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John Philip Sousa and “The Menace of Mechanical Music”


In 1906 Appleton's Magazine published John Philip Sousa's most celebrated—and vitriolic—article, “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” In it Sousa predicts that piano rolls and recordings will end amateur music making in the United States. Modern writers have often condemned Sousa as a hypocrite (the Sousa Band was itself a major recording ensemble) and chastised him for failing to see the cultural and financial benefits of mechanical music. But, in fact, Sousa's article was part of a larger scheme to gain public support for the 1909 copyright revision. It was also just one step in Sousa's lifelong battle for composers' rights, a battle with five distinct phases: (1) the debate over the right of public performance precipitated by the success of Gilbert and Sullivan in the United States, (2) a test of the limits of contractual obligations between performers and managers, (3) the instigation of an international copyright law, (4) the battle over mechanical rights, and (5) the ability of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) to collect royalties as related to public performance.

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
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