Library of Congress press release announcing the 2008 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:
This recording captured a gifted monologist at his best and became one of the most popular performances on early records. The “No News” monologue, with its roots in oral tradition, was one of vaudeville’s most famous and often-copied routines. The monologue unfolds as a piecemeal report by a servant to his master who recently returned from a trip, assuring him that there is nothing new to report from home, except that his dog has died. Nat M. Wills displays masterful comic timing as he slowly reveals, in a escalating hierarchy of domestic disasters, the events that led up to the dog’s demise.
Acoustic Recordings for Victor Records. Jascha Heifetz. (1917-1924)
Sixteen-year-old Jascha Heifetz made his debut at Carnegie Hall in October 1917. He was immediately hailed as one of the greatest violinists of the time, praised for his immaculate technique and exceptional tonal beauty. Soon after his debut, Heifetz started recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company. He would maintain a relationship with Victor, and later RCA Victor, over the course of his career. These acoustic recordings, made between 1917 and 1924, were mostly light recital pieces with piano accompaniment. The Victor Records brochure promoting his first four recordings touted “his phenomenal technique, complete mastery of bow and control of finger” and proclaimed his performances “as Mozart might have played.”
“Night Life.” Mary Lou Williams. (1930)
When a record producer asked for an impromptu solo piano performance, 20-year-old Mary Lou Williams created an original three-minute collage of stride, ragtime, blues and pop styles that summarized the art of jazz piano up to that time while pointing to the future of that genre and her own career in it. At the time, she was a pianist, composer and arranger for Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, one of the great jazz bands of the Midwest. She later said that thoughts about the nightlife of Kansas City had driven this composition.
In 1935, on their expedition to document rare North American birds, Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg of Cornell University recorded a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers in an old-growth Louisiana swamp forest known as the Singer Tract. These recordings of the birds’ calls and foraging taps are presently the last confirmed aural evidence of what was once the largest woodpecker species in the United States. The last universally accepted sighting of an ivory-bill occurred in 1944. However, since that time, many scientists believe there have been credible sightings of the species, suggesting the bird might not be extinct. These 1935 recordings have been vital to recent searches and have been used to train searchers on what to listen for. They have also been used to develop pattern-recognition software, enlisting computers to analyze new field recordings identifying similar sounds.
“Gang Busters.” (July 20, 1935)
The radio crime drama series “Gang Busters” was the creation of Phillips H. Lord, producer of the successful “Seth Parker” radio series. Capitalizing on the public’s fascination with gangsters, Lord based his new show on true crime stories, going so far as to obtain the cooperation of the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. “G-Men,” as the series was known initially, premiered on July 20, 1935, but the FBI’s enthusiasm waned quickly and its cooperation diminished. Revised as “Gang Busters,” the show remained on the air until the late 1950s. The program’s spectacular opening, which included sirens, police whistles, gunshots and tires screeching, inspired the slang expression, “come on like gangbusters!”
“Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.” The Andrews Sisters. (1938)
This English-language version of a popular song from a Yiddish musical by Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda brought the Andrews Sisters to national attention. In the version by Sammy Cahn, the only Yiddish retained was the song title (translation: "To me, you are beautiful"), a phrase which is repeated throughout. Vic Schoen, the Sisters’ bandleader and arranger, turned the number into a swing sensation that showcased the girls’ close harmony and smooth vocal syncopations.
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"O Que é que a Bahiana tem." Carmen Miranda. (1939)
This recording, with its lively exchange between singer and dancer Carmen Miranda and the band, embodies the merriment of Brazilian Carnival songs. “O Que é que a Bahiana tem” (“What does the Bahian girl have?”) was an enormously successful recording in Brazil that celebrated Bahia culture at its roots and solidified samba's hold on Brazilian popular music. The recording helped to introduce both the samba rhythm and Carmen Miranda to American audiences. It was also the first recording of a song by Dorival Caymmi, who went on to become a major composer and performer.
NBC Radio coverage of Marian Anderson’s recital at the Lincoln Memorial. (April 9, 1939)
By the end of the 1930s, African-American opera singer Marian Anderson had already been hailed as the greatest contralto of her generation. Yet this did not prevent the Daughters of the American Revolution from prohibiting her from performing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in 1939. In response, and with the assistance of President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Anderson was, on Easter Sunday of that year, invited to perform for a racially desegregated audience at the Lincoln Memorial. There she sang to an audience of over 75,000 people, with a national radio audience of millions more. Though brief newsreel excerpts of her brilliant performance have become familiar and even iconic since that time, the contemporary impact of this live, continuous radio coverage cannot be underestimated, and is now our most complete documentation of this key event in the struggle for civil rights.
“Tom Dooley.” Frank Proffitt. (1940)
Frank Proffitt first sang the murder ballad “Tom Dula” for Frank and Anne Warner in 1938 in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and recorded a portion of it two years later, accompanying himself on a banjo of his own making. Although Proffitt’s performance would not be commercially released until many years later, it nevertheless provided the basis for Frank Warner’s national performances of the song and for the arrangement of the song, now known as “Tom Dooley,” that appeared in John and Alan Lomax’s “Folk Song USA” songbook in 1948.
Zora Neale Hurston’s appearance on the Mary Margaret McBride program is a unique audio document of this vital African-American writer whose legacy continues to grow. It is also a fine example of McBride’s widely heard and highly influential afternoon radio program at the peak of the host’s fame. As a talk-show host, McBride pioneered the unscripted radio interview. While her interview of Hurston sounds casual and folksy, it is a very informative and focused discussion of Hurston’s recent writings, her early life and education, and her ethnographic field work in Haiti and Jamaica.
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“Uncle Sam Blues.” Oran “Hot Lips” Page, accompanied by Eddie Condon’s Jazz Band. V-Disc . (1944)
During the 1940s, the United States was in the record business. The V-Disc label was created to boost morale by providing recordings of familiar American artists to service camps overseas as well as on the home front. The V-Disc program took on added significance when, owing to a dispute between the record labels and the musicians’ union over royalties, union musicians were forbidden to make commercial recordings. With the understanding that V-Discs would not be sold in the domestic market, the union permitted musicians to contribute their services for free so that some V-Disc releases could include fresh, new performances. Trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page had played with the Bennie Moten Orchestra in Kansas City and was a featured performer with Artie Shaw during 1941-42. Page’s V-Disc recording of the “Uncle Sam Blues,” an ode to military conscription, must have resonated on both the war and home fronts.
"Sinews of Peace" (Iron Curtain speech). Speech by Winston Churchill. (March 5, 1946)
Lamenting the deepening shadow of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe and fearing Soviet-directed, fifth-column activities in the West, Winston Churchill delivered this opening salvo of the Cold War at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The speech heralds an increasingly widespread feeling in the West that a tougher stance was needed toward Russia, a departure following the positive image that the country enjoyed as a wartime ally in World War II. Churchill famously pronounced that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
“The Churkendoose.” Ray Bolger. (1947)
"The Churkendoose" is a children’s tale of tolerance, compassion and diversity, written by Ben Ross Berenberg for his daughter. The recording features the voice of Ray Bolger, music composed by Alec Wilder, and a supporting cast of farm animals. The Churkendoose, a creature who is part chicken, turkey, duck and goose, didn’t fit in at the farm. Rejected and ridiculed, he became a hero by saving the other animals from the fox. Ultimately, the animals embrace the Churkendoose and learn a valuable lesson about acceptance.
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"Boogie Chillen'.” John Lee Hooker. (1948)
This first hit for the largely self-taught John Lee Hooker showcases his take on the Delta blues. Hooker was born in Coahoma County, Mississippi, spent his early years in Memphis and eventually moved to Detroit. The R&B label Modern released the infectiously rhythmic track after Hooker’s manager presented them with a demo. While the song’s instrumentation is simple, featuring only vocal, guitar and the tapping of Hooker’s foot, the driving rhythm and confessional lyrics have guaranteed its place as an influential and enduring blues classic.
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Dylan Thomas. (1952)
Part nostalgic childhood remembrance and part poetic incantation, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” was issued with five of Dylan Thomas’ poems on Caedmon Records’ first release. According to the label’s co-founder Barbara Holdridge, Thomas arrived in the studio with insufficient material to fill an entire LP, but he remembered writing a Christmas story for "Harper’s Bazaar." Holdridge and her business partner, Marianne Roney, were able to identify the piece as “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and obtained a copy from the magazine. It became one of Caedmon’s most successful releases and has been credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States. “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice,” Holdridge said of Thomas’ reading, “We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.”
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“A Festival of Lessons and Carols as Sung on Christmas Eve in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge” (album). King’s College Choir; Boris Ord, director. (1954)
The annual Festival of Lessons and Carols by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, was introduced in 1918 to bring a new, imaginative approach to worship. The British Broadcasting Corporation began broadcasting the festival in 1928 and included it in the BBC’s overseas shortwave schedule starting in the early 1930s. Organist and choirmaster Boris Ord, who conducted the service most years between 1929 and 1957, is highly respected for the standards of musical excellence that he elicited from the choir. This 1954 Argo recording, published in the U.S. by Westminster Records, provided most Americans with their first opportunity to experience this beloved Christmas tradition, which has since become a seasonal mainstay in many American churches.
“West Side Story” (album). Original cast recording. (1957)
While there are over 40 recordings of the score to the Broadway show “West Side Story” in various languages and styles, the original cast recording is in many ways unequaled. Bernstein’s music—with its Latin, jazz, rock and classical influences—was arguably the most demanding score heard on Broadway up to that point. Boasting Stephen Sondheim’s first lyrics for a Broadway musical, the songs range from the passionate love song “Tonight,” through the social satire of “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” to the hopeful anthem “Somewhere.”
“The Play of Daniel: A Twelfth-Century Drama” (album). New York Pro Musica under the direction of Noah Greenberg. (1958)
Determined to change contemporary attitudes towards early music, Noah Greenberg founded New York Pro Musica, a performing ensemble of singers and instrumentalists in 1952, and found great success with performances of medieval, Renaissance and baroque music. Pro Musica introduced audiences to relatively neglected genres of music and influenced many early-music ensembles. His 1958 recording of “The Play of Daniel,” a 12th century liturgical drama, exemplifies the best of his work.
“Rumble.” Link Wray. (1958)
Asked for a tune that kids could dance The Stroll to, Link Wray came up with this powerfully menacing guitar instrumental on the spot, and the crowd went wild, demanding encores. When he couldn’t recreate the distorted sound of his live version in a studio, Wray poked holes in his amp speakers, cranked up the tremolo, and was then able to capture what he wanted in three takes--all for a cost of $57. Originally titled “Oddball,” it was renamed after the gang fights in “West Side Story” by a record producer’s daughter. Wray’s primal guitar influenced a generation of rockers including Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, the Kinks, Jimmy Page and Neil Young. Bob Dylan called “Rumble” the “greatest instrumental ever.” Pete Townshend said, “... if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.”
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“Tom Dooley.” The Kingston Trio. (1958)
The Kingston Trio recorded their version of “Tom Dooley” on their debut album for Capitol Records in early 1958. The song was already part of their regular set list and was also in the repertoire of other folk revivalists such as the Tarriers and the Gateway Trio. In spite of Nick Reynolds' distinctive and dramatic opening narration, the song attracted little attention on its own until a Salt Lake City radio station began playing it heavily, prompting Capitol Records to place the 1866 murder ballad on a 45rpm record. The song helped spark a modern-folk revival, the influence of which would be felt throughout American popular music.
“Rank Stranger.” The Stanley Brothers. (1960)
The Stanley Brothers, one of the premier bands of the formative days of bluegrass, always included sacred songs as a featured part of their performances. Their recording of “Rank Stranger,” written by famed gospel songwriter Albert E. Brumley Sr. and sung with reverence and simplicity in the traditional mountain style, shows why the Stanley Brothers continue to influence performers today. Carter Stanley’s masterful handling of the verses and his brother Ralph’s soaring tenor refrain produce a distinctive duet. The spare accompaniment of unamplified guitar and mandolin and the emotional call-and-response style vocals heighten the emotional anguish of the lyric.
"2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks” (album). Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. (1961)
The secret to living 2000 years? “Never touch fried foods!” In their party routine first performed for friends, Mel Brooks played a 2000-year-old man, while Carl Reiner, as the straight man, interviewed him. After much convincing, the two writers for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” recorded their ad-libbed dialogue for a 1961 album. Interview subjects ranged from marriage (“I was married over 200 times!”) and children (“I have over 1500 children and not one of them ever comes to visit!”) to transportation (“What was the means of transportation? Fear.”).
“At Last.” Etta James. (1961)
Etta James’ recording of “At Last” is widely acknowledged as a “crossover” masterpiece. The song was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1942 Glenn Miller film, “Orchestra Wives.” It became the title track on the first album that James recorded for Leonard and Phil Chess in 1961. In the producers’ attempt to widen James’ audience and sales, the album features many jazz and pop standards in addition to blues, which had been the focus of James’ work until that time. Her sultry, blues-inflected approach to “At Last”--set in a brilliant strings and rhythm section arrangement by Riley Hampton--transcends genre, like all great crossover interpretations.
"The Who Sings My Generation" (album). The Who. (1966)
On their first album, The Who, assisted by The Kinks’ producer Shel Talmy, laid down a set of tracks that would include both enduring classics and mainstays of their later concert performances. Pete Townshend penned the rebellious title track, “My Generation,” which features John Entwistle playing one of the earliest bass leads in rock. Roger Daltrey's defiant tone and steely vocal delivery on this track and others on the album helped sealed his place as one of the most powerful rock vocalists of the next two decades. The song is also known for Townshend’s proto-punk, two-chord guitar riff with distortion and feedback. The session later billed as "maximum rock 'n' roll," the sessions for the album also included Bo Diddley and James Brown covers. However, this album primarily marked Pete Townshend’s assumption of main songwriting duties for the band.
"He Stopped Loving Her Today.” George Jones. (1980)
George Jones has said that he initially thought “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was too sad to be very popular, but, at one of the lowest points of his career and personal life, he made it one of country music’s most defining and enduring songs. Billy Sherrill’s restrained production highlighted the plaintive yet highly nuanced vocals that are the hallmark of Jones’ mature style but which also stretch back to his days singing for tips in the streets of his hometown, Beaumont, Texas, in the 1940s.