Library of Congress press release announcing the 2009 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:
“Fon der Choope (From the Wedding).” Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra. (April 4, 1913)
Barber and trumpeter Abraham Elenkrig recorded this lively number for Columbia Records in the spring of 1913 and the ten songs were among the first klezmer recordings made in America. While chiefly colored by Romanian musical influences, the cornet and trombone on “Fon der Choope” lend it a brassy sound typical of John Phillip Sousa, Arthur Pryor and other popular military bands of the time. It was a sound characteristic of early klezmer recordings in the United States.
“Canal Street Blues.” King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. (April 5, 1923)
This recording of April 5, 1923, is the second title recorded by Oliver’s ensemble. Of the group, “Early Jazz” author Gunther Schuller wrote, “The glory of the Creole Jazz Band is that it sums up…all that went into the New Orleans way of making music: its joy, its warmth of expression, its Old World pre-war charm, its polyphonic complexity, its easy relaxed swing....” Oliver's 1923 band included Oliver on first trumpet; Louis Armstrong, second trumpet; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Honore Dutrey, trombone; and Baby Dodds, drums; and others.
“Tristan und Isolde.” Metropolitan Opera, featuring Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, NBC broadcast. (March 9, 1935)
This recording captures Wagnerian singing at its dramatic best by two of the greatest voices of the twentieth century and prime interpreters of the lead roles. The beauty and purity of Flagstad’s singing, captured at the beginning of her worldwide fame, combined with Melchior’s heroic scale and nobility creates an unsurpassed performance in this profoundly influential opera. This recording is an early example of the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday matinee broadcasts, which have brought live performances of complete operas into homes throughout the world for more than 75 years.
"When You Wish Upon A Star.” Cliff Edwards. (recorded 1938; released 1940)
Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”) was an enormously popular singer in the 1920s and early 1930s, a star in vaudeville and early sound films. His “When You Wish Upon a Star” in Disney’s “Pinocchio,” however, remains the song for which he is best remembered. Edwards’ natural tenor and clear falsetto, along with the beauty of the composition, written by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline, continues to touch listeners. This recording was one of the very first from a film soundtrack to be issued commercially.
“America’s Town Meeting of the Air: Should Our Ships Convoy Materials to England?” (May 8, 1941)
“America’s Town Meeting of the Air” was a spirited public affairs program broadcast live from Town Hall in New York over NBC radio from the 1930s to the 1950s. This program aired seven months before the nation’s entry into World War II, when most of the country opposed entry into the war. The featured speakers were Reinhold Niebuhr, chairman of the Union for Democratic Action and creator of the Serenity Prayer, and John Flynn, New York chairman and a founder of the America First Committee. Niebuhr supported U.S. aid to Britain; Flynn opposed it.
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The Library of Congress Marine Corps Combat Field Recording Collection, Second Battle of Guam. (July 20-August 11, 1944)
“It’s machine gun fire! Spread out! Spread out…! [O]h, one boy’s been hit…one boy’s hurt now. Four men are putting him in the rubber boat.”
So narrates battle correspondent Alvin Josephy while wading ashore with the first wave of soldiers in the battle to retake Guam on July 21, 1944. This collection owes its existence to the collaboration of Harold Spivacke, chief of the Library of Congress Music Division, and Brigadier General Robert L. Denig to provide war correspondents with recording machines to interview soldiers, record their songs, and document actual battles in the Pacific theater during World War II. While the larger collection includes battle coverage of Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Guadalcanal, the recordings made in Guam feature the most immediate coverage of battle. Among the dozens of recordings made on Guam, listeners can hear firsthand coverage of an officer’s briefing before the invasion, reportage and battle sounds on the morning of the invasion, rare recordings of tank communications, an awards ceremony after the fighting has ended, native opinions of the Japanese occupation, and the personal reactions of the enlisted troops before, during, and after battle.
“Evangeline Special” and “Love Bridge Waltz.” Iry LeJeune. (1948)
The post-World War II revival of traditional Cajun music began with accordionist Iry LeJeune’s first single, his influential recordings of “Evangeline Special” and “Love Bridge Waltz.” LeJeune’s emotional and deeply personal style was immensely popular with Louisiana Cajuns returning home from the war, eager to hear their own music again. His recordings marked a distinct turn away from the Western-Swing influenced style that had dominated commercial Cajun recordings for over a decade and a return to the older sound of Cajun music featuring the accordion and unrestrained, blues-influenced singing.
“The Little Engine That Could.” Paul Wing, narrator. (1949)
This classic story of optimism and determination is beloved by several generations of Americans. The charming story is climaxed by the mantra “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can …” chanted in a chugging rhythm as the little blue engine successfully climbs over the mountain to bring a train full of toys to waiting children. Paul Wing’s cheerful reading and the recording's rich sound effects make this version of the story the most fondly remembered of many recorded interpretations.
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Leon Metcalf Collection of recordings of the First People of western Washington State. (1950-1954)
Metcalf, a logger, musician, and music instructor with a life-long interest in languages, documented songs, stories, and other narratives from native speakers in the Puget Sound region and neighboring areas. He used one of the earliest commercially available tape recorders. Among the many individuals he recorded were Ruth Shelton, Susie Sampson Peter, Annie Daniels, Martha Lamont, Willy Gus, Martin Sampson, Silas Heck, Harry Moses, Hal George, Amy Allen, and Joseph Hillaire. The Metcalf recordings not only document the voices of many native speakers, they also include unique content due to Metcalf’s practice of giving his consultants free rein during recording sessions. They often recorded personal messages to one another, providing a rare aural documentation of conversational practice, and several told lengthy myth narratives that filled several reels of tape. The revival of interest in Lushootseed language and literature and, in particular, the work of Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert, owes much to this collection, which has been the source of material for language instruction projects and numerous publications since the 1970s. The collection is located at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington, Seattle.
“Tutti Frutti.” Little Richard. (1955)
In 1955, when he entered Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans studio, 22 year-old “Little Richard” Penniman was a seasoned rhythm and blues performer but an unsuccessful recording artist in search of a breakthrough hit. At first, there seemed to be scant rapport between Richard and the other musicians, and a frustrating session ensued. Not until Richard started extemporizing verses of “Tutti Frutti,” a risqué feature of his club sets, did the music catch fire. Even in the less-suggestive version that was eventually released, Little Richard’s unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.
“Smokestack Lightning.” Howlin’ Wolf. (1956)
The derivation of Chester Arthur Burnett’s stage name, “Howlin’ Wolf,” is evident in “Smokestack Lightning.” The blues lyric has no narrative; instead Wolf howls as he grasps for words to express his romantic torment. Guitarist and collaborator Hubert Sumlin plays the song’s signature bending, sliding riff. “Smokestack Lightning” influenced the swampy sound of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” and, later, music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Critic Cub Koda observed, Howlin’ Wolf could “... rock the house down to the foundation while ... scaring its patrons out of [their] wits.” No song better exhibits this than “Smokestack Lightning.”
“Gypsy” (album). Original cast recording. (1959)
“Gypsy” is considered by many to be the apotheosis of the original Broadway cast recording. It boasts a spectacular score, thrilling orchestrations, and a star turn by Ethel Merman. Jule Styne’s music includes pitch perfect pastiches of vaudeville and burlesque songs, tender ballads, and what is generally agreed to be the most exciting Broadway overture in history. The lyrics by Sondheim are funny, clever, and perfectly suited to the show’s characters. Much of the score was tailored to Merman, and rarely has a score and a voice so sparked each other to create such a defining record.
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“Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two).” Max Mathews, John L. Kelly, Jr., and Carol Lochbaum (1961)
This recording, made at Bell Laboratories on an IBM 704 mainframe computer, is the earliest known recording of a computer-synthesized voice singing a song. The recording was created by John L. Kelly, Jr. and Carol Lochbaum and featured musical accompaniment written by Max Mathews. Arthur C. Clarke, who witnessed a demonstration of the piece, was so impressed that he incorporated it in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” When Clarke’s fictional HAL 9000 computer is being involuntarily disconnected near the end of the story, as it devolves it sings “Daisy Bell.”
“The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings” (album). Bill Evans Trio. (June 25, 1961)
All five sets performed by the Bill Evans Trio on June 25, 1961, at the Village Vanguard club in New York City were recorded, resulting in what are recognized as some of the greatest live recordings in the history of jazz. The trio, consisting of Bill Evans (piano), Paul Motian (drums) and Scott LaFaro (bass), has been credited with redefining jazz piano trios by including the bass and drums as equal partners rather than a rhythm section accompanying a piano soloist. The performances would be the last of the trio. LaFaro was tragically killed in a car crash ten days later. Producer Orrin Keepnews has recalled, “I remember listening to the tapes and saying, ‘There's nothing bad here!’” Complete recordings of all five sets were released in 2005.
“I Started Out as a Child” (album). Bill Cosby. (1964)
Recorded live at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, Bill Cosby’s second album is made up of short vignettes on a wide range of topics, but mainly drawn from his childhood in Philadelphia. Cosby’s delivery is intimate in style, but he utilizes the microphone and public address system of the venue to create humorous and evocative effects, and to conjure up the world as perceived by the eyes and ears of a young boy.
“Azucar Pa' Ti” (album). Eddie Palmieri. (1965)
This album pointed the way for Latin music in the United States in the 1960s and beyond, and was the result of a conscious effort on Palmieri’s part to capture on record the sound he and his eight piece La Perfecta band were then serving up to New York nightclub audiences. Though steeped in the earlier Afro-Cuban styles that he loved, Palmieri's band represented several Latin music traditions, and was particularly distinguished by the contributions of the hard-charging, Bronx-born trombonist Barry Rogers.
“Today!” (album). Mississippi John Hurt. (1966)
In 1963, thirty five years after his last recording session, Mississippi John Hurt was rediscovered near Avalon, Mississippi, by Tom Hoskins, who had correctly guessed Hurt’s location from geographical clues in his 1920s recordings. Coaxed out of retirement, a series of folk revival concerts led to a new recording contract and “Today!” “Today!” shows that Hurt’s musical gifts, far from being diminished, had, like his voice, only deepened with the years. Mississippi John Hurt was the antithesis of a blues shouter. His gentle, soft-spoken delivery won him a legion of fans late in life.
“Silver Apples of the Moon” (album). Morton Subotnick. (1967)
Morton Subotnick composed “Silver Apples of the Moon” entirely on the Buchla Electronic Music Box, a modular analogue synthesizer. One of the unique features of Buchla’s instrument was its use of the electronic sequencer, a device capable of creating repeating, rhythmic sequences of musical notes or timbres. Subotnick used the sequencer effectively in the creation of many repeated figures in “Silver Apples of the Moon,” creating a canonical statement for this pioneering technology.
“Soul Folk in Action” (album). The Staple Singers. (1968)
The Mississippi (via Chicago) family act the Staple Singers established themselves as a top gospel act in the 1950s, but began reaching out to a larger audience in the 1960s, playing folk festivals and recording protest songs. This 1968 release, their first on the Stax label, did not achieve the crossover success of their 1970s work, but is a pivotal recording, a work that is spiritually informed and socially aware. “Soul Folk” contains such timeless tracks as “Long Walk to D.C.,” “Top of the Mountain,” “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” and “The Weight.”
“The Band” (album). The Band. (1969)
The Band’s debut album, “Music from Big Pink,” was a shot across the bow of popular music. “We were rebelling against the rebellion,” declared guitarist Robbie Robertson. Ignoring the prevailing “hard” rock, their second, self-titled LP (colloquially known as “the brown album”) continued their emphasis on Americana, but featured even better songwriting and ensemble playing than that on “Pink.” The Band mixed rock and roll with country, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, and even gospel. Robertson cited the influence of The Staple Singers on their vocals. Even the sound was deliberately against the grain, from touches such as the mouth bow harp-like Clavinet of “Up on Cripple Creek” to the overall woody sound of the album. “The Band” presented an image of America largely absent in the popular music of its time.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Loretta Lynn. (1970)
Loretta Lynn’s signature song lovingly recalls her hardscrabble upbringing in Butcher Hollow, a poor coal mining community in Kentucky. With an upbeat melody and arrangement, the song warmly recounts a childhood of little economic means but much love. Lynn writes songs that are realistic and plain spoken, portraying strong and independent women like herself. She was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and her successful career continues to the present.
“Horses” (album). Patti Smith. (1975)
Before recording this proto-punk classic, Patti Smith and her band had honed the tunes in a triumphant run of shows at New York’s CBGB’s. In the studio, producer John Cale helped the band to further refine the selections in a process that Smith remembers as not always pleasant, but as greatly beneficial to the final product. Smith’s background as a rock critic and poet are equally in evidence on this record which includes re-imaginings of such oldies as “Gloria” and “Land, of a thousand dances” with the addition of Smith’s provocative and uncompromising lyrics.
“Red Headed Stranger” (album). Willie Nelson. (1975)
At the time composer and performer Willie Nelson recorded “Red Headed Stranger,” he had just moved to Columbia Records with a contract that gave him complete artistic control. The new freedom allowed him to compose an album of uncommon elegance and power, one built primarily of his own compositions, but including older country songs like Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Set in the Old West, it told the tale of a tormented preacher on the run from killing his wife and her lover. In the studio, Nelson relied on extremely spare arrangements which emphasized guitar, harmonica and piano. At times the only accompaniment was Nelson’s nylon-string guitar. The resulting album was met with considerable skepticism from Columbia’s executives, but Nelson’s instincts proved prescient and “Red Headed Stranger” resonated with an audience weary of the elaborate production techniques associated with Nashville studios, setting a new course for country and popular music.
“Radio Free Europe.” R.E.M. (1981)
The original Hib-Tone single of this song set the pattern for later indie rock releases by breaking through on college radio stations targeted by label owner and producer Jonny Hibbert, in the face of mainstream radio’s general indifference. Although a more elaborately produced version of the song appeared on the band’s first album "Murmur," the original maintains a raw immediacy that undoubtedly contributed to its overwhelmingly favorable critical reception. Singer Michael Stipe’s elliptical lyrics and guitarist Peter Buck’s arpeggiated open chords would not only become signatures of the band’s future output, but they added greatly to the song’s enigmatic appeal.
“Dear Mama.” Tupac Shakur. (1995)
In this moving and eloquent homage to both his own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty, and societal indifference, Tupac Shakur unflinchingly forgives his mother who, despite a cocaine habit, “never kept a secret, always stayed real.” The song displays further evidence of hip hop as a musically sophisticated and varied genre which can artfully encompass a wide variety of themes and musical influences.