On March 25, 2015, 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:
Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at UC Santa Barbara Library (c. 1890-1920)
Offering a rare and revealing glimpse into the lives of regular people, the Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings consists of 600 homemade cylinder recordings made primarily during the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s. The core of the collection is based on several decades of purposeful acquisition by anthropologist Donald R. Hill and sound historian David Giovannoni. From its commercial introduction in the 1890s through its demise in the 1920s, the cylinder phonograph allowed its owners to make sound recordings at home. These UCSB audio "snapshots" of everyday life are perhaps the most authentic audio documents of the period: songs sung by children, instrumentals, jokes, and ad-libbed narratives. The vast majority of vernacular wax recordings remain in private hands or uncatalogued in institutions. UCSB's extensive collection serves as a beacon for the recognition and assertive preservation of these highly endangered audio treasures.
The Benjamin Ives Gilman Collection Recorded at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago (1893)
Benjamin Ives Gilman, Harvard psychologist, and, later, curator for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, made 101 wax cylinder recordings at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. These recordings contain Fijian, Samoan, Uvean, Javanese, Turkish, Kwakiutl or Vancouver Island Indian songs and ceremonies along with recordings of other Middle Eastern, South Seas and Native American musicians and singers who performed in specially constructed "villages" along the midway. In addition to being the first recordings ever made at any World's Fair, these are also the earliest known recordings of many non-western musical styles, such as the Javanese Gamelan.
"The Boys of the Lough/The Humours of Ennistymon" (single). Michael Coleman (1922)
Irish fiddler Michael Coleman (1891-1945) left his native county of Sligo for New York City in 1914, never to return home. Though there was a large Irish and Irish-American audience there, a somewhat homogenized version of Irish music incorporating various influences had taken hold, and even a rural, traditional fiddler of Coleman's singular caliber must have seemed well behind the times. Nevertheless, Coleman achieved unprecedented commercial success and a long-lasting impact on both sides of the Atlantic. He remains a vital figure in Irish music to this day. His brisk, highly ornamented playing set new standards and brought traditional music a level of respect it had never had even in Ireland. This coupling of two older tunes that he made distinctively his own was not his first commercial disc, but proved to be his breakthrough.
"Black Snake Moan" / "Match Box Blues." Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927)
By the time of this recording in 1928, Blind Lemon Jefferson, an African-American street singer from a small country town outside of Dallas, Texas, had reshaped and expanded the blues genre on record. With only his guitar for accompaniment, and a high wailing tenor of a voice, Jefferson recorded a series of powerfully individualistic performances on record from 1925 to 1929, the year of his death. Though he used what were already traditional frameworks for many of his songs, Jefferson personalized them with the interplay between his voice and guitar, extending vocal phrases with long intricate lines of notes, adding or omitting measures in the song as it suited him. This 1928 coupling issued by the Okeh label, and holds two of Jefferson's best performances—"Matchbox Blues," later recorded by Carl Perkins, the Beatles, and many others, and the eerie, lascivious "Black Snake Moan."
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"Sorry, Wrong Number" ("Suspense"). (May 25, 1943)
Orson Welles once called the radio drama "Sorry, Wrong Number," "the single greatest radio script ever written." First broadcast on May 25, 1943, as part of the radio series "Suspense," its author Lucille Fletcher conceived of it as "a story which could happen in no other medium than that of pure sound," a radio tour de force. Centered around a telephone—which Fletcher called "the real protagonist of the piece"—the radio play proved so popular it was restaged seven times between 1943 and 1960. As in the original, acclaimed actress Agnes Moorehead always played the lead, that of a bedridden woman who overhears news of a soon-to-occur murder. In its original 1943 airing, the actress was brilliantly supported by sound effects artist Bernie Surrey.
"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" (single). Johnny Mercer (1944)
Written in 1944 for the film "Here Come the Waves" by prolific composer Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" was recorded by Mercer with the Pied Pipers and Paul Weston's Orchestra and released on Capitol Records in late 1944. It became one of the biggest hits of 1945. Mercer's literate and witty lyrics, combined with his genial vocal style and Southern accent, proved to be popular with the public both on recordings and the radio. Sung in the style of a sermon, Mercer used his song to cleverly explain how a positive outlook is the key to happiness, an attitude and message that was still strongly in demand by an increasingly war-weary US.
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Radio Coverage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Funeral. Arthur Godfrey, et.al. (April 14, 1945)
Following President Roosevelt's death on Thursday, April 12,. 1945, the national radio networks suspended regular programming to broadcast round-the-clock tributes, memorial services, and live coverage of the journey of the train bearing the President's body to Washington, DC. On Saturday, April 14th, a the solemn funeral cortege made its way from DC's Union Station to the White House, relays of radio announcers described its progress. Arthur Godfrey, then a local broadcast personality, was added to the CBS national broadcast team. Godfrey's beautifully detailed and dramatic descriptions from atop a bank building at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, with his tone changing from solemn and journalistic to personal and emotional, helps to illuminate the depth of the nation's grief over the passing of FDR.
"Kiss Me, Kate" (Original Cast Album) (1949)
With "Kiss Me, Kate," Cole Porter created one of his most brilliant works for the stage. Blending Shakespeare and showbiz, the Tony award-winning show presents a contemporary theatrical company performing as a troupe of Elizabethan players traveling with their musical version of "Taming of the Shrew." Initially skeptical that Shakespeare would entertain a musical comedy audience, Porter merged high-brow and low in some of his most sophisticated lyrics. The original cast album was released within six weeks of the show's opening. The album's sales success more than justified Columbia Records's rush to record and release the recording, as well as its decision to make it the first original cast album released in their 12" long-playing disc format, then less than a year old.
Listen: "Too Darn Hot" (MP3)
"John Brown's Body." Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton (1953)
Charles Laughton's 1949 staged reading and 1952 recording of Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" was a theatrical success and surprise hit recording. In 1953, his production of "John Brown's Body," an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét's book-length Civil War poem of 1928 starring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson and Raymond Massey, was similarly acclaimed and also recorded by Columbia Records, overseen by the company's future president Goddard Lieberson. Its lead voices augmented with sound effects and spoken responses in the manner of a Greek chorus, at nearly two hours in length, "John Brown's Body" is anything but casual listening, but the resulting double album went well beyond being a simple document of the stage production, and has endured as a powerfully evocative work of aural theater.
"My Funny Valentine." The Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker (1953)
Their studio recording of "My Funny Valentine" had been a hit for the pianoless Gerry Mulligan Quartet in the autumn of 1952, so it was an established part of their repertoire when this May 20, 1953 live performance was recorded by producer Dick Bock at The Haig jazz club in Hollywood, California. At over five minutes, nearly twice as long as the single, trumpeter Chet Baker and baritone saxophonist Mulligan had room to stretch out. The result is a darker, more expressive version of "My Funny Valentine," propelled by a Carson Smith bass line that's simple, but insistent, almost ominous. The popularity of this 1952 studio version may have helped to keep this performance in the vault until the 1960s, but, for many, this extended version has become the definitive Mulligan and Baker collaboration for many.
"Sixteen Tons." Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
Though it was intended as the "B" side to "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry," it was "Sixteen Tons" that immediately garnered airplay and record-setting sales. During rehearsals, Ford snapped his fingers to establish a tempo. Producer Lee Gillette liked the sound and told him to keep the snaps in the final version. Ford's deep voice and the spare, dark instrumentation gave "Sixteen Tons" a gravitas that stood out among the lighthearted popular songs of the era. Ford's musical director, Jack Fascinato, used a strong beat played by a jazz combo, an unusual arrangement for a song about coal mining. But it was Ford's powerful vocal that transformed "Sixteen Tons" from a simple labor song into a defiant declaration of Faulknerian endurance.
"Oh Mary Don't You Weep." The Swan Silvertones (1959)
"Oh Mary Don't You Weep" was one of the most important of the early Negro spirituals and contains messages of hope, resistance and liberation. The song's roots go back to before the ivil War when it was most likely originally sung by Southern slaves. "Oh Mary" has continued to inspire African-Americans long after the Civil War. This 1959 recording by the Swan Silvertones on Vee-Jay Records transformed the template of 20th century gospel quartets with its close vocal harmonies and Claude Jeter's soaring falsetto. The Swan Silvertones's version of "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" turned this traditional favorite into an anthem of the modern civil rights movement and inspired a new generation of activists and artists, including James Baldwin and Paul Simon.
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"Joan Baez." Joan Baez (1960)
The first solo album by the woman "Time" magazine would soon crown "Queen of the Folk Singers," "Joan Baez" preserves for posterity powerful performances from the Harvard Square coffeehouse repertoire that brought Baez to prominence as the folk revival movement was arriving on the national stage. Baez's haunting arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads of longing and regret, mixed with an eclectic blend of Bahamian, Yiddish, Mexican, and Carter Family favorite tunes, sent critic Robert Shelton "scurrying to the thesaurus for superlatives." The album's success was especially important for women in the folk music milieu who found a role model "absolutely free and in charge of herself," in the words of fellow folksinger Barbara Dane.
"Stand by Me." Ben E. King (1961)
Ben E. King intended "Stand by Me" for his former group, the Drifters, but luckily ended up recording it himself. It would go on to become one of the most broadcast songs of the 20th century. Inspired by a gospel song, King shared songwriting credit with Elmo Glick, a pseudonym for the team of Leiber and Stoller. Anchored by one of the best known bass lines in history, composed by Stoller and played by Lloyd Trotman, the upright acoustic bass is doubled by an electric guitar playing an octave higher. According to Stoller, a guiro played "... on every second beat and a triangle on every fourth." Meanwhile, Stan Applebaum wrote the soaring string arrangement, which included a two-part invention. And while all these elements contributed to the success of "Stand by Me," it is King's incandescent vocal which made it a classic.
"New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band." Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band (1964)
This 1964 offering by seven veterans of New Orleans jazz, before a live Minneapolis audience, well illustrates the credo of music spoken simply: play the melody from the heart and elaborate with care. Pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, along with the Humphrey Brothers (clarinetist Willie and trumpeter Percy); trombonist "Big Jim" Robinson; bassist Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau; banjoist Emanuel Sayles, and drummer Josie "Cie" Frazier, perform in a manner that has become known as "New Orleans Revival Jazz." The band's music is simple, direct, and majestic. The front line (trumpet, clarinet, and trombone) contains all the necessary elements needed to provide the ear with a satisfying melodic, harmonic and rhythmic picture. The support of the rhythm section provides the solid four-beats-to-the-measure that seems to push forward and hold back at the same time. This is the magical essence of New Orleans jazz.
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin.'" The Righteous Brothers (1964)
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" is the epitome of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, a carefully layered assemblage of sound combinations, often enhanced by echo. Spector, who'd recently signed the Righteous Brothers to his Philles label, asked the husband and wife team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to write a song for them. Inspired by the yearning of "Baby, I Need Your Loving," they took their draft to Spector who suggested a riff from "Hang on Sloopy" for the bridge, which they liked, and added the vocal "whoa-whoa-whoas," which they didn't. Recorded at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, Spector crammed the modest-sized Studio A with musicians, including multiple guitars, basses, and pianos; the vocals were recorded in the same studio weeks later. The results were mixed down to a 45 rpm mono masterpiece.
"The Doors." The Doors (1967)
The group the Doors were an unusual assemblage: a jazz keyboardist, a flamenco guitarist, a jazz drummer, and a poet vocalist who coalesced into a rock group with a sound unlike that of their peers. The summer hit, "Light My Fire," may have brought most listeners to the Doors eponymous debut album, but it was just the tip of a deep, dark iceberg. Although not as overtly political as some of their contemporaries, the Doors still pushed artistic, sexual, and psychological boundaries, explicitly so in "Break on Through (To the Other Side,)" which begins with a brisk bossa nova beat by drummer John Densmore before morphing into muscular rock and in the album's dark heart of "The End." Completed in just two takes, "The End" is remarkable for its 12-minute length and primal, Oedipal subject matter.
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"Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues." Lincoln Mayorga (1968)
Disappointed with the sound of classical piano LPs when compared to 78s, in the late 1950s, Lincoln Mayorga and friend Doug Sax ultimately concluded the only way to achieve the sound quality they wanted was to set up their own mastering lab, Sheffield Lab, and to pioneer direct-to-disc recording. It was a method that eschewed the use of tape recorders. Because there was no tape master, the quantity was limited by the number of cutting lathes. Each master could be used to make only a limited number of copies before the sound quality deteriorated. In 1970, Sheffield began selling copies. The response from audiophiles was enthusiastic. Listeners were forced to revise upwards the sound quality capability of LPs. Because of the expense and limited-pressing quantities, major labels didn't adopt direct-to-disc mastering. "Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues" may not have changed the way most LPs were made, but it raised the bar by showing how good an LP could sound.
Interview with Lincoln Mayorga (PDF, 81KB)
"Stand!" Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Propelled by an impossibly smooth horn section, a funky organ, and dangerous maneuverings of the guitar and bass, the album's key selections "Sing a Simple Song," "I Want to Take You Higher," "Stand!" and "Everyday People," are all instantly recognizable and serve as foundational statements in the music of the late 1960s and as precursors of 1970s soul and funk. Having produced the multiracial band's previous three albums, Stone was amply qualified for this, their fourth studio effort. The resulting record remains one of the most heavily sampled records of all time and was the undisputed high-point of this band's recording legacy.
"A Wild and Crazy Guy." Steve Martin (1978)
Steve Martin has been called, among other things, a postmodern humorist, a meta-comic, and an anti-comedian. While these terms all have deficiencies, they do underscore the risky, self-conscious tightrope Martin walks on this album, where he hovers between satire and utterly absurd and meaningless behavior. Having performed more traditional comedy for years, Martin became disillusioned in the early 1970s with formulaic jokes that ended with punchlines. As stated in his memoir, he wondered at the time "what if there were no punch lines." What if he were "to create odd situations in which people could choose their own places to laugh?" This album abounds in such moments. The record also includes his hilarious and wildly popular "King Tut."
Interview with Steve Martin (PDF, 39KB)
"Sesame Street: All-Time Platinum Favorites" (1995)
With its catchy, jazzy, infectious theme song, "Sesame Street" burst onto television screens in the early mornings of November 1969. Composers and lyricists Joe Raposo, Jon Stone, Bruce Hart, Christopher Cerf, and many others, used music as an integral part of educational development for young children. Never content with writing "kid songs," they wrote complex, humorous, inventive musical compositions. All together the music of "Sesame Street" has become the most culturally significant children's recordings of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. "Sesame Street: All-Time Platinum Favorites," released in 1995, is a collection of 20 classic recordings, beloved by generations, including "The People in Your Neighborhood," Rubber Duckie," "I Love Trash," and "Bein' Green."
"OK Computer." Radiohead (1997)
On their third album, Radiohead create an information-age dystopia characterized by psychopaths, corrupt politicians, ill-behaved consumers, tyrannical robots, airline disasters, car crashes, and failed safety protocols. For the album, the band had mostly stripped away such alt-rock signposts as personalized lyrics, sinus-clearing guitar, and thunderous bass and drums. While these bold moves risked alienating the band's sizeable audience, it paid off with more than a decade of critical praise for this masterful recording. The band used guitars—both searing and angelic—mellotrons, laptops, samples, fat synth lines, machine-like drums and drum machines to produce a dense topology of sound, music and public service announcements. The album has endured as a statement, and a cautionary tale for the digital age.
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"Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky" (album). Indian Bottom Association (1997)
These hymns are considered the oldest type of Anglo-American religious music passed down orally in the United States. They represent a historic type of singing that can be traced back to the music of the 16th century English parish church and the Protestant reformation. Once a common way of singing sacred songs in the American colonies, the Old Regular Baptists of southeastern Kentucky are one of the few groups who still worship using this style of "lining hymn." A single song leader leads the congregation through the hymn one line at a time. Typically, the leader sings the line quickly, then the congregation repeats the words in unison but to a tune much longer and more elaborate than the leader's original chant or lining tune. The congregation's response has no regular beat or harmonizing parts and is often very emotional. The result is heterophonic, a musical texture characterized by the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line sung by many different voices, unique in Western music.
"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Lauryn Hill (1998)
Lauryn Hill's debut solo record, following the breakup of the Fugees, is a work of incredible honesty in which Hill explores her feelings on topics that included the deep wonder of pregnancy, the pitfalls of modern relationships, and the experience of the sacred. The album effortlessly fuses soul, rap, rhythm and blues, and reggae. Hill's vocal range, smooth, clear highs and vibrato are stunning. The rapping is rhythmically compelling while always retaining, and frequently exploiting, the natural cadences of conversational speech.
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"Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman." Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor; Joan Tower, composer (1999)
Tower's five-part "Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman" was composed between 1986 and 1993, with the whole piece revised in 1997. Each of the five fanfares is written for a different instrumental combination. The work is a tribute to "women who are adventurous and take risks" and each fanfare is dedicated to a different inspiring woman in the musical world. This recording marks the first time all five fanfares were recorded together and the total work intended to be viewed as a celebration of women in music.
Interview with Joan Tower (PDF, 63KB)