By ERIN ALLEN
Within the first two days of its launch on May 10, the Library’s new National Jukebox website was visited by more than 1 million people. Within a week, visitors racked up more than 600,000 plays of pre-1925 music tracks licensed for the Library for public streaming by Sony Music Entertainment. Needless to say, media outlets also shared in the excitement of the Library’s new endeavor.
“No wonder people are interested,” said Will Friedwald of The Wall Street Journal. “The first 25 years of the 20th century represent the birth of jazz, the blues, the Broadway musical, the big band, country music, pop singing and the Great American Songbook, not to mention a golden age of opera and a flowering of ethnic music.”
The Los Angeles Times spoke with Chris Sampson, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, who said, “This really blows the top off a lot of stuff, doesn’t it? There are so many angles from an academic perspective of how this would be a resource. The ability to be able to go to the source so students can see the tradition of American music and American songwriting, to see this lineage and to be able to draw upon it is going to be enormous … To me that’s just gold.”
“The fact of this National Jukebox, and the way in which a listener can conjure up the sound of a century ago and stream it for free, is quite amazing, and there’s so much material available for both casual listening and scholarly mining,” said Anastasia Tsioulcas of National Public Radio’s music blog, “Deceptive Cadence.”
On her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow named the jukebox the “Best New Thing in the World Today” for May 11. “It is so cool,” she said. “Beyond some incredible music you never would have heard otherwise, you can also browse through their categories, things like ‘humorous monologues,’ ‘political speeches,’ ‘yodeling,’ ‘whistling.’”
The Atlantic made a list of the nine best recordings, naming “Livery Stable Blues” (1917) by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band as the number one track.
Other national outlets running stories were The Washington Post, The New York Times, Voice of America, ABC News, USA Today, the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Fox News.
Tom Sherwood of local NBC affiliate WRC Washington himself admitted the “cool” factor of the National Jukebox, particularly the opportunity to see Harry Connick Jr., who came to the Library for the website’s debut. “It was a dramatic example of music in America and the perfect backdrop for a new undertaking,” said Sherwood.
Other local outlets, such as Roll Call and WTOP, also reported the announcement.
The news didn’t stop there however. Outlets across the nation—in Tennessee, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, to name a few—expressed excitement over the jukebox.
On the Internet, popular blogs from Gothamist to Gizmodo also featured brief stories. Crawdaddy.com proclaimed the National Jukebox “off the chain, son!”
Development of the National Jukebox involved the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va. Reporter Michael Gaynor took a tour of the facility and wrote about the work being done there for the April issue of Washingtonian.
“Every movie, every TV show, every record you can think of is kept within its underground hallways, fluorescent-lit cement tunnels as long as football fields,” said Gaynor. “In a sparse white serve-room, the hum of hard drives illustrates the future of audiovisual conservation. Robotic arms whir and rotate inside massive servers, maintaining a system that currently stores more than a petabyte of cultural history—more than 4,000 computers worth of data collected in just three years.”
Gaynor also focused on some of the facility’s labs, including the Live Capture Room, which when completed will record up to 120 television channels in real time, and undertake specific projects like preserving nitrate film.
Prior to the launch of the National Jukebox, Randy Lewis of The Los Angeles Times wrote a feature on the Packard Campus and its notable collections.
“The long hallway can also spark images of the closing scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ although it’s not a single airplane hangar-sized room full of crates packed with who-knows-what treasures. Instead, the second-floor hallway leads past 17 vaults, each of which yields shelf after shelf filled with platters of vinyl, shellac or wax or magnetic tape in various formats,” he said.
Speaking of music, the Library is also home to the ASCAP Collection. Since acquiring the organization’s archives in 2009, members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Foundation have put on a concert annually at the Library, performing popular selections from the collection and telling the stories behind them. The Washington Post, Roll Call and Politico were on hand for the May 10 concert.
“No particular agenda was outlined at the ASCAP Foundation’s concert at the Library of Congress, which drew the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz—just a celebration, said ASCAP prez Paul Williams, of ‘the strong bond between those who write the songs and those who write the laws,’” said the Post’s Reliable Source.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications.