30s and 40s, including the “Astounding Stories” line.” (www.perfessorbill.com)
Andre De Takacs (1880-1919): De Takacs left a legacy of artwork between the years 1906-1919. He used bold coloring in his works, and was created both realistic images and abstract ones. He “was quite versatile with the ‘fade-away’ technique where the clothing or other subjects were the same color and pattern as the background, making the relevant portions stand out more while the rest of the figure fades into the background.” (www.perfessorbill.com)
Edward H. Pfeiffer (1868-1932): Pfeiffer’s “first covers date back to 1892, and his volume of work spans over 100 publishers, indicating that his reputation as a freelance artist was likely considerable…. He was particularly gifted with drawing floral motifs and attractive women, exercising careful consideration attention for near photo realistic shading. Pfeiffer was also an early advocate of what became the Art Deco school of art in the late 1920s.” (www.perfessorbill.com)
Edward Taylor Paull (1858-1924): Paull “started out as fledgling publisher and composer until he hit upon a formula in the mid-1890s that launched him to success. It started with his first published march, ‘The Chariot Race’, a.k.a. ‘Ben Hur March.’ His thought was to grab the potential pianist or listener's attention before they even heard the piece. This was accomplished through the process of some extraordinary cover art, sometimes suggested or designed by Paull, and printed with an expensive five-color lithograph process utilized primarily by the A. Hoen and Company printing firm in Richmond, VA. The names of many of the lithograph artists have been obfuscated by that of the firm. The process involves creating grooved stone faces in which the desired portion to be printed must be represented in relief. There were four or five stones for each cover, depending on color depth; one for each primary color, and one for black. That these artists made all of these stones overlay to create a single multi-color picture is a testament to their amazing skill.” (www.perfessorbill.com)
Albert Barbelle (1887-1957): Barbelle’s first music covers started appearing in 1912. His output is said to be second only to the Starmer brothers. In 1917 he worked as an illustrator for the publishing firm of Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. He also did some work illustrating the first Mickey Mouse in print. In the early 1930s, he drew the famous Disney character for Mickey’s first book. His last music cover “The Party’s Over” for the show “The Bells are Ringing,” appeared in 1956. (www.perfessorbill.com)
Frederick S. Manning (1874-1960): Manning was a well-known illustrator, who was especially famous for his illustrations of women on the sheet music covers. “Few artists have been able to capture the essence of beautiful women quite the way Frederick Stewart Manning was able to…. While a number of artists simply followed suggested ideas or even submitted their own conceptions for use without question, Manning, was always sensitive to his clients in that he wanted them to be satisfied with what he produced…. Working on his experience in advertising, he would submit a watercolor draft of each concept for approval. Then he would create his works, using paid models, in either watercolor or pastels with occasional ink highlights. He reportedly received $150 per cover from publisher Jerome Remick for the bulk of his work in the 1920s.” (www.perfessorbill.com)
William Starmer (1872-1955) and Frederick Starmer (1878-1962): The Starmer brothers were born in Leeds, England. They came to the United States in the 1890s. They had “a consistency that was hard to match in creating eye-catching cover art that did justice to and often outshined the contents within. By some accounts they were responsible for nearly a quarter of all signed covers in large format from 1900 to around 1919, and continued producing cover art into the 1940s…. Through publisher Jerome Remick’s sheer volume of distribution, their work is in many ways the face of the rag-time era at its best.” (www.perfessorbill.com)