American Old-Time Song Lyrics

From Wehman's Universal Songster - a unique collection of 61 volumes of Music Hall, Theater, Irish, Sentimental, Comic, Nostalgic, Inspirational & Historic Old Songs.

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Oldtime-bandAbout This Collection

This collection of around 6000 songs was taken from a set of 61 song books published quarterly roughly between 1884 and 1899 by the Henry J. Wehman publishing company of New York and Chicago. Wehman Publishing specialised in cheap (these books where originally sold for 10 cents each) books for a mainly urban middle and working class readership with whom "opera houses", music hall, and vaudeville were a very popular form of entertainment - which often included audience"sing-a-longs". These same audiences were presumably a main customer base for these songbooks.
Wehman also publish many themed collections culled from these songbooks e.g. "The Universal Irish Songster" as well as collections named after a particularly popular song e.g. "Just When I needed You Most"

The songs

To the modern eye many of these songs will seem very quaint and old fashioned but many have a timeless charm that will appeal to many. A charm evidenced by the fact that songs or variations thereof from this collection have been used by many later artists as varied as The Carter Family and Boy Dylan.
Much of the material in these songs reflects city and town life as it was at the time, and includes many varieties of vernacular language originating from various immigrate and other groups e.g.  Irish, Scottish, English , Negro, German, Dutch, Yiddish etc. Many of the songs are written using language intended to represent stereotypes of colloquialisms that might have been used by the groups mentioned. This of course involved many none-standard and eccentric uses, as well as the use of Middle English stylisation (commonly used in 19th century songs) plus very heavy use of contractions and punctuation(at least by today's standards).  Some of these songs were of a topical nature and refer to "crazes", sayings, politicians, famous people and events of the time. All this adds up to texts that can be quite hard to read at times and that are likely to throw your spell checker into confusion.  I  did have to leave out some songs because the original were too illegible for salvage, and I hope you can also excuse the mistakes that I have undoubtedly missed.

The Music

I only have the lyrics for these songs, however, most of these songs have a simple verse, chorus structure and fairly obvious phrasing which makes it fairly easy to create simple chord accompaniments using a bluegrass/oldtimey/folky sort of style. To help you with this we have a non-technicaL how-to-do-it article - How to set song lyrics to music and easily create a tune, which should help. Or you may find a version of the sheet music or a song book containing the song you can buy, check from the search box below.

Social commentary.

These songs provide an interesting inside view of a time of large scale immigration from Europe and elsewhere, reliance on boarding houses for accommodation, poverty, a staple diet of "hash", almost universal Christian values paradoxically pared with heavy national stereotyping and apparent discrimination. Remember, this was a time, which by today's standards, was not at all "politically correct", so do not be surprised if some of these lyrics offend your 21st century diversity training. However, there is no lewdness or indecency, and by today's standards, apart from the mentioned PC issues these are family safe lyrics.

Known problems

Extracting useable text from scans of 100 year old books is a tedious and error prone business, so please forgive the odd errors and oddities you may find. I have also omitted certain items such as foreign language recitations, quotes from newspapers etc, and unreadable text. Also note that many of these songs contain slang, topical contractions, and colloquialisms of the time, that will spell checkers potty, so don't assume all the funny words you find are errors.Some long songs that extend over more than one page are truncated. However, the missing parts are available in the PDF version of each song which can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of each song page. For those wishing to edit and compile the own songbooks from this collection RTF (Word) documents for each song are also provided.

For an alphabetic index of titles on each volume follow these links:

For a complete list of all the songs in one file download this PDF file

You may also be interested in other American Old Time Related items on this site: