Photo -- See Caption Below

The American Songbag
By Carl Sandburg

The American Songbag project Carl Sandburg took on in the 1920s, directly following the completion of his Prairie Years books, was another monumental endeavor. American Songbag was a lifetime collection of folksongs. Sandburg began collecting songs while riding the rails as a hobo as a young man to the time he traveled across America lecturing and performing. The collection includes songs of the old West, minstrel, mountain, railroad, labor, and prison songs, blues, ballads, and comic ditties.

Collecting these songs enabled Sandburg to document the American people and their stories. For every song, Sandburg wrote a history. He consulted with composers who in turn, wrote accompanying chords for the guitar for every song. Although he hadn't intended to, the resulting work, a confluence of history, lyrics, and music, provides an unparalleled history of American folk music. "It was the most difficult book he had ever undertaken, kept him 'tied down' long past his expectations, and wore him out physically and mentally, as well as emotionally. 'Sometimes I think the reason that kind of book has not been done before,' he complained, ' is because so many tackle it and die on the job'... The stress from Songbag, said Sandburg, 'nearly put me coo coo.'" (Niven, p 453-454)
Paper, cloth. H 26.5, W 19.5, T 4.0 cm
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, CARL 20419

American Songbag Index Cards
New York, NY: Harcourt

Paper. L 33.0, W 25.0, 8.5 cm
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
, CARL 23223

Manuscript Page for "The Railroad Cars, the American Songbag
c 1926

Sandburg took on a project to write down the lyrics, music, and history of the songs he had been collecting for nearly thirty years. The American Songbag project took all the perseverance he could muster. It's a job that he said nearly killed him. Shown here is a page from the manuscript of The American Songbag published in 1927.
Paper. L 33.0, W 25.0, 8.5 cm
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, CARL 23223