Music and Silent Films

Most people may not associate the silent movies with music, but in fact there were several strong correlations. Most films in the Golden Age of the silent movie (1894-1929) had organists, and sometimes, even full orchestras playing along to the images up on the screen. The music publishers soon realized another great marketing tool when adding a movie stars’ image to the cover of their sheet music. Sometimes, the song might not have anything to do with the movie advertised, but it sold because a favorite star such as Mary Pickford or Charlie Chaplin would be on the cover. Some of the songs would merely be inspired by a movie title, which was just enough to link the sheet music to a big celebrity name. To showcase this point, the NAMM Resource Center has a small collection of sheet music relating to the great stars of the silent movie era including the aforementioned Mrs. Pickford and Mr. Chaplin (who was also a songwriter) as well as Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd.

 

Michelle Schedler
NAMM Archivist & Oral History Coordinator

 

Dan Del Fiorentino
Music Historian
dand@namm.org