"Make Believe"

"Make Believe"

Usage conditions apply

This sheet music is for the song for “Make Believe,” with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and music by Jerome Kern. It was published by T. B. Harms Company in 1927. This song was featured in 1927 Broadway musical Show Boat, one of the masterpieces of American theater.

Show Boat is regarded as the first American musical to depart from the genre’s traditional light comedy by featuring serious dramatic complexities, notably race relations among people along the Mississippi River. Show Boat was adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern from the 1926 novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Ferber. Both the book and the musical mix humor with nostalgia as they recall the disappearing culture of the show boat. A novelty form of performance in the 1800s, a show boat was a floating theater that featured melodramas, musical acts, dancing, and vaudeville as it traveled along American waterways such as the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Ohio Rivers. The popularity of showboats declined in the 20th century as the country moved from the rivers to the roads and motion pictures replaced the stage as the main form of entertainment. The musical Show Boat recalls this era, as it follows the Cotton Blossom and the people the boat affects while traveling up and down the Mississippi.

Sheet music was a popular means of dispersing songs throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the widespread availability of phonographs and radio shifted the music industry’s focus to recorded songs. With sheet music such as this, people would typically gather around a piano and sing, bringing the stories and sounds of the theater into parlors across the country.

Currently not on view
Object Name
sheet music
publishing date
T. B. Harms Company
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
paper (overall pattern)
ink (overall pattern)
overall: 11 3/4 in x 9 in; 29.845 cm x 22.86 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Entertainment
Music & Musical Instruments
Popular Entertainment
Sheet Music
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.

Note: Comment submission is temporarily unavailable while we make improvements to the site. We apologize for the interruption. If you have a question relating to the museum's collections, please first check our Collections FAQ. If you require a personal response, please use our Contact page.