The history of the album cover and show poster begins with jazz. Alex Steinweiss started creating the first album artwork at Columbia Records in the late 30s, replacing the brown paper sleeves that jazz 78s came in. David Stone Martin did early work for Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, creating unique lettering and illustrations with a crow quill pen (his work is in the Smithsonian). But the most influential designer was probably Reid Miles, who created over 500 album covers for Blue Note Records. He pioneered the use of creatively-arranged type over monochromatic photography, which is a style that is still widely used in graphic design today.
Rather than post 100s of covers and posters, I wanted to isolate the lettering for easy browsing and analysis. There’s a lot of lettering out there, and a lot I left out. I tried to cover most of the genre’s significant musicians (and only pick one piece per artist), but if missed anything glaring, let me know.
As a bonus, there’s a bit of a cross-over with one of my recent posts. See if you can spot the Milton Glaser lettering!
Jelly Roll MortonPiano
Johnny “Hammond” SmithOrgan
Nat King ColePiano/Vocals
Rashaan Roland KirkMulti-instrumental
Sammy Davis Jr.Vocals
This article first appeared in reaganray.com
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