In 19th-century New Orleans, where the time of day was set to music, merchants used sheet music to push their products.
Thus, there were "Tabasco March," "Southern Perfection Beer Polka" and "The Bronze Pen Polka." Anyone buying a pen would get a free copy of the sheet music.
Songs were written for almost every occasion, place or product -- "The New Orleans and Great Northern Railroad Polka," "W. W. Cole's Grand Zoological March," "Stonewall Jackson's Way," Dr. Tickenor's Antispetic March" and "The Colored Soldier Boys of Uncle Sam." And all had handsomely engraved and printed covers.
"If you had an axe to grind in Louisiana, you did it to music," said Vaughn Glasgow, chief curator of the Louisiana State Museum. He helped put together "Played With Immense Success: Louisina Music, 1840-1940," a traveling Smithsonian exhibition that opened Friday in the Kennedy Center North Gallery.
Consisting of 350 sheet music covers and 100 other objects, including Louis Armstrong's first cornet and a "blue book" director of Storyville, the legal red light district, the exhibit is a fascinating social and cultural glimpse of Louisiana told through music.
It's of interest to all, but particularly to Louisianans. When the show was on view in New Orleans for a year, many residents recognized names of relatives in the exhibition script.
Viewers should not let the overwhelming number of sheet music covers deter them. There are too many for such a small exhibition. But they explored a lot subjects in a pithy way.
The exhibition closes Feb. 24.