Music by rapper Jay-Z, singer Cyndi Lauper, jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon and bandleader Cab Calloway, the original Broadway cast album of "Hair," and the charming scholastic ditties created for the Saturday morning animated series "Schoolhouse Rock" are among the latest recordings to be added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, to be preserved for future generations.
On March 20, 2019, the Library named 25 audio recordings to be inducted to the Registry, a compendium of sound recordings deemed representative of America's artistic, cultural and historic treasures. The recordings in the Registry, which span all genres – from rock, pop, jazz, classical, country and gospel to Broadway and movies, radio and news broadcasts, and comedy albums – have been recognized as vital to our nation's audio legacy.
Also included among this year's additions: Hit songs by Sam & Dave and Earth Wind & Fire, music from the film "Super Fly," the classic radio western series "Gunsmoke," and a recording of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy announcing to an anguished Indianapolis crowd that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed.
"The National Recording Registry honors the music that enriches our souls, the voices that tell our stories, and the sounds that mirror our lives," said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. "The Library of Congress and its many collaborators are working to preserve these sounds and moments in time, which reflect our past, present and future."
Listen to audio samples and read about this year's 25 additions to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry below (in alphabetical order), and then find out how you can nominate titles to be added:
"Bach: The Six Cello Suites" (album), Pablo Casals (1936-1939)
As a teenager in Barcelona, Pablo Casals (1876-1973) discovered the scores of J.S. Bach's cello suites, which he described as "the great revelation of my life." He would study and perform them incessantly – a suite a day every day, it was said – but it wasn't until he reached his sixties when the master cellist, conductor and composer recorded them, in Paris and London, over a span of three years.
Casals' performance not only brought new recognition to the suites, but also inspired legions of cellists to make their own recordings of them, given that Bach did not adorn his manuscripts with notations on exactly how his pieces were to be played – leaving them open to myriad interpretations. But Casals' recordings set the template.
"The Blueprint" (album) by Jay-Z (2001)
Since I'm in a position to talk to these kids and they listen
I ain't no politician but I'll kick it with 'em a minute
'Cause see they call me a menace, and if the shoe fits I'll wear it
But if it don't, then y'all will swallow the truth grin and bear it
After five studio albums, rapper Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z) was both an established artist and a target for other rappers' dis (not to mention prosecutors – he was awaiting trial on assault charges). His sixth studio album, "The Blueprint," produced by Kanye West, Just Blaze, Bink, Timbaland, Trackmasters and Eminem (who appeared as a guest on the track "Renegade"), gave back as good as he got when it came to figures in the rap world ("Sensitive thugs, you all need hugs"), while the songs extolled wealth, cars and women.
The album also brought back the use of sampling in a rap record, pulling in David Bowie, the Jackson 5 and The Doors.
Critics called it both self-aggrandizing and a monumental personal achievement; it appeared on numerous lists as one of the top albums of the year, or the decade, and went double platinum despite being released on September 11, 2001. It hit #1 on the Billboard chart.
"Go" (album) by Dexter Gordon (1962)
Legendary tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon (1923-1990) had been out of the picture for much of the 1950s owing to drugs and jail, but he was back in true form in this 1962 album, recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's Englewood Cliffs, N.J. studio, that showed his deft and playful musicianship.
Teamed with Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, Gordon produced soulful playing on standards like Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," while also composing the opening track, "Cheese Cake."
"Gunsmoke: The Cabin" (Originally broadcast Dec. 27, 1952)
"The story of the violence that moved West with young America, the story of a man who moved with it: Matt Dillon, United States Marshal."
In the early days of television, many comedy and drama series were established radio shows that abandoned one medium for another: Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Arthur Godfrey, "The Lone Ranger." Curiously, in the case of "Gunsmoke," the western radio serial that begat television's longest-running western drama, the adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon continued on radio for six years after debuting on TV in 1955.
That staying power was due to the gritty realism and violence of the stories (many written by series co-creators John Meston and Norman Macdonnell) and its cast (led by William Conrad).
An early example, "The Cabin," in which Dillon finds himself trapped in an isolated cabin with two psychopathic bank robbers and the woman they're holding hostage, was later adapted for television.
"Hair" Original Broadway Cast Recording (1968)
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars.
This is the dawning of
The age of Aquarius.
Broadway had never seen anything like "Hair," the rock musical that opened on April 29, 1968 (after a brief Off-Broadway run), in which the culture wars, the Vietnam War, racial divisions, drugs, sex and nudity brought an anti-establishment vibe to the stuffy Great White Way. Diane Paulus, who directed a 2009 revival of "Hair," told, "What was so radical about 'Hair' is, it was reflecting exactly what was happening in real time in the street, to the point that cast members in the show would get draft notices delivered to the stage door."
With a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and music by Galt MacDermot, the show ran for more than four years, and produced a cast album which hit #1 on the Billboard charts and won a Grammy Award. [You can hear Diane Keaton among the original cast members singing "Black Boys."] The show's songs would also become Top 10 hits as covers by other artists, including The Fifth Dimension, Nina Simone, Three Dog Night, Oliver, The Cowsills and Strawberry Alarm Clock.
The original LP was expanded for its 20th anniversary CD release, letting the sun shine in with a few previously-unreleased songs, including "I Believe in Love" and "Electric Blues."
"La Bamba" by Ritchie Valens (1958)
Para bailar La Bamba,
Para bailar La Bamba,
Se necessita una poca de gracia,
Una poca de gracia.
"A little grace," it's what's needed to dance La Bamba. And despite Spanish being Ritchie Valens' second language (he was born in Los Angeles in 1941), he learned Spanish songs from his Mexican-American family. Taking the popular Vera Cruz wedding song and amplifying it with power chords, Valens turned a folk ditty into an enduring rock 'n' roll hit.
Valens' career had barely begun when his life tragically ended in a plane crash in 1959 (in which Buddy Holly, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson were also killed). "La Bamba" and the life of Valens would nonetheless serve as the inspiration of the popular 1987 movie, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, which was.
"Long Black Veil" by Lefty Frizzell (1959)
The judge said, "Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die."
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
For I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife.
Lefty Frizzell (1928-1975), a country and honkytonk singer-songwriter whose songs seemed to lay bare self-inflicted wounds (for one, he'd been jailed for sex with an underage girl), had a string of hits in the early 1950s, including "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)," "I Love You a Thousand Ways," "I Want to Be with You Always" and "Always Late (With Your Kisses)."
After a long dry spell in the late '50s, Frizzell recorded the more somber "Long Black Veil," Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin's ballad of a dead man recounting his path to the grave, with Wilkin herself on piano and Don Helms playing steel guitar. It would be Frizzell's biggest hit in years, and for many his signature tune.
Frizzell enjoyed a posthumous reappraisal of his catalog, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982. "Long Black Veil" would end up being covered by Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, The Band and The Chieftains, among others, while Frizzell's vocal style would influence such artists as Merle Haggard George Strait, Randy Travis and Clint Black.
Melville Jacobs Collection of Native Americans of the American Northwest (1929-1939)
Folklorist and linguist Melville Jacobs (1902-1971) was an anthropology professor at the University Washington. For more than a decade he conducted field research among the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, studying the music and language of the Alsea, Chinook Jargon, Clackamas Chinook, Hanis and Miluk Coos, Kalapuya, Molale, Sahaptin, Tillamook Salish, Upper Umpqua and Galice Creek Athabaskan.
He made nearly 170 recordings, on wax cylinders and acetate discs, of the tribes' oral traditions, in many cases documenting what were the last speakers of those languages. This audio preservation has been key to many tribes' efforts to recapture their history.
In addition to his field work, Jacobs also hosted a radio series, "Science Headlines," which was broadcast from 1934 to 1951.
"Memphis Blues" by the Victor Military Band (1914)
In 1912 composer and bandleader W.C. Handy, known as the "Father of the Blues," published "The Memphis Blues," which would soon be performed across the country, helping to popularize Handy's 12-bar blues style. The song turned up in minstrel shows, but it wasn't recorded until 1914, in a version by the Victor Military Band, arranged by Edward Cupero, and promoted as a "one-step" dance song.
"Memphis Blues" would be re-recorded by countless artists (sometimes with lyrics), as the fashion for jazz, blues and boogie-woogie grew.
"Minnie the Moocher" by Cab Calloway (1931)
Folks, here's a story 'bout Minnie the Moocher,
She was a red-hot hoochie-coocher,
She was the roughest, toughest frail,
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.
A bandleader, jazz singer and dancer, Cab Calloway (1907-1994) brought his scat style to big bands, becoming a regular at Harlem's Cotton Club and a presence on NBC Radio. His 1931 song "Minnie the Moocher," about a young woman caught up in a drug-laden den of iniquity, is believed to be the first jazz recording to sell one million copies.
The song would not only become Calloway's most familiar hit, but also a stepping stone into his appearance in an animated Betty Boop cartoon, and – nearly 50 years later – a performance in the movie "The Blues Brothers. Hi de hi de hi de hi …
"Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone (1964)
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister, my brother, my people and me
A protest song with the bouncing patter of a Broadway show tune but with words obliquely expressing righteous anger, "Mississippi Goddam" was written by Nina Simone following the murder in Mississippi of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young African-American girls.
Simone introduced it at the Village Gate in New York City, before recording it at a 1964 Carnegie Hall concert, her ironic lyrics alluding to repression and racial strife. A single was released, though the title precluded some airplay, and it was banned in several Southern states.
"Ola Belle Reed" (album), Ola Belle Reed (1973)
As a teenager, North Carolina native Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002), a singer, guitarist and clawhammer banjo player, began performing with such groups as The North Carolina Ridge Runners and a band she formed, The New River Boys and Girls. She brought her Appalachian musical traditions to performances at music parks in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
In 1973 she recorded (joined by her husband Bud and son David) her fourth, eponymous album, showcasing some traditional tunes that have since become bluegrass and country standards.
Ruth Draper monologues (1954-1956)
A forerunner of performance artists such as Lily Tomlin, Ruth Draper (1884-1956) became noted for her monologues as a variety of characters, sometimes humorous or satirical, which she gave at private recitals and at one-woman shows. There are only a couple of filmed recordings of her work, and a book published in 1960, "The Art of Ruth Draper," may not have been definitive; the text of her acts changed frequently.
Preferring live performance, Draper always resisted recording her monologues, until the 1950s, when she finally entered an RCA recording booth. Some pieces, like "The Italian Lesson," she nailed in one take. The album, "The Art of Ruth Draper," was released in 1956, and cemented her influence on actors for her voice and dramatic insight.
After her death, previously unreleased recordings of Draper were issued as well, but eventually fell out of print. Later, when Vanity Fair writer Susan Mulcahy was researching an article about Draper and discovered her monologues were no longer available, she produced new releases herself, in 2000 and 2001.
"Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set" (1996)
Conjunction Junction, what's your function?
Hooking up words and phrases and clauses!
The genesis of the catchy animated interstitials on ABC's Saturday morning cartoon schedule, featuring songs that taught basics in math, grammar, science and other subjects, began in 1973 when ad man David McCall thought of using music to teach multiplication tables to his son, who had less trouble remembering song lyrics than his 8 times 8. McCall joined forces with jazz pianist Bob Dorough, of whom it was said he had a penchant for turning "mundane subjects into marvelous music."
Their first song was "Three Is a Magic Number." While a planned LP of such music didn't pan out, a meeting with an ABC TV executive launched a series of "Schoolhouse Rock" shorts that ran for 12 years.
In addition to Dorough, songs were composed by Lynn Ahrens, Tom Yohe, George Newall, Dave Frishberg, Rich Mendoza and Kathy Mandary. Among the most famous: "I'm Just a Bill," "Conjunction Junction," and "The Preamble."
A few records and book-and-record sets were released over the years, until Rhino Records put out a 4-CD collection in 1996 containing every tune (except "The Weather Song," owing to a lawsuit from Ringling Bros.).
"September" by Earth Wind & Fire (1978)
Hey hey hey
Ba de ya, say do you remember
Ba de ya, dancing in September
Ba de ya, never was a cloudy day
"Never let the lyric get in the way of the groove," songwriter Allee Willis told NPR when describing the genesis of one of Earth Wind & Fire's biggest hits, the buoyant "September." Sure, the oft-repeated "Ba de ya" doesn't mean anything, but it doesn't have to, when you have a funky guitar track by Al McKay, who shared the songwriting credits with Willis and Maurice White. Add Thomas Washington's horn arrangements and you get a Top 10 gold record that is impossible not to dance to.
"She's So Unusual" (album) by Cyndi Lauper (1983)
I come home in the morning light
My mother says when you gonna live your life right
Oh mother dear we're not the fortunate ones
And girls they wanna have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun
Cyndi Lauper's debut solo album, released in 1983, followed the breakup of her punk/rockabilly band Blue Angel, and her having recovered from losing her singing voice for a year owing to her covering Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin songs in all their vocal cord-shattering glory.
Although the album contained some covers of music by Robert Hazard ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun"), Prince ("When You Were Mine") and Jules Shear ("All Through the Night") – transforming the songs into paeans of female power -- Lauper co-wrote "Time After Time" (which hit #1), "She Bop" (#4), "Witness" and "I'll Kiss You."
Lauper's explosion onto the pop scene, in a burst of funky fashion and spunky, exuberant defiance that belied her diminutive frame, made her an MTV favorite and pushed her album to #4 on the Billboard charts. She would win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
"She's So Unusual" was a spectacular solo debut, which only foreshadowed Lauper's success with such albums as "True Colors," "A Night to Remember" and "At Last," and a Tony Award for the 2013 Broadway musical "Kinky Boots" – becoming the first woman to win a Tony alone for Best Score.
"Soul Man" by Sam & Dave (1967)
Got what I got the hard way
And I'll make it better, each and every day
So honey, don't you fret
'Cause you ain't seen nothing yet
I'm a soul man
Composed by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, "Soul Man" was created in response to the Detroit riots in July 1967, to counter negative images in the media of the violence. Noting the black-owned businesses that had marked their buildings with the word "soul" and thus been spared being burnt, Hayes thought of "Soul Man" as the title of a consciousness-raising song about black pride and the struggle to rise up from economically depressed conditions.
Recorded by Samuel Moore and David Prater, "Soul Man" hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental.
Speech on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Robert F. Kennedy (April 4, 1968)
"In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
On the campaign trail for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 to the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who'd been felled by a gunman's bullet earlier that day in Memphis had died. Kennedy broke the news to his shocked audience attending the event, and called for peace and an end to racial division in the wake of an assassination – remarks all the more poignant because Kennedy was all too familiar with the personal pain caused by a loss of a family member in a politically-motivated murder.
Quoting the Greek poet Aeschylus, he calmed an angry crowd. And while violence and rioting raged in cities across the U.S. following King's murder, Indianapolis did not burn.
Two months later, Kennedy himself would be dead, shot by an assassin's bullet.
"Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years" (album) by Stan Freberg (1961)
Actor, radio personality, innovative ad man and voice artist Stan Freberg (1926-2015) brought a touch of mirth to this look back at American history, from Christopher Columbus' cajoling of the Queen of Spain to fund his expedition to the New World, through the purchase of Manhattan Island, and the Revolutionary War.
The album is presented in the style of musical theatre, with songs and skits and a cast that included Jesse White, Barney Phillips, June Foray and narrator Paul Frees.
Freberg eventually released a follow-up "Vol. 2" album more than 30 years later (from material created for a planned stage show that never panned out), which rushed through American expansionism and a few wars, as well as the invention of the light bulb.
"Super Fly" (album) by Curtis Mayfield (1972)
Contrary to the marketing strategies often used for movie soundtrack albums (released timed to the opening of a movie, to take advantage of the studio's prodigious advertising), Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack album for the 1972 blaxploitation film "Super Fly," about a pimp and cocaine dealer, was released several weeks beforehand.
Mayfield, previously a member of The Impressions before going solo as a singer-songwriter and record producer, reached a critical high with his soul music for "Superfly," but the record album allowed Mayfield to add lyrics to the movie's background score, such as in the track "Freddie's Dead." He did so, he said, to underscore his own views on the dangers and despair that drugs had brought to the community – and the possibility that the movie might glorify drug use to its audience.
As recounted in the book "Traveling Soul," written by the composer's son, Todd, Mayfield said, "It was important for me to counter the visuals – to go in and explain it in a way that the kids would not read it as an infomercial for drugs." Coming out weeks before the film opened, the songs created a distance from the movie at the same time they built awareness for it.
"Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond (1969)
Good times never seemed so good
I'd be inclined
To believe they never would
Neil Diamond was a young, broke songwriter when he hit upon a song that would come to define him, a sweet and joyful ode to restorative love. "Sweet Caroline" reached #4 on the Billboard charts, and became a crowd favorite not just at concerts but at sporting events – Boston Red Sox fans would salve their heartbreak by singing along – and it became a healing song following the Boston Marathon bombing.
For years Diamond said the inspiration for the song came from a photo of President John F. Kennedy's daughter in a news magazine. "It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," Diamond told the. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there."
Perhaps, but several years later, in 2014, Diamond said the song was about his wife at the time, Marsha, but that he needed a three-syllable name to make it work.
"They Look Like Men of War" by the Deep River Boys (1941)
The Deep River Boys, a gospel group founded at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia, recorded this spiritual which the school's first president, Civil War General Samuel C. Armstrong, had referred to as the "Negro Battle Hymn."
The performance was recorded in 1941 on a Lang-Worth transcription disc (part of a program of recording music in the public domain, to be distributed to radio stations but not made available for public sale).
"War Requiem" (album), Benjamin Britten (1963)
One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He, too, lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Benjamin Britten's work for voice and orchestra, blending Latin texts with poems by Wilfred Owen (a British soldier in World War I who was killed shortly before the Armistice), was commissioned for the 1962 consecration of Coventry Cathedral, rebuilt after it was destroyed by German bombs in World War II.
Though originally planned to be recorded at the Cathedral, Decca would produce a studio recording with Britten conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the Bach Choir, with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and tenor Peter Pears. This recording became a bestseller and the definitive version of Britten's masterwork, and would serve as the basis of director Derek Jarman's 1988 film of the same name.
Yiddish Cylinders (c. 1901-1905)
The oldest recordings added to the Registry this year are the earliest known Yiddish recordings in the world. Recorded beginning in 1901 by the Standard Phonograph Company of New York, they were collected and originally released by the Thomas Lambert Company of Chicago, and feature ballads, folk songs, operatic arias and cantorial hymns.
Only 20 cylinders survive (less than half of what was originally produced), and they were re-released on CD in 2016 by Archeophone Records.
"You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" by Sylvester (1978)
The career of Sylvester James Jr. (1947-1988) ranged from performing gospel as a youth to, a few years later, working as a drag artist in San Francisco, as part of such groups as The Disquotays and the Cockettes.
Striking out solo, it was in this guise (he was referred to as the "Queen of Disco") that he released the song "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)." The mix of an infectious beat and electronic inflections with Sylvester's emotional, falsetto performance rode the height of the disco craze.
Sylvester would transition to soul and funk with subsequent records, including "Do Ya Wanna Funk," and even forego his falsetto.
With this year's additions, the Registry now numbers 525 historic recordings (just a small part of the Library's collection of recorded sound, which currently numbers approximately three million items).
For more info:
- You can nominate recordings for the National Recording Registry here
- View the full list of titles on the National Recording Registry
You can also sample previous years' additions here: