By GAIL FINEBERG
The elegant Members' Room of the Jefferson Building buzzed with excitement on April 11 as some 20 members of the press gathered with cameras and notebooks to capture the announcement by the Librarian of Congress of 50 sound recordings named to the 2005 National Recording Registry.
The purpose of the registry is to draw attention to the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, which promotes and supports audio preservation. The registry celebrates the richness and variety of the nation's audio legacy and emphasizes the importance of preserving that legacy for future generations.
The Librarian is required by the act to select registry recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and at least 10 years old.
In announcing additions to the registry, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "The National Recording Registry represents a stunning array of the diversity, humanity and creativity found in our sound heritage—nothing less than a flood of noise and sound pulsating into the American bloodstream."
Those sounds selected for the fourth annual round of additions to the registry ranged from the only published recording of grand opera star Edouard de Reszke singing "Canzone del Porter" from "Martha (von Flotow)" in 1903 to "Daydream Nation," recorded in 1988 by Sonic Youth, described as a New Wave group "renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos."
The press response was enthusiastic, with radio stations playing the selected recordings, newspapers from Seattle to London carrying the story and television stations broadcasting coverage of the event, or as in the case of the News-Hour with Jim Lehrer, interviewing the Librarian.
The Pitchfork Daily Music News, a Web site devoted to a discussion of music, noted the Sonic Youth induction to the registry and distinguished registry additions in the past, and then quoted the descriptive paragraph about the group, posted on the Library's Web site.
"Dude! The Library of Congress wrote that! The Library of [expletive] Congress! Do we live in a great country or what?" Pitchfork reported on its Web site the next day.
Other recordings named to the registry included Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues" in 1920; Calvin Coolidge delivering his inaugural address on March 4, 1925; the first official transatlantic telephone conversation on Jan. 7, 1927, and Clem McCarthy announcing the boxing rematch of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938.
The registry even will preserve a 1972 recording of an old foghorn in Kewaunee, Wis.
The Modesto High School Band played Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Op. 84, in a 1930 recording marked for preservation. Orson Welles narrated Archibald MacLeish's "Fall of the City," recorded in 1937. Other voices to be preserved for all time are Studs Terkel interviewing James Baldwin on Sept. 29, 1962, and William Faulkner addressing the West Point Military Academy in 1962.
Other names added to the registry include Bob Hope, Nat "King" Cole, Fred Allen, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dave Brubeck, B.B. King, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Stevie Wonder.
Billington introduced Martha Reeves, lead singer for the classic Motown group Martha and the Vandellas, whose "Dancing in the Street" entered the registry. Robert Hendrix took a bow for his cousin Jimi Hendrix, whose 1967 recording of "Are You Experienced?" was selected. And Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Phil Proctor with the Firesign Theatre dramatized some lines from their 1970 recording of "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers."
Two Library staff members opened the event with news of an important acquisition and discussion of a rare, 16-inch lacquer disc recording of saxophonist Lester Young in a 1940 jam session.
Michael Taft, head of the American Folklife Center's Archive of Folk Culture at the Library, announced the center's recent acquisition of 31 rare, mint-condition test pressings of Robert Johnson's music, recorded between 1936 and 1937. (See story here.)
Gene DeAnna, head of the Recorded Sound Section of the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS), told the story of Library staff members finding the unknown recording of saxophonist Young in a jam session while they were doing the ordinary work of the Library—processing a new collection and preparing it for preservation. (See story here.)
Gregory Lukow, MBRS chief, introduced members of the National Recording Preservation Board in attendance, which advises the Librarian on selections for the National Recording Registry and preservation planning issues.
Lukow reviewed briefly the Library's audio preservation program, which over a 40-year period has reformatted for preservation tens of thousands of recordings that otherwise might have been lost. He also noted the audio preservation work of many other archives, whose holdings were among those added to the national registry this year.
Lukow discussed briefly a national plan for the preservation of recorded sound and announced that Rob Bamberger, host of the local radio program "Hot Jazz Saturday Night" and a specialist in energy policy in the Library's Congressional Research Service, will help MBRS prepare the plan.
As building blocks for the plan, Lukow said, the Library and the National Recording Preservation Board have released three recent studies. One, "Survey of Reissues of U.S. Recordings" by Tim Brooks, showed that more than 85 percent of American recordings are still protected by copyright and are not available to the public. (See story in January 2006 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin and www.clir.org/PUBS/reports/pub133/contents.html).
The second study, an examination of copyright law by Columbia University legal scholar June Besek, addresses what libraries and archives may do legally to preserve pre-1972 commercial sound recordings and make them accessible for research. (See story in March 2006 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin and www.clir.org/PUBS/reports/pub135/contents.html).
The third study summarizes proceedings from an Engineering Roundtable that assessed standards and best practices for preserving sound recordings. (See story here and www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub137/contents.html)
Gail Fineberg is the editor of the Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.