Being a fan of classic cinema and musicals, I also highly enjoy the Great American Songbook. The Great American Songbook is the backbone of many of my beloved film musicals and stage plays and is basically the only type of music I enjoy in my leisure.
Pianist Michael Feinstein has dedicated himself to the study and preservation of the Great American Songbook through establishing the Great American Songbook Foundation and building his collection of source material relating to the Great American Songbook and the Golden Age of Hollywood. In addition to establishing venues that celebrate the Great American Songbook, Feinstein also appeared in three seasons of PBS’s Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook along with his partner, Terrence Flannery. Feinstein also explores the connection between singers and songs through his radio show, Song Travels. A large portion of the treasures Feinstein has accumulated are housed in the Great American Songbook Museum at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.
The Great American Songbook Museum holds a large collection and their displays and exhibits rotate. No matter what is on display, there is undoubtedly something being showcased to be enjoyed by music and movie fans alike.
On my most recent visit, one of the displays included a holiday card display featuring the cards of various composers and performers.
The Great American Songbook Museum is also home to several notable pianos, including the Richard Whiting piano.
The collection also includes a piano that is traditionally signed by First Ladies. Presently, it possesses quite the array of noteworthy names.
Additionally, the Johnny Mercer piano is also house here, albeit hidden away from public view.
At the heart of the Center for the Performing Arts is the actual concert hall. Many performers have entertained here, in addition to Feinstein, and the very same venue also hosts the Great American Songbook Competition, in which teens perform and compete with one another’s renditions of Great American Songbook staples.
Moving up to the gallery level, visitors will find interactive displays–one of which is the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame. New members are initiated into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame each year.
The exhibit space is the most prominent part of the museum and the theme of the exhibit changes. Each installation showcases a different part of the collection and allows visitors to focus upon a specific artist or composer. During my latest visit, I enjoyed an exhibit celebrating the Andrews Sisters.
Of course, the collection here extends to many more rooms that are not accessible to the general public. Nevertheless, the collection is open to researchers and tours can be arranged. Among my favorite items here are Bob Hopes golf clubs, the Meredith Willson papers, the napkin upon which Gus Kahn wrote “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and so many more. Each time I visit, they are busy planning for the next big event or exhibit.
Behind the scenes, the archive here is vast and spans a multitude of media formats. There are many different artifacts here, small and large, that connect to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Great American Songbook. While only a small portion of the collection is digitized, there are many people on staff who promote the holdings and work to keep the artifacts in the best condition possible.
Overall, I encourage travelers visiting Indianapolis to also enjoy the brief trip to Carmel and to experience the latest exhibit being featured at the Great American Songbook Museum.