Social Stairs

New at the Downtown Main Library

Celebrating Music with Cincinnati Connections

Step through Cincinnati's musical history on the Social Stairs, debuting in July 2024. At nearly five stories tall, this staircase is a visual exploration of artists and genres from 1945 to 2023.

  • 1,600+ Songs/Albums in Order by Year
  • 50+ Cincinnati-Based Record Labels
  • 7 Decades of Music
  • 31 Musical Genres

How to Experience the Social Stairs

More than 1,600 songs are listed on the Social Stairs - and there's a method to experiencing the musical climb!

Each baluster of the Social Stairs lists an artist's name, a song or album title, and the year the song debuted. There are 31 colors featured on the Social Stairs, each representing a different genre.

The first floor of the staircase features songs published in 1945, with the timeframe progressing to the present day as you travel up to the third floor of the Downtown Main Library.

As you explore the songs of the Social Stairs, you can borrow or stream, opens a new window most of the songs for free using your Library card!

1945-1970: Country Boogie to Soul and Funk

The Social Stairs begins in the atrium of the Downtown Main Library and starts off with the Country Boogie and Jump Blues hits of the late 1940's that made King Records the sixth largest record company in America by 1949.

Lots of new music was emerging in 1945 – like Bluegrass, Jump Blues, and Country Boogie – much of which was recorded right here in Cincinnati. These genres are shown with yellow and orange tints on the staircase.

The Library also began its musical history at this time, with CHPL’s collection expanding to sound recordings. The Library’s first record in its collection was a Cincinnati Opera album, acquired in 1946, through a donation by the Cincinnati Opera. That record has a place on the staircase as a tribute to that occasion.

As you climb the stairs into the 1950's, you'll reach the second floor of the Downtown Main Library and see the emergence of then-new genres like Doo Wop and Rockabilly – shown on the staircase in darker green colors.

In the 1960's, Cincinnati got down to Soul classics and fun dance songs. The stairs commemorating music of the late 60's include one of most influential musicians of the late 20th century: James Brown. Brown became an international star and invented the music genre of Funk while he was a recording artist for Cincinnati's King Records.

1970-1990: The Emergence of Industrial Strength Bluegrass and Punk Rock

About halfway up the Social Staircase, you'll spot the music of the 1970's in Cincinnati. The 1970's included the rise of James Brown’s protégé, Bootsy Collins, a Cincinnati native. Collins started as a session player before he became a worldwide figure in Funk music. Funk is noted on the staircase balustrades, opens a new window in lighter green entries.

The staircase also reveals the 1970's bluegrass of Southwest Ohio through these light blue entries, now dubbed “Industrial Strength Bluegrass.”

The 1980's section is where you can get a great peek into CHPL’s collection and use the generous landing to rest up for the legendary music ahead. Here, you'll find purple and darker blue balustrades signifying the revolutionary local Punk rock and the massive Funk hits recorded in Cincinnati.

1990-Present: Alternative Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic Music

As you head to the top section of the Social Stairs, get ready to rock! The genre colors are deeper blues as you dive into the great alternative rock bands of the 1990's.

When you arrive on the 3rd floor of the Downtown Main Library, the darker blue and purple balustrades show the emergence of Hip Hop and Electronic musical artists recording locally in the 21st century.

At the very top of the Social Stairs is a great view – and multiple seats! – to take in the entirety of Cincinnati’s wonderful musical staircase.

Explore More at the Main Library

Journey through three floors and 540,000 square feet of books, movies, music, and more at the Main Library with new spaces and services for you to enjoy, including:

  • Redesigned spaces like meeting rooms and interactive areas for kids and teens
  • The new Catherine C. and Thomas E. Huenefeld Story Center to record and share history with future generations
  • Outdoor plazas with new public art and spaces to gather
  • Return of the beloved book sculpture 
  • Phronesis, a new large-scale light sculpture
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