Preserving The Sounds Of The Century

John Lee Hooker Library of Congress

What do Winston Churchill, a Puerto Rican girl in New York City, and a Mississippi Delta bluesman have in common? Their voices have been designated as treasures of the American experience.

The Library of Congress has announced the 25 latest additions to the National Recording Registry, a selection of sounds that have been designated as cultural, artistic and historical treasures to be preserved for future generations.

Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Library annually chooses 25 recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Selections (which must be at least 10 years old) span the range for spoken word, news and radio broadcasts to Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Nashville.

"This year's selections lovingly reflect the diversity and humanity of our sound heritage where astonishing discoveries and a vibrant creative spirit seem to appear around every corner," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

Among the the memorable sounds of the century to be preserved are Marian Anderson's recital at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939; Mary Margaret McBride's interview with Zora Neale Hurston; the sounds of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Louisiana swamp forest, the last confirmed aural evidence of what was once the largest woodpecker species in the United States; studio recordings of a teenage violinist Jascha Heifetz; a spoken-word reading by Dylan Thomas credited with launching the American audiobook industry; and Etta James" rendition of "At Last."

The selections for 2008 bring the total number of recordings in the registry to 275.

Additions to the registry also feature notable performances by The Who, the trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, the Andrews Sisters, Ray Bolger, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, and George Jones.

For Future Generations

The Library of Congress and its National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) are
required by law to identify and preserve the best existing versions of recordings on the Registry, to be stored at the Library's Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va.

Named to the Registry this year:

  • "No News, or What Killed the Dog" (1908), a comic monologue by vaudevillian Nat M. Wills.

  • Acoustic Recordings for Victor Records (1917-1924) by Jascha Heifetz, the master violinist who was 16 years old when he began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor).

  • "Night Life" (1930), an impromptu piano solo by jazz artist Mary Lou Williams.

  • Sounds of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (1935) recorded by Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg of Cornell University in an old-growth Louisiana swamp forest.

  • "Gang Busters" (1935-1957), a popular radio crime20drama series that initially received the cooperation of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

  • The Andrews Sisters" "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" (1938), an
    English-language swing version of a Yiddish musical tune that brought the trio to national attention.

  • "Que é Que a Bahiana Tem?" (1939) combined the rhythms of samba with the voice of Carmen Miranda.

  • NBC Radio coverage of Marian Anderson's recital at the Lincoln Memorial (April 9, 1939), the most complete document of the singer's historic performance.

  • "Tom Dooley" (1940), a murder ballad sung by Frank Profitt, a North Carolinian who regaled folklorists Frank and Anne Warner with his tale.

  • "Uncle Sam Blues" (1944), one of the V-Disc recordings created to boost morale among service members overseas during World War II.
    Trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, accompanied by Eddie Condon's Jazz Band, performed this song.

  • "The Mary Margaret McBride Program" (January 25, 1943), an influential early talk radio broadcasts, here featuring as guest the author Zora Neale Hurston.

  • Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" Speech, presented at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. (March 5, 1946), in which the former British Prime Minister christened the Cold War's most iconic image. Churchill declared that, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

  • "The Churkendoose" (1947), a children tale about tolerance featuring Ray Bolger.

  • "Boogie Chillen" (1948) was the first big hit by Mississippi Delta bluesman John Lee Hooker.

  • Dylan Thomas" 1952 recording of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" for Caedmon Records, credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States.

  • "A Festival of Lessons and Carols as Sung on Christmas Eve in King's College Chapel, Cambridge," featuring the King's College Choir (1954).

  • The original Broadway cast recording of "West Side Story" (1957), which captures the infectious score by Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

  • "Tom Dooley," as interpreted by The Kingston Trio on their debut album for Capitol Records (1958).

  • Link Wray's primal guitar playing in "Rumble" (1958) influenced a host of musicians, from Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page to Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

  • New York Pro Musica, an early music ensemble, recorded "The Play of Daniel," a 12th century liturgical work in 1958.

  • Etta James brought a sultry blues approach to a Gordon-Warren big band standard, "At Last!" (1961).

  • "Rank Stranger" (1960) by the bluegrass band The Stanley Brothers.

  • "2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks" (1961), the classic comedy album in which an ancient raconteur tells his secret for long life: "Nectarines!"

  • The Who's first album, the 1966 "The Who Sings My Generation."

  • Country artist George Jones' 1980 recording "He Stopped Loving Her Today," one of the genre's most enduring songs.

    Nominations were gathered from online submissions from the public and from the National Recording Preservation Board, which comprises leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation.

    The Library is currently accepting nominations for the next registry at the NRPB Web site (www.loc.gov/nrpb/).

    The Library is currently preparing a report on the state of
    preservation of recorded sound, which will encompass not only the disintegration of older recordings but also the hazards of protecting recordings created on technology that has or may become obsolete, and the legal aspects of copyright and fair use for unpublished recordings.

    They are also building a national plan to ensure that our nation's sonic heritage survives for future generations.


    By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan.

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