First ASCAP Ledger Book

The original ledger book maintained by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) offices documents the earliest members of this organization of music writers and publishers, as well as the first licenses issued to users of ASCAP music. The ledger book also notes purchases of office supplies and furniture for the fledgling organization.

Ledger book, 1914. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (001.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0001]

The First ASCAP License: Rector's Restaurant

Rector's Restaurant in New York was made famous by the 1909 Broadway musical The Girl from Rector's. This venerable theater restaurant was the first licensee for the newly-established ASCAP in October 1914. The license permitted Rector's live orchestra to perform ASCAP music.

ASCAP license, 1914. Facsimile. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (002.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0002]

The First Publisher Member of ASCAP—M. Witmark & Sons, Inc.

The music publishing house of M. Witmark & Sons was the first member to join ASCAP from the publishing industry. This respected "show music" publisher was, in fact, the distributer of many of ASCAP's writer members. Victor Herbert (1859–1924), a founder and first vice president of ASCAP, enjoyed a long and lucrative relationship with Witmark.

First check from publisher, [1914]. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (003.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0003]

Honoring George Maxwell and Nathan Burkan

ASCAP was fortunate in its founding days to have high-powered spokesmen and officers such as Victor Herbert (1859 –1924), Irving Berlin (1888–1989), and John Philip Sousa (1854–1932). But the day to day operations, strategic vision, and ultimate success of the organization was due to the brilliant work of founding President George Maxwell (1870–1931) and Legal Counsel Nathan Burkan (1879–1936). While not known to the general public today, their vision and commitment to ASCAP remain a very large and real presence in the organization. This photograph demonstrates that the organization from its inception included African American members, such as composer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), seated in the audience.

Dinner Given by The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in Honor of its President and Counsel Mr. George Maxwell and Mr. Nathan Burkan, Lüchows. Nov. 27, 1914. Photograph, 1914. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (004.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0004]

Radio Agreement with NBC

When the primary venues for live music shifted from restaurants and clubs to radio studios, ASCAP was ready to ensure that music creators were protected. Musical variety shows and broadcast concerts became a popular staple of radio broadcasts and provided new challenges for ASCAP and its members.

National Broadcasting Company radio agreement, 1932. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (005.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0005]

United States Supreme Court Ruling on Herbert v. Shanley Co.

Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935), wrote the opinion in the 1917 landmark suit between composer Victor Herbert (and ASCAP) and Shanley's Restaurant in New York. At issue were copyrighted musical works that were played in businesses—either in live or recorded performances. Holmes's opinion stated that whether the business made a direct profit from the use of this music did not matter, since "the purpose of employing it is profit and that is enough."

Framed collage created for ASCAP Office, ca. 1980. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0006]

Deems Taylor, Composer and ASCAP President

Composer, author, critic, radio commentator, game show panelist, and member of the Algonquin "Round Table"—essentially a "Renaissance Man"—Joseph Deems Taylor (1885–1966) was elected president of ASCAP in 1942 and served until 1948. Taylor safely navigated ASCAP through World War II, as well as through music industry strikes against broadcasters and the recording companies. Taylor probably is best remembered today as the narrator and master of ceremonies of the Walt Disney animated film Fantasia (1940). The Deems Taylor Award was established in 1967 by ASCAP to recognize excellence in books, articles, broadcasts, and websites devoted to the subject of music.

Studio portrait of Joseph Deems Taylor, ca. 1950. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0008]

Cavalcade of Music

Composer W. C. Handy (1873–1958) described ASCAP’s twenty-fifth Anniversary concert and broadcast as "a program that was never before nor can ever again be duplicated this side of Kingdom Come." The performance took place on September 24, 1940, at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco and included more than forty ASCAP members performing their own works. The event's finale was an appearance by Irving Berlin, performing a heartfelt rendition of his own, iconic song, "God, Bless America." While war brewed across the sea, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that audience members stood and then sang with Berlin: "Hundreds started to sing with him. Then thousands. And when he came to the end of his song, 15,000 Americans were on their feet singing with him. Then it was all over."

ASCAP's Cavalcade of Music 25th Anniversary Celebration. Photograph, 1940. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0043]

Working with Congress and the Courts

As technologies change and music is produced, distributed, and consumed in different ways, ASCAP works closely with members of the United States Congress to ensure that creators are compensated for their work, as this 1958 report shows. With the advent of the digital age, the way people access their music creates even greater challenges for writers, producers, and musical rights organizations.

Policies of American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1958. ASCAP Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (012.00.00)
[Digital ID # as0012]

Back to top