The exhibit traces the evolution of music in the mile-square city from the mid-1850s to the present. There will be 20 listening stations, with four dedicated solely to Hoboken's favorite son, Frank Sinatra, who unsurprisingly is the main attraction.
Hoboken is the spot where the musical "Hair" was written; where composer Stephen Foster lived, and where many upcoming bands passed through the Washington Street bar Maxwell's. Along with producing music and musicians, Hoboken has been home to manufacturing several unique instruments, from the Guild Guitar to the ukelin, a rare stringed instrument of Eastern European and Appalachian roots.
"There's a strong identification with music in Hoboken," said Joel Lewis, a music critic and author who lives in town and wrote the narrative that accompanies the exhibit.
Along with that exhibit, there is currently another running at the museum: a photo exhibit planned for the museum's upper gallery featuring the work of John Conn.
A former contributor to the museum, Conn returned to Hoboken after taking a series of photographs during the 1970s which were used in the museum's recent exhibit on Hoboken in the 1970s. The current exhibit, which will last for six weeks only, is entitled "Searching for the Heart of Hoboken."
Both exhibits will have an opening reception from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. today, Sunday July 29, at the museum, located at 1301 Hudson St.
Two local boys
For the millions who have grown to love Sinatra's sound over the years, the Hoboken Historical Museum's musical exhibit begins with a full wall of Sinatra facts and memorabilia that includes revealing shots of his childhood through his adult years.
In addition to the listening stations, which use compact discs, there will be well over 100 vinyl records set aside for visitors to play at their leisure on a vintage hi-fi cabinet record player.
The exhibit will also feature what is believed to be one of Sinatra's earliest recordings, according to Museum Director Robert Foster, in which Sinatra sings the Irish ballad "Roses of Picardy" on a home recording machine in the 1930s.
Another native Hoboken artist being showcased is Jimmy Roselli, who was known for his booming voice, clear sound, and ability to "make wise guys weep," according to Foster. Roselli used to perform in neighborhood nightclubs as well as clubs in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Roselli, who was born a block away from Sinatra a decade later, has been compared with the legend throughout the years.
From composers to musicals to clubs
The exhibit moves on to Stephen Foster, a Hoboken resident in the 1850s, whom many regarded as one of the first major American song composers. One of Foster's most well-known pieces, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," inspired the name of the 1960s sitcom "I Dream of Jeanie."
Another well-known artist who shares the wall with Foster is Thomas Wiggins, also known as "Blind Tom," an African-American composer and pianist who was blind and was believed to have been autistic as well. He was born to slaves and was discovered by General James Bethune, a fierce abolitionist who used Tom's ability for his own benefit. Bethune reaped most of the financial income Tom created by playing at concert halls across the United States and Europe, where he earned upwards of $50,000 per year.
Tom lived in Hoboken in the later part of the 19th century. He resided in the Elysian Flats on Washington Street between 12th and 13th streets, now owned by Applied Housing. He passed away in 1908.
'Hair' man will be there
Also featured in the exhibit is a tribute to the musical "Hair," which was written in Hoboken in the 1960s by James Rado and Jerome Ragni. Rado, who will be at the reception on Sunday, still lives in Hoboken. Ragni is deceased.
Also featured in the exhibit will be a display dedicated to the once popular Club Zanzibar, which was open from 1961 through 1981 on First Street between Madison and Monroe streets. The club attracted many black performers who would stop over after performing in larger engagements in New York, such as Wilson Pickett and The Coasters.
The show will conclude with a tribute to the many artists who have come to Hoboken to perform, in large part due to the efforts of Maxwell's. Acts including REM, Nirvana, and Beck played at Maxwell's over the years.
Michael Mullins can be reached at email@example.com.