National Jukebox Website Launched By Library of Congress

Harry Connick Jr. Celebrates National
WATCH Harry Connick Jr. Celebrates 'National Jukebox'

The "National Jukebox" went online today offering a vast catalogue of free music and historic recordings from the days when records were made of thick plastic instead of vinyl.

The selections, provided by the Library of Congress, range from the foxtrot to songs by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and presidential speeches.

In conjunction with Sony Music Entertainment, the Library of Congress unveiled the "National Jukebox" today, which provides access to thousands of sound recordings spanning from 1901 to 1925 for the first time in a digital format free of charge.

"This is a vast treasure trove of recordings produced in the U.S. prior to the end of 1925," said James Billington, the Librarian of Congress. "It includes early jazz, famous speeches, poetry, humor, opera, dance music with authoritative production information for each recording."

Harry Connick Jr., a Grammy award winning pianist, singer and actor, helped kick off the launch of the jukebox, saying it was important for future generations to have access to some of the country's earliest music recordings.

"To have these songs preserved in this capacity and the initiative taken by the gentlemen you see up here to ensure that new generations have access to these treasures is really heartwarming and inspirational to me," Connick said. "I look at my kids and to know they have a technological way, a vehicle to get these songs, it's absolutely imperative."

At the debut of the jukebox, Connick treated the audience to a performance of a song featured on the site, "I'm Just Wild About Harry," originally composed in 1921 by Eubie Blake. As a child, Connick had the opportunity to perform "I'm Just Wild About Harry" with Blake in New Orleans

"I remember I was 9 and he was around 95, 96 years old, and I'll never forget sitting next to him," Connick said. "This guy wrote such significant music, not only musically, but that song was pretty much the song that cleared away the taboo of any depiction of love between black people on screen or music. It was from that show "Shuffle Along," which was a huge show, wildly successful and it broke down a lot of barriers, racial barriers."

The song was used as a campaign song for Harry Truman's presidential run in 1948 and Harry Connick Sr.'s run for district attorney in New Orleans.

Users can search the national jukebox by artist or genres and can consult curator created playlists. The recordings are available for streaming, but cannot be downloaded.

The collection provides access to Sony Music's entire pre-1925 catalog, including recordings from Columbia Records, Okeh, and Victor Talking Machine Co. Sony Music licensed the recordings to the Library of Congress to stream online through the National Jukebox website.

The jukebox showcases popular works by artists such as opera singer Enrico Caruso, virtuoso Charles Kellogg, composer John Philip Sousa, and the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra's "Rhapsody in Blue," with George Gershwin playing the piano.

The jukebox also features political speeches by three presidents – Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft -- as well as popular poems, readings from the Bible and early sound-effect records such as a collection of snores and sneezes.

The website includes an interactive version of the "Victrola Book of Opera," which offers a comprehensive look into early 20th century opera.

The recordings were all produced in the acoustical era before the invention of the microphone. Artists would perform into a recording horn, which gathered sound waves and funneled them to a small diaphragm at the end of the horn. The energy of the sound waves would create vibrations which caused an attached stylus to etch waves onto a disc.