The Society for American Music was founded in honor of and originally named for the first critical scholar and bibliographer of American music, Oscar Sonneck, who was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on October 6, 1873. Educated in Germany and Italy, he commenced preparation of A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music in 1900. Not finding a publisher for this unusual work, he published it at his own expense, but his unique qualifications did not escape Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, to whom Sonneck had first presented the manuscript. In 1902 Sonneck was asked to take charge of the Music Division of the Library of Congress, a post he held until 1917. His responsibilities included the development of the music collection and the scholarly use of the material contained therein. He later served as founding editor for the Musical Quarterly, and in 1917 joined G. Schirmer in New York as director of publications. He remained there as executive editor until his death in 1928.
Sonneck saw that before a serious study could be made, a bibliographical basis had to be created. His work in this area resulted in the issuance of the series of music bibliographies known well and used by librarians and music scholars. His later studies based on the bibliographies remain to this day the primary source for serious work in early American musical history. As a documentary historian, bibliographer, cataloguer, editor, and critic, Oscar Sonneck stands recognized as the first serious student of early music in America. His inquiries and publications continue to inspire careful and accurate research and meticulous study in the field.