Songs in the Key of Los Angeles

Songs in the Key of Los Angeles

by Josh Kun

Culled from the Southern California Sheet Music Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, this unprecedented anthology tells the story of Los Angeles through its songs. Featuring the elaborately designed covers of more than one hundred pieces of vintage sheet music, Songs in the Key of Los Angeles spans 1859 to 1959, offering a rare musical window into Southern California history—from mythic Missions to infinite oranges, from rumbling railroads to romantic Ramona . . . and there's Hollywood history, too, harmoniously noted by its music and film industries.

Inside you'll find California lullabies and Los Angeles waltzes, sunshine rags and sunset serenades, the emergence of West Coast jazz and the legacy of Mexican folk traditions, all accompanied by an essay from the collection's curator and native Angeleno Josh Kun. Additional arrangements from musicians Van Dyke Parks and Stew, plus a chorus of critics and historians, come together to bring these extraordinary city songs back to life, ready for a new generation of city dwellers.

Take a look at—and listen to—some of the songs over at the Songs in the Key of Los Angeles blog

About the contributors:

  • Josh Kun is a professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, where he directs the Popular Music Project of the Norman Lear Center. He is the author or editor of several books, including Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America, and his writings on music and culture have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the American ProspectLos Angeles Magazine, and many other publications. As a curator and consultant, he has worked with the Getty Foundation, the Grammy Museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Autry Museum, the Skirball Cultural Center, and others. 
  • Van Dyke Parks is a composer, arranger, producer, musician, and singer, who has released six albums of solo material. A longtime collaborator with Brian Wilson, he wrote lyrics for the classic Beach Boys album Smile, and has also worked with recording artists such as Phil Ochs, Harry Nilsson, and Rufus Wainwright. 
  • Stew is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter/playwright and a leader of the bands the Negro Problem and Stew. His works include the musical Passing Strange, for which he received a 2008 Tony Award. 
  • Inna Arzumanova is an Annenberg Fellow and doctoral candidate in the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, where she specializes in the study of race in contemporary arts and media industries. 
  • Ken Brecher is president of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. 
  • Victoria Dailey is a writer, collector, historian, antiquarian bookseller, and publisher. 
  • Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje is a professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA. She is the author and editor of several books, including California Soul: Music of African Americans in the West. Inna Arzumanova is an Annenberg Fellow and doctoral candidate in the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, where she specializes in the study of race in contemporary arts and media industries. 
  • William Deverell is a professor of history at the University of Southern California and director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He is author of Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. 
  • Jim Heimann is a cultural anthropologist, graphic design historian, and the executive editor for Taschen America. He is the author of numerous books on architecture, pop culture, and the history of the West Coast, Los Angeles, and Hollywood. His unrivaled private collection of ephemera has been featured in museum exhibitions around the world and dozens of books. 
  • John Koegel is a professor of music at California State University Fullerton and a widely published expert on Mexican music in California. 
  • Graphic artist Amy Inouye designs books, makes funny art projects, and is "mom" to Chicken Boy, a twenty-two-foot tall fiberglass man/boy with the head of a chicken (aka the Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles). A graduate of Art Center College of Design, she lives on Historic Route 66 in Los Angeles.


  • 224 pages
  • full color
  • 250+ images
  • 12"x10"
  • hardcover: ISBN 978-1-62640-000-9; $50.00
$50.00 USD