Knight Center director speaks on newsies and music

Professor Eric Freedman

Professor Eric Freedman

Professor Joshua Duchan

Professor Joshua Duchan

Knight Center director Eric Freedman and Professor Joshua Duchan of the Wayne State University School of Music presented their study about the depiction of newsboys and newsgirls in sheet music between the mid-1840s and the late 1930s.

This presentation was part of the “Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lves” series sponsored by the MSU School of Human Resources & Labor Relations and the MSU Library.

This study is the first of its kind to focus on newsies in sheet music, interesting as the heyday of newsies and American sheet music overlap. The 38 songs examined in the study hailed primarily from Chicago, New York and Boston and were written by a variety of composers and lyricists.

While the study mainly focused on newsboys in sheet music, a few mentioned newsgirls. For example, the cover of “Please Buy My Last Paper, I Want to Go Home” displays a newsgirl huddling against the snow and desperately trying to stay warm and sell her last paper.

“They All Love Maggie Grady” describes how newsboys rally around a newsgirl whose father has died, selling papers to altruistically support her mother and baby brother.

The study found three main modes of portrayal of newsboys in song lyrics: the good, the bad, and the wistful. While the most prevalent depiction was one of pity and sadness, a contrasting, upbeat depiction appears in songs such as “I’d Rather be a Newsboy in the U.S.A. than a Ruler in a Foreign Land.”

By Eleanor Pugh

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