On May 14, 2008, these 25 recordings were added to the National Recording Registry.
Note: This is a national list and many of the items listed are housed in collections across the country. The Library of Congress does not currently hold copies of all the recordings listed.
Recordings are listed in chronological order:
The first transatlantic radio broadcast. (March 14, 1925)
Representing a technological breakthrough, this early orchestral broadcast originated in London, traveled by land line to station 5XX in Chelmsford, England crossed the Atlantic where it was picked up by an RCA transmitter in Maine, and then relayed to stations WJZ in New York and WRC in Washington, D.C. Although the fidelity is low, the recording is significant as documentation of a technical achievement and is a rare instance of an extant example of a complete radio broadcast of the 1920s.
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"Allons a Lafayette." Joseph Falcon. (1928)
"Allons a Lafayette," a lively two-step, was the first commercial recording of traditional Cajun music. Accordionist Joe Falcon and guitarist Cleoma Breaux, his future wife, recorded this song for Columbia Records in a New Orleans field session on April 17, 1928. Falcon began playing the accordion as a child and soon became a well-known and sought-after dance hall musician, performing throughout Louisiana and other states. His recording career ended soon after Cleoma's death, but he continued to play and perform live with his second wife, Theresa, until his death in 1965.
"Casta Diva" from Bellini's "Norma." Rosa Ponselle; accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Giulio Setti. (December 31, 1928 and January 30, 1929)
The gifted American soprano Rosa Ponselle was known for her brilliant portrayal of Norma, Bellini's Druid priestess who sacrifices herself on the funeral pyre of her Roman lover. A native of Connecticut, Ponselle made her Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 21, playing Leonora opposite Enrico Caruso in "La Forza del Destino." Previously, she and her sister Carmela appeared in vaudeville and in New York film theaters. The range, warmth and beauty of Ponselle's art represented vocal perfection to many listeners and earned her a long and successful operatic and recording career.
Image Caption: Rosa Ponselle, 1894-1981; Image Credit: [Head and shoulders, facing left]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-74126 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: c.1934
"If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." Thomas A. Dorsey. (1934)
The acknowledged father of modern gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey made only a handful of gospel recordings himself. Recording first as "Georgia Tom" and "Barrelhouse Tom," Dorsey was a noted blues artist and composer during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1932, he dedicated the remainder of his life exclusively to gospel music. In four sessions in 1932 and 1934, Dorsey recorded several songs for Vocalion, including his popular composition "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again," which were released under his own name. His voice, although well-suited to his earlier blues and jazz recordings, was said to have lacked the qualities needed for gospel music and he made no further recordings, concentrating instead on songwriting and publishing. (Note: Thomas Dorsey is not related to big-band leader Tommy Dorsey.)
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"Sweet Lorraine." Art Tatum. (1940)
People who listened to an Art Tatum record often wondered if it featured multiple pianists. Tatum's cascading runs up and down the keyboard, the scales, arpeggios, broken bass lines and two-fisted piano choruses, often taken at blistering speeds, easily gave this impression. Although contemporary critics found his playing "ornate" and devoid of improvisation, Tatum won his spurs as a jazz pianist. "Sweet Lorraine" is one of his signature tunes. Its relaxed tempo allows one to hear and follow all the typical Tatum action, including the harmonies and dissonances that give any Tatum performance undisputed originality.
Image Caption: Art Tatum; Image Credit: [Art Tatum, 1910-1956]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-67705; Created/Published: N/A
"Fibber McGee and Molly." Fibber's closet opens for the first time. (March 4, 1940)
The hall closet at 79 Wistful Vista, home of Fibber McGee and Molly (played by Jim and Marian Jordan), was the source of one of radio's most successful running sound gags and was America's best-known pile of junk as it tumbled out each time the door was opened. The effect played on the strength of the sound medium. Frank Pittman, the program's sound-effects engineer, created the comic catastrophe. The initial click of the door latch tantalizingly opened the routine. Then the thump of several boxes hitting the floor followed and grew to a crescendo of falling bric-a-brac increasing in speed and intensity until the victim was buried under a mountain of pots, pans, fish poles, dumbbells, skates, pie pans and coffee pots. The coda of the avalanche was the tinkling of a little bell. The gag was so effective that crowded, cluttered storage areas in homes are still compared by some to the closet of Fibber McGee.
Image Caption: Jim and Marian Jordan a.k.a. "Fibber McGee and Molly"; Image Credit: [Jim and Marian Jordan, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-125853; Created/Published: 1941
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"Wings Over Jordan." (May 10, 1942)
The Wings Over Jordan choir was founded in 1935 by Rev. Glenn T. Settle, pastor of the Gethsemane Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1937, they began appearing on the radio program, "The Negro Hour," singing spirituals and other traditional gospel songs over local station WGAR. By 1938, the choir had become nationally known, broadcasting on CBS. The show, renamed "Wings Over Jordan," featured prominent African-American artists and scholars as well as choir selections. It ran until 1947. Thankfully, many of these radio programs can be studied and appreciated today because they were pressed as electrical transcriptions for broadcast by the Armed Forces Radio Network.
Image Caption: Wings Over Jordan; Image Credit: [Orlando, Florida. Wings over Jordan, a popular Sunday morning radio program broadcast by Columbia Broadcasting System from Station WDBO. The choir rehearsing]; Reproduction Number: LC-USW3-016890-C; Created/Published: 1943
Fiorello LaGuardia reading the comics. (1945)
Fiorello LaGuardia, the effervescent mayor who is credited with building modern New York City, regularly took to the radio to communicate directly with the citizens of the city. One of LaGuardia's most recounted acts as mayor was when he read the comics to the children of the city on WNYC radio during the 1945 newspaper delivery strike. He performed animated, dramatic readings, describing the action in the panels, creating different voices and adding excitement with his voice. This benevolent image of LaGuardia was immortalized in the opening scene of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Fiorello!" Surviving recordings of LaGuardia reading the comics are held in the WNYC Collection of New York's Municipal Archives.
Image Caption: Fiorello LaGuardia; Image Credit: [Mayor La Guardia speaks over WNYC]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-132498; Created/Published: 1940
"Call It Stormy Monday But Tuesday is Just As Bad." T-Bone Walker. (1947)
The first recording of this blues standard was made by the Black and White label in Los Angeles on September 14, 1947. Backing up Walker on the session are Lloyd C. Glenn on piano, Bumps Myers on tenor sax and Teddy Buckner playing a muted trumpet. This lineup adds a strong jazz inflection to the recording. Over the years the song has been reinterpreted with great success by a wide range of blues, rock and jazz recording artists, including Bobby Blue Bland, Lou Rawls, The Allman Brothers and Kenny Burrell.
Harry S. Truman speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. (July 15, 1948)
Prior to the 1948 Democratic Convention, President Truman's popularity was low and political commentators were sure that Thomas Dewey would easily win the presidential election. One of Truman's advisors admitted that the president had a "speaking problem"--he relied too heavily on prepared scripts and his delivery was rushed and, occasionally, unintelligible. In this speech, Truman worked only from a loose script and, as a result, he found his natural voice. In a down-to-earth and direct manner, which included colloquialisms from his home state of Missouri, the feisty president predicted, "Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make the Republicans like it. Don't you forget it." The applause lasted for a full two minutes. Defying many predictions, Truman won re-election.
Image Caption: Harry S. Truman; Image Credit: [Harry S. Truman, the President of the United States / Walters, Seattle]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-99665; Created/Published: 1945
"The Jazz Scene" (album). Various artists. (1949)
At a time when many 78-rpm discs were still sold in plain brown sleeves, producer Norman Granz released this limited-edition album set for Mercury Records that included commissioned line drawings by David Stone Martin, large photographs by Gjon Mili and 12 sides of the most innovative jazz of the time. While illustrated album sets were not new at the time, the lavishness of this release was unique. Among the artists represented on the set are Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Machito and Coleman Hawkins (who plays an unaccompanied tenor sax solo). The presence on the album of Machito's selection "Tanga" points to the increasing significance of Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1940s.
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"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Kitty Wells. (1952)
An "answer song" to Hank Thompson's country hit "Wild Side of Life," which criticized a woman who gave up true love for the lure of the honky-tonk, Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" argues that wayward men are to blame when women stray. Wells' breakthrough hit established her as a major star and, more importantly, markedly broadened the range of subject matter considered appropriate for female country singers. The recording paved the way for increasingly frank songs by Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and other female country musicians.
Image Caption: Kitty Wells; Image Credit: [Kitty Wells, half-length portrait, facing front, holding guitar] / Fabry, Nashville; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-126143; Created/Published: 1956
"My Fair Lady" (album). Original cast recording. (1956)
The original cast recording of "My Fair Lady" marks a high point in almost every aspect of the collaborations that produced it. It boasts a magnificent score by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe—witty, intelligent, beautiful, and romantic. Brilliantly orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang, it captures landmark performances by Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway. The recording itself was wonderfully produced under the supervision of prescient producer Goddard Lieberson, who convinced Columbia to underwrite most of the cost of the original production. Columbia's initial investment of $360,000 generated tens of millions of dollars in profit. The recording established a new relationship between Broadway productions and record companies; the album's critical success and popularity with the public were unrivaled at the time of its release.
Image Caption: My Fair Lady; Image Credit: Sony
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Navajo Shootingway Ceremony field recordings. (1957-1958)
Representative of the David McAllester Collection. What may be the only recordings of this deeply sacred Navajo healing ceremony were recorded by ethnomusicologist David McAllester in Arizona in the late 1950s. McAllester's recordings of the Shootingway ceremony, one of the most complex in the Navajo ceremonial system, includes the nine day ceremonial event as well as detailed discussions about preparations, procedures, and sacred paraphernalia as well as the reciting of all of the prayers and singing of all of the songs in order. In addition to the Shootingway recordings, McAllester's collection includes eight different versions of the lengthy Blessingway ceremony, several other traditional ceremonies, and many examples of contemporary genres in which he was also interested. The collection is housed at Wesleyan University where it is the core of the World Music Archives.
"'Freight Train,' and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes" (album). Elizabeth Cotten. (1959)
The debut album of singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Cotten was released when she was over 60 years old. A self-taught guitarist, her expressive two-finger picking style was enormously influential on folk song guitarists. Cotten was a popular performer during the folk music revival of the 1960s and a major inspiration to many aspiring musicians of the time. Cotten, who wrote "Freight Train" at the age of 12, was inspired by living next to the railroad tracks.
United States Marine Band (album). (1963)
In 1963, the United States Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force bands and choruses were engaged (by special permission) to make albums of American music which would then be sold to help fund the National Cultural Center (later the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts). The Marine Band, in particular, who had just returned from an extensive tour of the U.S., was in prime form. The resulting recording by Herman Diaz, Jr., the legendary producer for RCA Victor, is considered by many experts as one of the finest recordings in band history due to its incredible sound quality.
"Oh, Pretty Woman." Roy Orbison. (1964)
The last of Roy Orbison's string of hits for Monument records, "Oh, Pretty Woman" was his most enduring recording. Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees tapped out the initial rhythm of the song while sitting at Orbison's kitchen table. In the recorded version, this became the infectious and well-known opening guitar riff and propulsive drum beat. Artists as varied as Al Green, John Mayall and Van Halen have covered the song, and 2 Live Crew sampled the opening on their 1989 album, "As Clean as They Wanna Be." That appropriation, made without authorization, led to a 1994 U. S. Supreme Court case (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.) which ruled that a commercial song parody qualified as fair use under Section 107 of the U. S. copyright law.
"Tracks of My Tears." Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. (1965)
William "Smokey" Robinson wrote, produced and performed some of the sweetest, most poetic and enduring love songs in rhythm and blues history. "Tracks of My Tears" is highlighted by Robinson's velvety high tenor voice and his heartbreaking lyrics. It captures the peak of Robinson's talent. His smooth voice conveys the passion and pain required to maintain a false, happy exterior after a romantic breakup. He heightens the effect when he sweeps into his remarkable falsetto. The recording won numerous awards and is considered to be among the best recordings by the Miracles.
"Music from the Morning of the World" (album). Various artists. (1966)
The first recording in the celebrated Nonesuch Explorer Series, "Music from the Morning of the World" was one of the first attempts to offer "international music" and, in particular, ethnic field recordings as entertainment for commercial recording listeners. The series, recorded by David Lewiston, exposed listeners to new musical idioms and non-Western classical music and set high standards for recording quality and accompanying written documentation. "Music from the Morning of the World" provided many listeners with their first exposure to Balinese gamelan music and the unforgettably compelling "monkey chant."
Image Caption: Music from the Morning of the World; Image Credit: Nonesuch
"You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" (album). Ella Jenkins. (1966)
Performer and educator Ella Jenkins has been leading children on musical journeys around the world for more than 50 years. Her call-and-response songs, and gentle soothing voice, encourage children to join in and sing along, overcoming any shyness or reluctance they might have. Singing with Ella, children have learned songs from a variety of cultures and in many languages. Her vast repertoire of songs includes nursery rhymes, folk songs and chants as well as her own original compositions. In keeping with the policy of its record label, Folkways, "You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" has remained in print since it was first published in 1966.
Interview with Ella Jenkins (PDF, 109KB)
"For the Roses" (album). Joni Mitchell. (1972)
In "For the Roses," Joni Mitchell took the confessional lyrics of her critically-acclaimed "Blue" album and infused them with touches of jazz. The result is a mélange of folk, rock, jazz and country that retains the heartfelt tone of her earlier work, but presents it on a broader canvas. While Mitchell later delved more deeply into jazz, "For the Roses" remains the album in which all the elements of her creative palette are in perfect balance.
Image Caption: For the Roses; Image Credit: Elektra
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"Head Hunters" (album). Herbie Hancock. (1973)
"Head Hunters" is a pivotal work in the career of Herbie Hancock; it was his first true fusion recording. Possessing all the sensibilities of jazz but with R&B and funk soul rhythms, "Head Hunters" had a mass appeal that made it the greatest-selling jazz album in history at the time of its release. The recording is notable for its use of an extremely wide range of instruments, including electric synthesizers which brought that new instrument to the forefront of jazz for the first time. Hancock's experiments caused controversy among jazz purists, many of whom at the time belittled it as "pop." "Head Hunters" proved to be influential not only to jazz, but also to funk, soul and hip hop musicians.
Image Caption: Headhunters; Image Credit: Sony
Ronald Reagan radio broadcasts. (1976-1979)
This collection of over 1,000 radio broadcast recordings, the majority penned by Ronald Reagan himself, documents the development of his political vision in the years immediately preceding his election to the White House. In the broadcasts, Reagan sounded what would become the familiar themes of his presidency: reduction of government spending, tax cuts, supply-side economics and anti-communism. These radio "chats" did not focus on specific policy prescriptions as much as they outlined a conservative governing philosophy. Also showcased is Reagan's conversational, folksy rhetorical style, which adds immeasurably to his public appeal.
Image Caption: Ronald Reagan; Image Credit: [Ronald Reagan, half-length portrait, standing, facing left, making speech]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-101369; Created/Published: c.1981
"Murmurs of the Earth." Disc prepared for the Voyager spacecraft. (1977)
This disc was prepared to introduce aurally our planet to any alien intelligence that might encounter the Voyager spacecraft many millions of years in the future. The disc contains encoded photographs, spoken messages, music and sounds as well as greetings delivered in 55 languages. The sound essay includes life sounds (EEGs and EKGs), birds, elephants, whales, volcanoes, rain and a baby. The 90 minutes of music features selections ranging from ragas to Navajo Indian chants, Javanese court gamelan, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, a Peruvian Woman's Wedding song, and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."
Image Caption: Voyager disc; Image Credit: NASA
"Thriller" (album). Michael Jackson. (1982)
Michael Jackson's second album with legendary producer Quincy Jones attained stratospheric national and international success. Featuring outstanding guest performances by Paul McCartney on "The Girl is Mine" and Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It," the album's influence on the record industry and subsequent popular music is immeasurable. The album also includes the strong disco-inflected "Billie Jean" and the compelling title track "Thriller," featuring an eerie voice-over by Vincent Price. Jackson's keen pop sensibilities, the performances by a wide range of talented musicians and Quincy Jones' expert production all contributed to making "Thriller" the best-selling album of all time.
Image Caption: Thriller; Image Credit: Sony