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 Lord's Prayer" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Emile Berliner recordings. (c. 1890)
Emile Berliner, the inventor of the microphone and founder of the first disc record company, lived and worked in Washington, D.C. A contemporary of Thomas Edison, Berliner believed that the wax cylinder developed by Edison and his partners was too soft and fragile for making a permanent recording. Hence, he developed the first process for mass-production of disc recordings. These are two of his early recordings.
"Honolulu Cake Walk." Vess Ossman. (c. 1900)
During the era of ragtime music's greatest popularity -- the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- the syncopated music was typically recorded by bands, orchestras, or small ensembles, or accordion, xylophone, or banjo soloists. Vess Ossman, called "The Banjo King," was the one of the most prolific recording artists of that time. His "Honolulu Cake Walk" is a prime example of recorded ragtime banjo.
This vaudeville and musical theater duo, among America's first African-American recording artists, recorded many sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. But as effective as the comic duo were on record, George Walker disliked recording and made only one other disc. Bert Williams, however, had a very successful recording career, which included two versions of his signature song, "Nobody," before his death in 1922. The Victor discs are quite rare. Two of them, "The Fortune Telling Man " (Victor 1083) and "The Ghost of a Coon" (Victor 998), are missing from any known collection.
Billy Murray was one of the most popular recording artists in the U.S. in the acoustic recording era. His distinct tenor voice was featured on hundreds of records issued by Victor, Columbia, Edison, and other labels. Some of Murray's best-loved and most popular recordings were of George M. Cohan's songs. "You're a Grand Old Rag" was the original title of this recording and Cohan's song "You're a Grand Old Flag." Despite the song's clear patriotic message, "rag" was considered by many to be an undignified and inappropriate way to refer to the American flag.
Frances Densmore Chippewa/Ojibwe Cylinder Collection. (1907-1910)
Frances Densmore's Chippewa recordings, a three-hundred cylinder sub-set of the ethnomusicologist's thirty-year collecting effort, are some of the earliest recordings she made. Her collections, housed at the Library of Congress, document Native American traditions and performances, many of which have since been lost even within their native communities.
The Bubble Book (the first Bubble Book). (1917)
The Bubble Books, published by Harper Columbia between 1917 and 1922, were the first series of books and records published together especially for children. Authors were Ralph Mayhew and Burges Johnson, while Rhoda Chase provided the beautiful, full-color line drawings. Each book contained three 5 1/2-inch discs to accompany the three nursery rhymes printed in the books. The singer is not listed on the discs but is thought to be Henry Burr. Millions of the books were sold to delighted children in the U.S. and abroad.
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Guy B. Johnson cylinder recordings of African-American music. (1920s)
These cylinders comprise some of the earliest field recordings of African-American music. They were recorded on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, in the 1920s. They are held primarily at the Southern Folklife Collection of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with smaller numbers in the collections of the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture and the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.
William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech is one of the best-known political addresses in American history. The speech was originally delivered at the 1896 Democratic convention. In it, the "Great Commoner," as the populist candidate was called, advocated the replacement of the gold standard by silver. The speech is said to have won Bryan the Democratic nomination for President. Bryan recorded excerpts of the speech for Gennett Records twenty-five years after the 1896 convention.
"OKeh Laughing Record." (1922)
This odd OKeh record label recording of a bad cornet solo interspersed by a laughing woman and man was one of the most popular discs of the 1920s. The laughing was infectious to listeners, so much so that the disc was re-recorded several times and inspired imitations by other record companies.
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"Adeste Fideles." The Associated Glee Clubs of America. (1925)
In 1925, Columbia Records chose to promote its new electrical recording process by recording a chorus of several thousand voices at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Fifteen glee clubs participated in the March 31, 1925 concert. In the finale, concert performers and audience combined forces to record "Adeste Fideles." By recording electrically with a microphone rather than an acoustic recording horn, the sound produced was indeed more faithful to the actual performance, and louder, than any recording made by the other older method.
Cajun-Creole Columbia releases. Amadé Ardoin and Dennis McGee. (1929)
Amadé Ardoin was an African-American accordionist whose passionate singing and syncopated playing left an influential legacy to both Cajun and Zydeco music. He first recorded in 1929 with fellow sharecropper Dennis McGee, a Cajun violinist. The popularity of their music, exhibiting a fine synthesis of Cajun and Creole styles, transcended racial barriers.
"Goodnight, Irene." Lead Belly. (1933)
Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly or Leadbelly, sang spirituals, popular songs, field and prison hollers, cowboy and children's songs, dance tunes and folk ballads, as well as his own compositions throughout his career. Lead Belly was first recorded in 1933 by John and Alan Lomax when the singer was serving time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. "Goodnight, Irene," Lead Belly's best-known song, became a bestseller for the Weavers in 1950, just months after Lead Belly's death. This is the first recording of "Irene," which includes some lyrics that were later changed.
"Every Man a King." Speech by Huey P. Long. (February 23, 1934)
Huey Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930 but did not take his Senate seat until 1932, after he had handpicked a successor for the governorship. A radical populist, he proposed a "Share the Wealth" plan with the motto "Every Man a King." The wealth was to be shared by increases in inheritance taxes which would "guarantee a family wealth of around $5,000; enough for a home and automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences." In this 1934 radio speech, the Senator outlines his plan and explains why he no longer supports President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Marian Anderson. (1936)
The vocal art of contralto Marian Anderson showed equal mastery of both the classical and spiritual repertory. In 1929, she gave her first recital at Carnegie Hall which served to launch her career in the U.S. and abroad. She is remembered for her performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where, in 1955, she its first African-American performer, and for her landmark 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The spiritual, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," was one of Anderson's favorites, often performed at the conclusion of her recitals.
"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)
The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day.
"Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert" (album). Benny Goodman. (January 16, 1938; released 1998)
This live concert recording catches clarinetist and band leader Benny Goodman, touted as the "King of Swing," at his peak, fronting top performers and appearing before an energetic audience for the debut of jazz at Carnegie Hall. Goodman's stellar bandsmen were joined by Lionel Hampton and members of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington ensembles for this famous festival of jazz during the height of the swing music era. "Swingtime in the Rockies," a jam on "Honeysuckle Rose," and Goodman's signature piece, "Sing, Sing, Sing" are highlights.
Jelly Roll Morton interviews conducted by Alan Lomax. (1938)
In 1938, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded an extensive series of interviews at the Library of Congress with musician Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. Morton performed his own compositions and those which influenced him, and told the story of his life over his piano vamping. Morton did not "invent" jazz, as he claimed to in the interviews, but he was the art form's first great composer. These recordings offer a fascinating, if not entirely accurate, autobiography of the musician, and a rich picture of life in early 20th century New Orleans.
WJSV (Washington, D.C.). Complete day of radio broadcasting. (September 21, 1939)
This aural time capsule preserves a full day (6:00 AM to 1:00 AM) of broadcasting by a CBS network affiliate radio station. It is the first known recording of an American station. Highlights include Arthur Godfrey, soap operas, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to Congress, coverage of the war in Europe, a baseball game, "Amos 'n' Andy," and "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour," as well as contemporary commercials.
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"New San Antonio Rose." Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. (1940)
Bob Wills is considered one of the pioneers of the musical amalgam of old-time fiddle music, blues, pop, and jazz that came to be known as western swing. This recording of Wills' signature song became an American standard. Earlier recorded by Wills as an instrumental, this horn-laden version added the "Deep within my heart . . ." lyrics that are still popular.
"Porgy and Bess" (album). "Original" cast recording. (1940; 1942)
Although the 1935 original production of "Porgy and Bess" was not a commercial success, the edited 1942 revival won popular as well as critical acclaim. These recordings of 1940 and 1942 were the first to feature the originators of the title roles and stars of the revival, Todd Duncan and Anne Brown. George Gershwin's score beautifully exhibits mastery of combining his Broadway idiom with jazz, folk, and classical elements. It includes the well-known "Summertime," "My Man's Gone Now," "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'," and "Bess, You is My Woman." Conceived as an "American folk opera," Gershwin envisioned his work as a "combination of the drama and romance of 'Carmen' and the beauty of 'Meistersinger.'"
Beethoven String Quartets. Budapest Quartet. (1940-1950)
The Budapest Quartet, known for its virtuosity, drive, and depth of interpretive insight, was among the most honored and respected chamber ensembles of the 20th century. As the Library of Congress' Quartet-in-Residence for 22 years, the Budapest brought the Beethoven string quartets, in concert and on Columbia Records, to a wider audience than ever before. Many subsequent string quartets have acknowledged their indebtedness to the Budapest.
World Series Game Four–New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers. (October 5, 1941)
Game four of the 1941 World Series has long been remembered as the game when Mickey Owen dropped the ball. With two outs, no Yankees on base, and Brooklyn leading 4-3, a third strike on the Yankee's Tommy Henrich got past Dodgers catcher Owen and instead of clinching a victory to tie the series at 2-2, Brooklyn saw the Yankees go on to score four runs and win 7-4. New York won the series the following afternoon. This radio broadcast features the "Voice of the Dodgers," and later the Yankees, Red Barber, along with Bob Elson and Bill Corum as announcers. Colorful, innovative, and much respected, Barber remains a legend in the elite world of baseball broadcasters.
"Oklahoma!" (album). Original cast recording. (1943)
"Oklahoma!" holds the distinction of being the first Broadway "original cast album" to be recorded and marketed by a major company. The 78-rpm disc album was enormously successful and led to the nearly systematic recording of new musicals on Broadway. The cast included Alfred Drake as Curly, Joan Roberts as Laurey, and Celeste Holm as Ado Annie. "Oklahoma!" was also the first major collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Favorites from the score include "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," and "People Will Say We're in Love."
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“Othello” (album). Paul Robeson, Uta Hagen, Jose Ferrer, and others. (1943)
In the early 1940s, after no U.S. theatre company would cast the African-American actor Paul Robeson in the lead role in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the actor/singer/activist/lawyer decamped for England where he triumphed in the role in the West End. Upon his 1943 return to the U.S., Robeson was able to assume the role on the Broadway stage. In the production, this multi-talented man with the rich bass voice mesmerized audiences. He and his co-stars, Uta Hagen and José Ferrer, helped make this production the longest-running Shakespearean play in New York theatre history.
Bach B-Minor Mass (album). Robert Shaw Chorale. (1947)
Robert Shaw, one of the most successful and influential choral conductors in the United States, led his newly-formed chorale in this 1947 recording of Bach's B-Minor Mass. Shaw's use of relatively small forces for this Baroque masterpiece was novel at the time. It influenced subsequent performances and contributed to the trend toward more "authenticity" in the performance practice of early music.
"The Four Seasons" (album). Louis Kaufman and the Concert Hall String Orchestra. (1947)
Louis Kaufman was one of the most recorded violinists of the 20th century with a brilliant career performing both film and classical music. His 1947 recording of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with the Concert Hall Orchestra conducted by Henry Swoboda, was the first LP recording of the work. Kaufman's performance would play a pivotal role in the revival of baroque music and interest in performance practice of early music.
Ives Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord Sonata") (album). John Kirkpatrick. (1948)
John Kirkpatrick, eminent pianist and energetic promoter of American music, premiered Charles Ives' "Concord Sonata" in 1939. His performance of the technically-demanding work earned enthusiastic reviews for both Ives and Kirkpatrick and led to Kirkpatrick's recording of the work. Now considered one of the most original of American composers, Ives' works changed the direction of American music.
“Pictures at an Exhibition” (album). Rafael Kubelik, conductor; Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (1951)
Prior to this LP, the first of Mercury's noted “Living Presence” series, orchestras were recorded by a variety of multiple microphone methods, all with artificial balances and few with concert hall ambience. This recording of the Mussorgsky masterpiece, recorded with a single Neumann U47 suspended above and behind the conductor, was revolutionary in that for the first time the recorded balance was that of the orchestra, not of a technician. This recording is of such merit that many believe that the technical methodology it displays has not been improved upon to this day.
"Problems of the American Home" (album). Billy Graham. (1954)
Billy Graham began preaching, after attending Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College) and Wheaton College, for the local Youth for Christ organization in 1945. The rallies he organized impressed many leaders in the Christian evangelical community. He came into national prominence in 1949 with the launch of his crusades to major U.S. cities and around the world. For the next five decades, Graham built his following in person and later via television, becoming a major religious, social, and political figure.
"Goldberg Variations" (album). Glenn Gould. (1955)
Following his landmark 1955 recording of J.S. Bach's "Aria with 30 Variations," also known as the "Goldberg Variations," Glenn Gould's name has been inextricably linked with this masterful work that concludes Bach's 1742 set of keyboard exercises, the "Clavierübung." Gould is remembered as a remarkable, eccentric pianist with a unique, studied yet emotional approach to performance. The "Goldberg Variations" is the only work Gould chose to record a second time; the second recording being made in 1981, shortly before his death.
"Brilliant Corners" (album). Thelonious Monk. (1956)
Thelonious Monk displays his compositional genius and idiosyncratic, but indeed brilliant, piano style in the monumental "Brilliant Corners" of 1956. Monk's thorny and challenging original pieces would form a basis of the modern jazz repertoire. They are brought to life with the assistance of Ernie Henry, alto sax; Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Max Roach, drums; Clark Terry, trumpet; and Paul Chambers, bass.
"Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book" (album). Ella Fitzgerald. (1956)
Ella Fitzgerald, "The First Lady of Song," will be long appreciated for her beautiful voice, thoughtful lyric interpretation, imaginative scat singing, and impeccable enunciation. "The Cole Porter Song Book," a two-LP set, is the first of her many anthologies devoted to the pantheon of American popular song composers and lyricists.
"Roll Over Beethoven." Chuck Berry. (1956)
Chuck Berry has been described as "the closest one to have invented rock and roll." As a composer, he is responsible for many of early rock music's best compositions. His recorded songs are marked by his influential, driving guitar work and clever lyrics. Berry's music was a witty challenge to contemporary pop music, and in this instance, the classics as well. "Roll Over Beethoven" has been covered by many bands including the Beatles, who along with the Rolling Stones, have always acknowledged their debt to Berry.
Steam locomotive recordings. O. Winston Link. (1957-1977)
O. Winston Link, a commercial photographer, was also a passionate admirer of trains. His well-known photographic essays documented the rich history of steam locomotives. Link also captured sounds and moving images of these trains. His first album of recordings, released in 1957, includes the sounds of Y6, K2, and J class locomotives, and a J603 locomotive passing by church bells play Christmas carols. Link's recordings captured the unique and now-lost sounds of the engines which united the United States.
"Winds in Hi-Fi" (album). Eastman Wind Ensemble with Frederick Fennell. (1958)
The Eastman Wind Ensemble, one of the finest such ensembles ever to record, gave its first performance in 1953, the same year they began a series of 24 recordings for Mercury's Living Presence label. Their recordings jump-started the American concert wind band movement. This album features works by Percy Grainger, Bernard Rogers, Darius Milhaud, and Richard Strauss. Grainger often commented that he considered this the definitive recording of his composition "Lincolnshire Posy."
“Der Ring des Nibelungen” (The complete “Ring Cycle”) (album). Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. (1958-1965)
In the late 1950s, John Culshaw, a producer for the English Decca label, attempted the most ambitious recording project up to that time–-a complete studio recording of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (“The Ring of the Nibelung”) on stereo LP. This landmark nineteen-disc series features the Vienna Philharmonic, under the direction of the authoritative Wagner conductor Sir Georg Solti. Among the many superb vocal performances recorded for this Ring are those of Birgit Nilsson and Kirsten Flagstad. The series is credited with bringing Wagner's masterpieces into the homes of many Americans who had never before visited an opera house.
"Mingus Ah-Um" (album). Charles Mingus. (1959)
Jazz bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus is recognized today as one of the finest jazz composers in history. His genius as a composer, exemplified in "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Fables of Faubus," "Better Git It in Your Soul," and "Jelly Roll," from this album, combines elements of gospel, blues, New Orleans jazz, swing, bop, Latin music, modern classical music, and avant-garde jazz.
Documenting the street sounds of New York City has been a passion for Tony Schwartz since 1945 when he bought a wire recorder and started to collect the sounds of the world around him. Since then, his audio archive has become one of the most significant collections of the sounds of everyday life. "New York Taxi Driver" comprises conversations and stories recorded with taxi drivers while riding in their cabs during the 1950s. A creator of advertisements and public service announcements, Schwartz also produced the first anti-smoking ad and the famous "Daisy" ad used in President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign.
Ali Akbar College of Music archive selections. (1960s-1970s)
The Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California, was founded in 1967 to provide education in the classical music of Northern India. Ali Akbar Khan, internationally recognized sarode maestro, and Swapan Chaudhuri, tabla maestro, were the primary instructors. The College’s archive contains unique, historic sound recordings, many in the early stages of deterioration. This group of ten recorded concerts of particular value, as selected by the College’s staff, includes rare performances by some of northern India’s foremost musicians including Allauddin Khan, Kishan Maharaj, Nikhil Banerjee, and Alla Rakha.
"Crazy." Patsy Cline. (1961)
Patsy Cline is considered one of country music's greatest singers and is an inspiration to many contemporary female vocalists. "Crazy," a perfect vehicle to showcase Cline's poignant, heartbreaking voice and suburb musicanship, also demonstrates the song-writing prowess of Willie Nelson. It is an excellent example of the urbane Nashville Sound, which became popular in country music after the rise of rock and roll.
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"Judy at Carnegie Hall" (album). Judy Garland. (1961)
Judy Garland's singing and acting career spanned vaudeville to movies, radio, and television. She was revered for her musical strengths and personal vulnerabilities. This live concert recording exemplifies her ability to form an intimate relationship with the audience and includes a moving performance of "Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz."
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Inaugural of John F. Kennedy. (January 20, 1961)
John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States on January 20, 1961, a bitterly cold and snowy day in Washington. The youngest person ever elected to the Presidency and the first Roman Catholic, his inaugural address spoke of the "New Frontier" and declared to the nation, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy had invited noted poet Robert Frost to take part in the ceremony as well. Frost wrote a poem, "Dedication," for the event but, due to the sun's glare on the snow, was unable to read all of it. Instead, Frost movingly recited from memory "The Gift Outright," a poem he had written years earlier.
"I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)." Otis Redding. (1965)
This gem of 1960s soul music balladry was composed by singers Otis Redding and Jerry Butler. Redding's recording for Volt Records exemplifies the brilliance of his vocal expressiveness and the spare but powerful instrumental accompaniments of the much-acclaimed Stax/Volt studio musicians.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (album). The Beatles. (1967)
The Beatles were undoubtedly the most successful and significant rock group in history. Their 1967 concept album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," is a compilation of twelve unforgettable songs, each masterfully arranged. The songs embrace a myriad of divergent styles yet, through the collective genius of these musicians, they are melded into a cohesive whole. The album makes use of novel studio techniques in creating an enchanting musical experience which transcends genre.
"At Folsom Prison" (album). Johnny Cash. (1968)
On this live album, country and rockabilly pioneer Johnny Cash played directly to his "captive" audience with songs about imprisonment, separation, loneliness, salvation, crime, and death. As the concert progresses, artist and audience become collaborators in the enterprise, urging each other to greater levels of enthusiasm and release. At a time of great social upheaval, this album and its 1969 follow-up, "Johnny Cash at San Quentin," showed Cash to be a performer of great compassion, humor, and charisma.
"Tapestry" (album). Carole King. (1971)
Composer Carole King wrote many early rock and roll classics and then became a successful solo recording artist with her 1971 album, "Tapestry." It established King as a premier and influential force for female singer-songwriters and stayed on the charts for over 300 weeks. Selections on the album include "I Feel the Earth Move," "You've Got a Friend," and "It's Too Late."
"What’s Going On" (album). Marvin Gaye. (1971)
A masterful stylist of sophisticated soul, Marvin Gaye’s songs helped promote the Motown sound throughout the 1960s. Many of his vocal collaborations with Tammi Terrell topped the rhythm and blues charts. His 1971 concept album, "What's Going On," explored deeply held spiritual beliefs while offering social commentary on cultural events of the day. This self-written, self-produced concept album was an abrupt departure from previous Motown releases and became a huge commercial success.
"A Prairie Home Companion." First broadcast. (July 6, 1974)
Garrison Keillor, writer and humorist, began broadcasting his radio variety program, "A Prairie Home Companion," for Minnesota Public Radio in 1974. In the show, Keillor weaves together regional humor, musical guests, comical advertisements for imaginary products, and extraordinary monologues about his fictional creation, Lake Wobegon. Thirty years after its inception, the radio variety program is still heard on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide.
"Born to Run" (album). Bruce Springsteen. (1975)
Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen, whose live performances are renowned for their energy and passion, burst onto the rock scene in the early 1970s, a time when many believed that rock was in need of new lifeblood. Billed early in his career as "the next Bob Dylan," his music evolved into a unique synthesis of early rock and roll, blues, rhythm and blues, folk, gospel, and country. Though "Born to Run" was Springsteen's third LP, it was the first in which he fully realized the sound that would earn him the title "The Boss." Not coincidentally, it was also his first album to feature the revamped lineup of his dynamic E Street Band featuring saxophone player Clarence Clemons, second guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, organist Danny Federici, pianist Roy Bittan, bassist Garry Tallent, and drummer Max Weinberg. In addition to the title song, the album contains such Springsteen anthems as "Thunder Road," "Backstreets," and "She's the One."
"Live at Yankee Stadium" (album). The Fania All-Stars. (1975)
The All-Stars are the house band of Fania Records, one of the U.S.'s most significant Latin music record labels. The All-Stars popularized New York City salsa during the 1970s through their concerts at the Red Garter in Greenwich Village, Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, and Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This two-LP set features top salsa singers Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Pete "Conde" Rodriguez, Bobby Cruz, and Santos Colon.