The Library of Congress announced 25 significant American recordings today that will be preserved as part of the National Recording Registry. The list mixes music, like "Take me out the Ball Game," with the underwater recording of humpback whales that changed public opinion about the great creatures, and the first recording of contemporary stand-up comedy.
"The salient question is not whether we should preserve these artifacts, but how best collectively to save this indispensable part of our history," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
Some of the recordings to be preserved sound like nothing more than scratches, but very important ones. "Phonautograms," recorded by Edourd-Leon Scott de Martinville between 1853 and 1861, are some of the first recorded sounds – ever.
Scott de Martinville used a boar's-bristle stylus, vibrating in sympathy with a guitar and a human voice, to etch vibrations onto blackened glass plates. Later, he made recordings on paper wrapped around a drum, though he never intended to play them back. Not until 2008 were researchers from the First Sound group able to play the recordings for the first time.
President Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in establishing the Library of Congress, the oldest federal cultural institution, and creating the post of Librarian of Congress in 1802. The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 gave the library the task of selecting 25 recordings every year that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." This year's selections bring the registry to 325 recordings.
'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'
The song "Take me Out to the Ball Game" has by now become synonymous with baseball, but did you know it is about a woman? It was composed in 1908. It was recorded by all three of the major record companies at the time (Victor, Columbia and Edison), but few copies have survived. A recording made by Edward Meeker, an announcer for Edison at the time, has been found and will be on the national registry
Ever wonder what Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee were like in person? Interviews presented by Willis Conover in 1956 will help. Virtually unknown in the United States, Conover was a fixture on Voice of America for 40 years until his death in 1996, broadcasting jazz and interviews across the world, bypassing physical roadblocks with radio waves.
"Songs of a Humpback Whale," released in 1970, helped to change people's perception of whales, and transform their view of whaling. Using underwater microphones, Frank Watlington, a Bermudian, showed that not only could whales communicate; they could do so with beauty and complexity.
The classic hip-hop album "3 Feet High and Rising" by the group De La Soul was also chosen for preservation. The group, attempting to buck the increasing turn toward stark urban naturalism, released this album in 1989 to widespread acclaim for their upbeat and often humorous album. The artists gathered a wide range of music to create their beats, drawing from Otis Redding, Steely Dan, Johnny Cash and Billy Joel. Even Liberace makes an appearance.
These are just a few of the classic and important recordings chosen from the scope of American recording to be preserved for as long as the Library of Congress remains in operation. Here's the complete list: