Library of Congress press release announcing the 2002 Registry.
Click on an underlined title to hear an audio sample.
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:
Edison exhibition recordings (group of three cylinders): "Around the World on the Phonograph"; "The Pattison Waltz"; and "Fifth Regiment March." (1888-1889)
A trio of cylinders selected by Edison contemporaries to represent the birth of commercial sound recording--as an industry, as a practical technology, and as a means to preserve music and spoken word.
Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians. (1890)
Fewkes' cylinder recordings, 30 in total and made in Calais, Maine, are considered to be the first ethnographic recordings made produced "in the field," as well as the first recordings of Native American music. The cylinders are held by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
"Stars and Stripes Forever." Military Band. (1897)
The first recording of America's favorite march. "The Stars and Stripes Forever," John Philip Sousa's most famous composition, was recorded by the company of the inventor of the 78-rpm gramophone disc, Emile Berliner, for his company Berliner Gramophone.
Ragtime compositions on piano rolls. Scott Joplin. (1900s)
Scott Joplin is today regarded as the pre-eminent composer of ragtime compositions. Joplin himself performed some of these "rags" for piano roll sales. These rolls represent the way these compositions were originally listened to and enjoyed--on home player pianos. They are outstanding examples of a less-familiar, now nearly-obsolete sound recording format.
Lionel Mapleson cylinder recordings of the Metropolitan Opera. (1900-1903)
In the early 1900s, Lionel Mapleson set up a phonograph in the New York City Metropolitan Opera House to record excerpts of live performances there. These cylinders preserve a special window on the spontaneous artistry of this era and are the only known extant recordings of some performers, including Jean de Reszke.
This extraordinarily popular comic baseball recitation (poem) is read by the vaudevillian, DeWolf Hopper. Hopper reportedly recited this poem over 10,000 times in performance.
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Tenor Enrico Caruso was probably the most popular recording artist of his time. His recording of this signature aria from "Pagliacci" by Leoncavallo was a bestseller.
Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech. (1908 recreation)
In 1906, Booker T. Washington recreated his controversial 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech in which he promotes inter-racial cooperation as well as African-American self-reliance. This address drew criticism from other black leaders who interpreted it as giving in to segregation.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers helped establish the black spiritual in the history of American music. They were also the first to introduce these songs to white audiences through concert tours and recordings. "Swing Low" is their first commercial recording.
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Lovey's Trinidad String Band. (1912)
These Trinidadian instrumental musicians were recorded for Columbia Records in New York City during a tour in 1912. Lovey's String Band exemplifies a pre-jazz "hot" style common in the Caribbean at the time.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first jazz band to make a commercial recording. This all-white New Orleans-style group from Chicago featured cornetist Nick LaRocca. While not the best ensemble of its day, the first recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band initiated a craze for a new art form--jazz.
"Arkansaw Traveler" and "Sallie Gooden." Eck Robertson. (1922)
Eck Robertson, master old-time fiddler, is recognized as the first performer to make country music recordings. This Victor disc features Robertson as a soloist on "Sallie Gooden" and, in a duet with fiddler Henry Gilliland, performing "Arkansaw Traveler" on the flip side.
"Down Hearted Blues." Bessie Smith. (1923)
"Down Hearted Blues" is the best-selling and most enduring first release by the "Empress of the Blues." Bessie Smith first recorded in 1923, launching a blues career that would have no parallel during the classic blues era. She recorded more than 150 songs over her 14-year recording career.
The first recording made of this classic American composition featured the composer at the piano and Paul Whiteman conducting. The recording was made several months after the 1924 Aeolian Hall premiere of the work.
Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. Louis Armstrong. (1925-1928)
Louis Armstrong was jazz's first great soloist and is among American music's most important and influential figures. These sessions, his solos in particular, set a standard musicians still strive to equal in their beauty and innovation.
Victor Talking Machine Company sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman, and others. (1927)
Victor Records, searching for performers of "hillbilly" music, recorded performances by 19 local musicians in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1927. The amazing display of talent yielded such future country music recording stars as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Stoneman. The sessions are considered a watershed moment in the history of country music.
Highlander Center Field Recording Collection. Zilphia Horton, others. (1930s-1980s)
The Highlander Center has played an important role in many political movements. These discs document Zilphia Horton, who introduced "We Will Overcome" to the Southern Labor Movement, and later, to Pete Seeger. The Collection also includes recordings of activists Myles Horton, Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, and Septima Clark.
Bell Laboratories experimental stereo recordings. Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor. (1931-1932)
Experimental recordings made by the Bell Laboratories in early 1930s resulted in the first high-fidelity, stereo recordings. Among them were recordings which feature this great American orchestra under its renowned, and controversial, conductor Leopold Stokowski.
The Fireside Chats were an influential series of radio broadcasts in which Roosevelt utilized the media to present his programs and ideas directly to the public and thereby redefined the relationship between the President and the American people.
Harvard Vocarium record series. T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, others. (1933-1956)
From the 1930s to the 1950s The Harvard University Poetry Room produced the Harvard Vocarium record label which featured prominent authors reading their own works. Among the writers recorded were T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Tennessee Williams.
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"New Music Quarterly" recordings. (1934-1949)
This series of 30 discs was published by Henry Cowell as part of his ground-breaking efforts to promote avant-garde music in the United States. The discs were issued in conjunction with his scholarly journal, "New Music," and include works by Walter Piston, Otto Luening, Edgard Varese, Cowell, and Charles Ives.
Crash of the Hindenburg. Herbert Morrison, reporting. (May 6, 1937)
An emotional, never-to-be-forgotten moment of news broadcasting in which a tragedy is witnessed and spontaneously reported. This actuality was the first exception to network radio's ban on the airing of recordings.
"The Cradle Will Rock" (album). Original cast recording. (1938)
The recording of this controversial musical about labor unions by Marc Blitzstein was the first complete recording of a Broadway show. The work was originally intended for production by the Federal Theater Project.
"Who's on First?" Abbott and Costello. Earliest existing radio broadcast version. (October 6, 1938)
Already a staple of their vaudeville shows, Abbott & Costello first performed their beloved baseball routine, “Who’s On First?” on radio’s “The Kate Smith Hour” in March 24, 1938. The bit’s crescendoing wordplay and the team’s expert timing immediately grabbed and entranced listeners. “Who’s On First?” became the duo’s signature routine and the pair performed encores of it often. Though the recording of its March 1938 debut is thought to be lost, this recording—believed to be their second radio rendition as also heard on “Kate Smith”—has survived, as an example of Americana and timeless comedy.
"War of the Worlds" ("The Mercury Theatre on the Air"). (October 30, 1938)
Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre's finely-crafted radio drama about Martian invaders is one of the best-written and produced works in its genre. Its realistic format caused considerable alarm to many listeners across the U.S. at the time of its original airing.
"God Bless America." Kate Smith. Radio broadcast premiere. (November 11, 1938)
Originally composted by Irving Berlin in 1918, and reworked by him in 1938, "God Bless America” has become the nation’s de facto anthem. Songstress Kate Smith performed her soon to-be signature song for the first time on her radio show on November 11, 1938. It was an immediate sensation whose power and patriotism has not been diminished in the decades since. Though subsequently covered by innumerable other artists, Smith’s resounding version remains the best known and most beloved rendition.
Image Caption: Kate Smith; Image Credit: [Kate Smith half-length portrait, facing front, standing before a microphone]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-134898 (b&w film copy neg.); CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1930s
John Lomax, honorary consultant and curator for the fledgling Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, recorded hundreds of ballads, blues, cowboy songs, field hollers, spirituals, and work songs in a late 1930s sweep of nine southern states. Many ethnomusicologists consider the recordings made on this field trip to be among the most important of this genre.
"Strange Fruit." Billie Holiday. (1939)
This searing song is arguably Billie Holiday's most influential recording. It brought the topic of lynching to the commercial record-buying public. The song was based on a poem by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, who may have been inspired by a 1930 photograph of a Southern lynching.
Begun in Nashville over WSM on November 25, 1925, when it was originally known as the “WSM Barn Dance,” the “Grand Ole Opry” is today the longest, continuously-running program in radio history. As it was then, the “Opry” broadcast (which has been broadcast from various locations over the years, including the legendary Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville), remains a showcase for top drawer country music talent. Regional for the first 14 years of its airing, the “Opry” went national over the NBC network in 1939. This inaugural broadcast featured the seminal talents of long-time “Opry” performer Uncle Dave Macon, as well as relative newcomer Roy Acuff, and the “Opry” announcers George D. Hay and David Stone.
Bela Bartok, piano, and Joseph Szigeti, violin, in concert at the Library of Congress. (1940)
Hailed by critics as a "landmark performance," this recorded performance at the Library of Congress' Coolidge Auditorium captures the electric, live-performance chemistry between composer/pianist Bela Bartok and his champion and fellow countryman, violinist Joseph Szigeti. They perform works by Bartok, Beethoven, and Debussy.
“The Rite of Spring.” Igor Stravinsky, conductor; New York Philharmonic. (1940)
This U.S. recording, released on the Columbia label, of this 20th century masterwork, as conducted by its composer, is considered by many to be the best recording ever of Stravinsky conducting his own work.
Blanton-Webster era recordings. Duke Ellington Orchestra. (1940-1942)
Duke Ellington is considered one of the greatest composers and band leaders of the 20th century. His band's recordings for RCA Victor, while bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor sax player Ben Webster were among its personnel, are thought by many to represent a period of unparalleled creativity in jazz history. Billy Strayhorn, arranger and composer, and Duke's son, Mercer, also contributed to these recordings.
"White Christmas." Bing Crosby. (1942)
The original 1942 commercial recording by Bing Crosby. Crosby's later 1947 rendition of this Irving Berlin classic is one of the best-selling records ever made, but it is actually a remake of his earlier 1942 version. The 1947 version was recorded under John Scott Trotter, the same music director as the original, and utilized the same arrangement, but Crosby's reading is slightly different than the 1942 original recording.
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"This Land is Your Land." Woody Guthrie. (1944)
Woody Guthrie, a legendary folk poet, had a strong influence on the folksong revival of the 1950s. He wrote or adapted over 1,000 songs, including this classic. Guthrie intended the song to be a grassroots response to "God Bless America."
General Dwight D. Eisenhower's D-Day radio address to the Allied Nations. (June 6, 1944)
General Eisenhower's radio address to European citizens on the day of the Allied Normandy Invasion announces the invasion, requests their support, and both promises and foretells liberation.
"Ko Ko." Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. (1945)
Charlie Parker (alto sax) was another of jazz's premier improvising soloists. "Ko Ko" signaled the birth of a new era in jazz--bebop. This session for Savoy Records featured Charlie Parker with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.
"Blue Moon of Kentucky." Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. (1947)
This recording of the bluegrass standard by its composer, "The Father of Bluegrass," mandolinist Bill Monroe, is the song's earliest recording. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" has since been recorded by many other musicians, including Elvis Presley on his Sun Sessions. Presley's version was such a hit that Monroe later revised his performance to reflect Presley's influence.
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"How High the Moon." Les Paul and Mary Ford. (1951)
This exciting performance introduced over-dubbing recording techniques to the public and paved the way for studio production processes still in use today.
"Songs for Young Lovers" (album). Frank Sinatra. (1954)
Frank Sinatra's Capitol Records "concept" album is filled with American song standards and rich arrangements by Nelson Riddle. This album demonstrated a mature and confident Sinatra who transcended his earlier popularity as a favorite of bobbysoxers.
Sun Records sessions. Elvis Presley. (1954-1955)
The group of recordings made at Sun Studios launched the career of Elvis Presley, and helped to create the rock 'n' roll era. They were the singer's first recordings and remain his most widely respected. The recordings include Elvis's rendition of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky."
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"Dance Mania" (album). Tito Puente. (1958)
Bandleader/instrumentalist Tito Puente is considered to be a Renaissance man of Latin music. The very best of New York City's 1950s Latin jazz scene is heard on this landmark album of 1958.
"Kind of Blue" (album). Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and others. (1959)
Many consider this recording to be one of the most important jazz recordings of any era. Miles Davis, trumpeter and composer, and a superb ensemble of musicians, including John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and Bill Evans, created a highly-influential modal jazz masterpiece which became a best-selling album.
"What'd I Say" (Parts 1 and 2). Ray Charles. (1959)
This rhythm and blues hit combined the call-and-response structure of the church with the sexually-charged message of the blues. A highly acclaimed singer, pianist, arranger, and songwriter, Charles's synthesis of soul, R&B, country, and pop makes him one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century.
"The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" (album). Bob Dylan. (1963)
This album is considered by some to be the most important collection of original songs issued in the 1960s. It includes "Blowin' in the Wind," the era's popular and powerful protest anthem. Dylan's lyrics, music, and performing style marked him as a highly-influential figure in the urban folk-music revival of the 1960s and 1970s, whose work remains significant and influential today.
"I Have a Dream." Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (August 28, 1963)
Dr. King's address is considered a landmark event in the civil rights struggle against discrimination and racism.
"Respect." Aretha Franklin. (1967)
Like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin successfully integrated elements of her gospel background with pop tunes to create numerous gold records, including the perennial hit "Respect" composed by Otis Redding.
"Philomel: For Soprano, Recorded Soprano, and Synthesized Sound" (album). Bethany Beardslee, soprano. (1971)
Milton Babbitt's "Philomel" was commissioned by the Ford Foundation for the noted soprano Bethany Beardslee. It is an outstanding example of an early synthesizer composition.
"Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Gospel Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey" (album). Thomas Dorsey, Marion Williams, and others. (1973)
Composer of many enduring gospel classics, Thomas A. Dorsey is considered to be the Father of Gospel Music. The recording features Dorsey's recounting of his life, as well as contemporary performances of his greatest works.
Crescent City Living Legends Collection. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation archive/WWOZ New Orleans. (1973-1990)
This collection of tapes in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation Archive contains an outstanding array of interviews, live concert recordings, and radio broadcasts of Big Easy musicians including Clifton Chenier, Professor Longhair, Queen Ida, and others, culled from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
"The Message." Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. (1982)
Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five was a pivotal group in the early days of rap, developing crucial aspects of the genre. Their 1982 hit, "The Message," is significant because of its focus on urban social issues--a course followed by many later rap artists.