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National Recording Registry

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The Library of Congress has opened its National Recording Registry with 50 historic recordings:

    The choices for the National Recording Registry were announced by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who appointed William Ivey chairman of a board of directors. The board and the general public will make suggestions, advising Billington on the final choices. Ivey is a country music expert and former head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

    The 50 recordings were chosen from proposals by the public and the new board.

    ….”American music has pretty well transformed the soundscape of the 20th century and it has a special role in the development of American culture and indeed American life,” Billington said.

    ….In setting up the program, Congress specified that recordings must be at least 10 years old.

    ….Inclusion in the registry will ensure that a digital copy is retained in the library.

    Billington emphasized the role of the library in setting standards for preserving sounds and making them publicly accessible.

    “We’re a very creative society, but our creativity is based on throwaway materials,” he said in explaining the Registry’s emphasis on conservation efforts. [AP]

The Board is taking nominations from the public for 2003 until September 1 here.

The 2002 Registry is here, in chronological order:

    1. Edison Exhibition Recordings (Group of three cylinders): “Around the World on the Phonograph”; “The Pattison Waltz”; “Fifth Regiment March.” (1888-1889)
    A trio of cylinders selected by Edison contemporaries to represent the birth of commercial sound recording–as an industry, as a practical technology, and as a means to preserve music and spoken word.

    2. The Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians. (1890) Fewkes’s cylinder recordings, made in Calais, Maine, are considered to be the first ethnographic recordings made “in the field,” as well as the first recordings of Native American music.

    3. “Stars and Stripes Forever” Military Band. Berliner Gramophone disc recording. (1897) The first recording of America’s favorite march. “The Stars and Stripes Forever!,” John Philip Sousa’s most famous march, was recorded by the company of the inventor of the 78-rpm gramophone disc, Emile Berliner..

    4. Lionel Mapleson cylinder recordings of the Metropolitan Opera. (1900-1903)
    In the early 1900s, Lionel Mapleson set up a phonograph in the New York City Metropolitan Opera House to record excerpts of ‘live’ performances there. These cylinders preserve a special window on the spontaneous artistry of this era and are the only known extant recordings of some performers, including Jean de Reszke.

    5. Scott Joplin ragtime compositions on piano rolls. Scott Joplin, piano. (1900s)
    Scott Joplin is regarded as the pre-eminent composer of ragtime compositions. Joplin himself performed some of these rags for piano roll sales. These rolls represent the way rags were originally listened to and enjoyed on home player pianos. They are outstanding examples of a less-familiar, nearly-obsolete, sound recording format.

    6. Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech. (1906 recreation)
    In 1906, Booker T. Washington recreated his controversial 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech in which he promotes inter-racial cooperation, as well as African-American self-reliance. This address drew criticism from other black leaders who interpreted it as giving in to segregation.

    7. “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci. Enrico Caruso. (1907) Tenor Enrico Caruso was probably the most popular recording artist of his time. His recording of this signature aria by Leoncavallo was a best-selling recording.

    8. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Fisk Jubilee Singers. (1909) The Fisk Jubilee Singers established the black spiritual in the history of American music. They were also the first to introduce these songs to white audiences through concert tours and recordings. “Swing Low” is their first commercial recording.

    9. Lovey’s Trinidad String Band recordings for Columbia Records. (1912) These Trinidadian instrumental musicians were recorded in New York City during a tour in 1912. Lovey’s String Band exemplifies a pre-jazz “hot” style common in the Caribbean at that time.

    10. “Casey at the Bat.” DeWolf Hopper, reciting. (1915) This extraordinarily popular comic baseball recitation (poem) is read by the vaudevillian, DeWolf Hopper. Hopper reportedly recited this poem over 10,000 times in performance.

    11. “Tiger Rag.” Original Dixieland Jazz Band. (1918) The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first jazz band to make a commercial recording. This all-white New Orleans-style group from Chicago featured cornetist Nick LaRocca. While not the best ensemble of its day, the first recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band initiated a craze for the new art form, jazz.

    12. “Arkansas Traveler” and “Sallie Gooden.” Eck Robertson, fiddle. (1922) Eck Robertson, master old-time fiddler, is recognized as the first performer to make country music recordings. This Victor disc features Robertson as a soloist on “Sallie Gooden,” and in a duet with fiddler Henry Gilliland performing “Arkansas Traveler” on the flip side.

    13. “Down-Hearted Blues.” Bessie Smith. (1923) Down-Hearted Blues is the best-selling and enduring first release by the “Empress of the Blues.” Bessie Smith first recorded in 1923, launching a blues career that would have no parallel during the classic blues era. She recorded more than 150 songs over her 14-year recording career.

    14. Rhapsody in Blue. George Gershwin, piano; Paul Whiteman Orchestra. (1924) The first recording made of this classic American composition featured the composer at the piano and Paul Whiteman conducting. The recording was made several months after the 1924 Aeolian Hall premiere of the work.

    15. Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. (1925-1928) Louis Armstrong was jazz’s first great soloist, and among American music’s most important and influential figures. These sessions, and his solos in particular, set a standard musicians still strive to equal in their beauty and innovation.

    16. Victor Talking Machine Company sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman, and others. (1927) Victor Records, searching for performers of “hillbilly” music, recorded performances by 19 local musicians in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1927. The amazing display of talent yielded such future country music recording stars as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Stoneman. The sessions are considered a watershed moment in the history of country music.

    17. Harvard Vocarium record series. T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, others, reciting. (1930-1940s) Harvard Vocarium was a record label produced by the Harvard University Poetry Room in the 1930s and 1940s, which featured authors reading their own works. Among the writers recorded were T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Tennessee Williams.

    18. Highlander Center Field Recording Collection. Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, others. (1930s-1980s) The Highlander Center has played important roles in many political movements. These discs document Zilphia Horton, who introduced “We Will Overcome” to the Southern Labor Movement, and later, to Pete Seeger. The collection also includes recordings of activists Myles Horton, Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, and Septima Clark.

    19. Bell Laboratories experimental stereo recordings. Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, conductor. (1931-1932) Experimental recordings made by the Bell Laboratories in early 1930s resulted in the first high-fidelity, stereo recordings. Among them were recordings which feature this great American orchestra under its renowned, and controversial, conductor, Leopold Stokowski.

    20. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radio “Fireside Chats.” (1933-1944) The Fireside Chats were an influential series of radio broadcasts in which Roosevelt utilized the media to present his programs directly to the public and thereby redefined the relationship between the president and the American people.

    21. New Music Recordings series. Henry Cowell, producer. (1934-1949) This series of 30 discs was published by Henry Cowell as part of his ground-breaking efforts to promote avant-garde music in the United States. The discs were issued in conjunction with his scholarly journal, New Music, and include works by Walter Piston, Otto Luening, Edgar Varese, Henry Cowell, and Charles Ives.

    22. Description of the crash of the Hindenburg. Herbert Morrison, reporting. (1937) An emotional, never-to-be-forgotten, moment of news broadcasting in which a tragedy is witnessed and spontaneously reported. This actuality recording was the first exception to network radio’s ban on the airing of recordings.

    23. “Who’s on First.” Abbott and Costello’s first radio broadcast version. (1938) The first recorded radio performance of this famous Abbott and Costello routine comes from radio’s Kate Smith Hour.

    24. “War of the Worlds.” Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater. (1938) The Mercury Theater’s finely-crafted radio drama about Martian invaders is one of the best-written and produced works in its genre. Its realistic format caused considerable alarm to many listeners across the U.S.

    25. “God Bless America.” Kate Smith. Radio broadcast premiere. (1938) This is the original version of Irving Berlin’s classic performed by Kate Smith on her radio program. Her rendition still retains a potent sense of patriotism, as was witnessed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedies.

    26. The Cradle Will Rock. Marc Blitzstein and the original Broadway cast. (1938) The recording of this controversial musical about labor unions was the first complete recording of a Broadway show. The work was originally intended for production by the Federal Theater Project.

    27. The John and Ruby Lomax Southern States Recording Trip. (1939) John Lomax, honorary consultant and curator for the fledgling Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, recorded hundreds of performances of ballads, blues, cowboy songs, field hollers, spirituals, and work songs in nine southern states. Many ethnomusicologists consider the recordings made on this field trip to be among the most important in this genre.

    28. Grand Ole Opry. First network radio broadcast. Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff, and others. (1939) Grand Ole Opry. First network radio broadcast. Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff, and others.

    29. “Strange Fruit.” Billie Holiday. (1939) The searing song, “Strange Fruit,” is arguably Billie Holiday’s most influential recording, bringing the topic of lynching to the commercial record-buying public.

    30. Duke Ellington Orchestra “Blanton-Webster Era” recordings. (1940-1942)
    Duke Ellington is considered one of the greatest composers and band leaders of the 20th century. His band’s recordings for RCA Victor while bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor sax player Ben Webster were among its personnel are thought by many to represent a period of unparalleled creativity. Billy Strayhorn, arranger and composer, and Duke’s son, Mercer, contributed much to these recordings.

    31. Bela Bartok, piano, and Joseph Szigeti, violin, in concert at the Library of Congress. (1940) Hailed by critics as a “landmark performance,” this recorded performance at the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium captures the electric, live-performance chemistry between composer/pianist Bela Bartok and his champion and fellow countryman, violinist Joseph Szigeti. They perform works by Bartok, Beethoven, and Debussy.

    32. Rite of Spring. Igor Stravinsky conducting the New York Philharmonic. (1940) The first U.S. recording of this 20th century masterwork as conducted by the composer is considered by many to be the best recording of Stravinsky conducting the work.

    33. “White Christmas.” Bing Crosby. (1942) The first commercial recording of this Irving Berlin classic as made famous by Bing Crosby. Until very recently, this was the best-selling recording of all time. It is assured to retake that crown soon.

    34. “This Land is Your Land.” Woody Guthrie. (1944) Woody Guthrie, a legendary folk poet, had a strong influence on the folksong revival of the 1950s. He wrote or adapted over 1,000 songs, including the classic, “This Land.” Guthrie intended the song to be a grassroots response to “God Bless America.”

    35. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day radio address to the Allied Nations. (1944) General Eisenhower’s radio address to European citizens on the day of the Allied Normandy Invasion, announces the invasion, requests their support, and promises liberation

    36. “Koko.” Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. (1945) Charlie Parker (alto sax) was another of jazz’s premier improvising soloists. “Koko” signaled the birth of a new era in jazz–bebop. This session for Savoy Records featured Charlie Parker with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

    37. “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. (1947) This recording of the bluegrass standard by the composer and “Father of Bluegrass,” mandolinist Bill Monroe, is the earliest recording of that standard. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was recorded by many other musicians, including Elvis Presley on the Sun Sessions. Presley’s version was such a hit that Monroe later revised his performances to reflect Presley’s influence.

    38. “How High the Moon.” Les Paul and Mary Ford. (1951) This exciting performance introduced over-dubbing recording techniques to the public and paved the way for studio production techniques still in use today.

    39. Elvis Presley’s Sun Records sessions. (1954-1955) The group of recordings made at Sun Studios launched the career of Elvis Presley helped to create the rock ‘n’ roll era. They were the singer’s first recordings and remain his most widely respected. The recordings include Elvis’s rendition of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

    40. Songs for Young Lovers. Frank Sinatra. (1954) Frank Sinatra’s Capital Records “concept” album is filled with American song standards and rich arrangements by Nelson Riddle. This album demonstrated a mature and confident Sinatra who transcended his earlier popularity as a favorite of bobbysoxers.

    41. Dance Mania. Tito Puente. (1958) Bandleader/instrumentalist Tito Puente is considered to be a Renaissance man of Latin music. The best of New York City’s 1950s Latin jazz scene is heard on this landmark album of 1958.

    42. Kind of Blue. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and others. (1959) Many consider this recording to be one of the most important jazz recordings of any era. Miles Davis, trumpeter and composer, and a superb ensemble of musicians, including John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and Bill Evans, created a highly-influential modal jazz masterpiece which was a best-selling album.

    43. “What’d I Say,” parts 1 and 2. Ray Charles. (1959) This rhythm and blues hit combined the call-and response structure of the church with the sexually charged message of the blues. A highly acclaimed singer, pianist, arranger, and songwriter, Charles’s synthesis of soul, R&B, country, and pop makes him one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century.

    44. “I Have a Dream.” Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963) Dr. King’s address is considered a landmark event in the African-American struggle against discrimination and racism.

    45. Freewheelin’. Bob Dylan. (1963) This album is considered by some to be the most important collection of original songs to be issued in the 1960s. It includes “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the popular and powerful protest anthem of the 1960s. Dylan’s lyrics, music, and performing style make him a highly-influential figure in the urban folk-music revival of the 1960s and 1970s, whose work remains significant and influential.

    46. “Respect!” Aretha Franklin. (1967) Like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin successfully integrated elements of her gospel background with pop tunes to create numerous gold records, including the perennial hit, “Respect,” composed by Otis Redding.

    47. Philomel: for soprano, recorded soprano, and synthesized sound. Bethany Beardslee, soprano. (1971) Babbitt’s Philomel was commissioned by the Ford Foundation for the noted soprano Bethany Beardslee. It is an outstanding example of an early synthesizer composition.

    48. Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey. Thomas Dorsey, Marion Williams, and others. (1973) Composer of many enduring gospel classics, Thomas A. Dorsey is considered to be the Father of Gospel Music. The recording features Dorsey’s account of his life, as well as contemporary performances of his greatest works.

    49. Crescent City Living Legends Collection (WWOZ radio, New Orleans). (1973-1990) This collection of tapes in the WWOZ archives contains an outstanding array of interviews and live concert recordings of New Orleans musicians including Clifton Chenier, Professor Longhair, Queen Ida, and others.

    50. “The Message.” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. (1982) Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five was a pivotal group in the early days of rap, developing crucial aspects of the genre. Their 1982 hit, “The Message,” is significant because of its focus on urban social issues–a course followed by many later rappers.

I have no argument with any of these, but I sure don’t see how you can leave out Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Harry Smith’s collection, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Marvin Gaye for starters.

The Gershwin listed below is a brand new 2-CD collection of timeless Gershwin songs and orchestral pieces recorded by many of the original artists, including Gershwin’s own 1924 version of “Rhapsody In Blue.” The century’s greatest American songwriter and composer.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    NPR did a story last night on the registry and devoted the second hour of Talk of the Nation today to it.

    They interviewed Jay Allison who co-produces the wonderful Lost and Found Sound and does The Transom a site about public radio.