Library selects sound recordings for preservation

The Library of Congress has competed its annual selection of 50 sound recordings for the National Recording Registry. But the task of preserving the likes of Martha and the Vandellas' 1964 “Dancing in the Street” and the broadcast of the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight is just beginning.

As mandated by the 2000 National Recording Preservation Act, the Library is responsible for annually selecting recordings for the registry that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Registry recordings must be at least 10 years old.

On Tuesday, library officials selected a wide variety of spoken and musical recordings that from 1903 to 1988. Among the artists whose music is now in the registry are Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth.

Four spoken recordings from the National Archives and Records Administration were added to the group: the first official transatlantic telephone conversation in1927, the 50th anniversary celebration of the invention of the light bulb -- with remarks by President Herbert Hoover and Albert Einstein, the 1937 “Fall of the City” program with Archibald MacLeish as script writer and Orson Welles as narrator and a 1942 Armed Forces radio broadcast emceed by Bob Hope.

At an event to celebrate this year’s anthology, library officials also announced the acquisition of a fragile lacquer record that contains a jam session featuring jazz great Lester Young.

Celebrity attendees included Robert Hendrix, a cousin of Jimi Hendrix; Martha Reeves, lead singer of the Motown group Martha and the Vandellas; and members of the comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre, who performed a short routine from one of their recordings chosen for the registry.

Now, the library must find and preserve the best existing versions of these chosen recordings. Sony BMG is assisting by locating the pristine copies in its holdings and digitizing them for the National Recording Registry collection. However, too few people have the skills to preserve many at-risk analog sound materials, audio experts say.

Prominent sound engineers from the recording industry and academia warn that information on millions of tapes and discs might become inaccessible within a few decades unless organizations adopt policies that foster expanded audio training and better digitization techniques.

The Library has begun moving 2.7 million sound recordings and more than a million moving image items to consolidate and digitize holdings it had been storing in several states. In February, Library officials began transporting 80,000 45-rpm vinyl records — the Library’s entire 45 rpm collection — for storage at an underground, Cold War-era facility at the center, a former Federal Reserve building.

By early 2007, Library officials expect to begin digitally preserving the audiovisual collections in an adjacent conservation building. The order for digitizing the collections will depend on the fragility of the format and researcher requests.

The conversion process can be lengthy. For example, the batch of recordings shipped in February contains oldies music from the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s in single record format that technicians must individually play back and reformat. So when a researcher requests a song, the employee must first play the recording on a turntable connected to a computer and then send the file to the Library.

Library of Congress officials are hoping that an experimental image workstation will speed the digitization and preservation of 78 rpm shellac and acetate records.

Because time is running out to capture many analog sounds before they fade, the Library is pursuing the recording industry and individual collectors for help in amassing original copies and digitizing them.

At the event, several representations of this year's compilation, including cylinders, records and CDs, were displayed on an open table. The only protection for the most at-risk materials present – the shellac 78 rpms – was their placement in the middle of the table.

“We put those a little out of touch,” said Gene DeAnna, head of the Library’s recorded sound section.

2005 National Recording Registry (in chronological order)

1. "Canzone del Porter” from “Martha(von Flotow),” Edouard de Reszke (1903)

2. "Listen to the Lambs,” Hampton Quartette; recorded by Natalie Curtis Burlin (1917)

3. "Over There,” Nora Bayes (1917)

4. "Crazy Blues,” Mamie Smith (1920)

5. “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose,” Fanny Brice (1921)

6. “Ory’s Creole Trombone,” Kid Ory (June 1922)

7. Inauguration of Calvin Coolidge (March 4, 1925)

8. “Tanec pid werbamy/Dance Under the Willows,” Pawlo Huemiuk (1926)

9. “Singin’ the Blues,” Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke (1927)

10. First official transatlantic telephone conversation (Jan. 7, 1927)

11. “El Manisero” (“The Peanut Vendor”), Rita Montaner, vocal with orchestra (1927); “El Manisero,” Don Azpiazu and his orchestra (1930)

12. Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration (Oct. 21, 1929)

13. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84, Modesto High School Band (1930)

14. “Show Boat,” Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson, James Melton and others; Victor Young, conductor; Louis Alter, piano (1932)

15. “Wabash Cannonball,” Roy Acuff (1936)

16. “One O’Clock Jump,” Count Basie and his Orchestra (1937)

17. Archibald MacLeish’s “Fall of the City,” Orson Welles, narrator, Burgess Meredith, Paul Stewart (April 11, 1937)

18. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” radio broadcast of May 11, 1938

19. Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight, Clem McCarthy, announcer (June 22,1938)

20. “John the Revelator,” Golden Gate Quartet (1938)

21. “Adagio for Strings,” Arturo Toscanini, conductor; NBC Symphony (1938)

22. “Command Performance” show No.21, Bob Hope, master of ceremonies (July 7, 1942)

23. “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” Nat “King” Cole (1943)

24. Allen’s Alley segment from “The Fred Allen Show” (Radio broadcast of Oct. 7, 1945)

25. “Jole Blon,” Harry Choates (1946)

26. “Tubby the Tuba,” Paul Tripp (words) and George Kleinsinger (music) (1946)

27. “Move on up a Little Higher,” Mahalia Jackson (1948)

28. “Anthology of American Folk Music,” edited by Harry Smith (1952)

29. “Schooner Bradley,” performed by Pat Bonner (1952-60)

30. “Damnation of Faust,” Boston Symphony Orchestra with the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society (1954)

31. “Blueberry Hill,” Fats Domino (1956)

32. “Variations for Orchestra,” Louisville Orchestra (1956)

33. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)

34. “That’ll Be the Day,” Buddy Holly (1957)

35. “Poeme Electronique,” Edgard Varese (1958)

36. “Time Out,” The Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959)

37. Studs Terkel interview with James Baldwin (Sept. 29, 1962)

38. William Faulkner address at West Point Military Academy (1962)

39. “Dancing in the Street,” Martha and the Vandellas (1964)

40. “Live at the Regal,” B.B. King (1965)

41. “Are You Experienced?” Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

42. “We’re Only in It for the Money,” Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (1968)

43. “Switched-On Bach,” Wendy Carlos (1968)

44. “Oh Happy Day,” Edwin Hawkins Singers (1969)

45. “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,” Firesign Theatre (1970)

46. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron (1970)

47. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Nitty Gritty Dirt Band(1972)

48. The old fog horn, Kewaunee, Wis., recorded by James A. Lipsky (1972)

49. “Songs in the Key of Life,” Stevie Wonder (1976)

50. “Daydream Nation,” Sonic Youth (1988)


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