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Program National Recording Preservation Board

African Americans on the Recording Registry

As with listing the various women—or for that matter any other group—highlighting, selecting out, African-Americans who appear on the National Registry in as inherently difficult task. For a fuller discussion of that “why,” please see this article.

Nevertheless, below are just some of the very talented black creators, singers, performers, speakers, writers and others who have, so far, found their worked honored on the NRR. It is not complete; for a full listing of all items on the Registry, please see the full list.

Recordings are listed in chronological order:

"The Laughing Song." George Washington Johnson. (c. 1896)

George W. Johnson
George W. Johnson

George W. Johnson was the first African American to make commercial records; he began in 1890. Born near Wheatland, Virginia, Johnson made his living as a street singer during the 1870s, busking in New York City. "The Laughing Song" was Johnson's most famous and long-lived number. This familiar sounding and uncomplicated tune was sung by Johnson in a down-home, gruff baritone and completed with his infectious laughter, all remarkably free of the caricature and forced dialect that marked most African American-themed material of the period. "Laughing Song" was tremendously successful, with versions released in the US and Europe. With its ragtime-imbued accompaniment, its stature is inestimable: here is perhaps the most popular recording of the 1890s, and probably the first "hit" sung by an African American. Selected for the 2013 registry.

Bert Williams and George Walker. Victor Releases. (1901)

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech. (1908 recreation)

Booker T. Washington
[Booker T. Washington standing on a stage in Mound Bayou, Mississippi]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-120527 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1912

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." The Fisk Jubilee Singers. (1909)

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

“Clarinet Marmalade.” Lieut. Jim Europe’s 369th US Inf. (Hell Fighters) Band (James Reese Europe). (1919) (single)

James Reese Europe
James Reese Europe. Courtesy: IAJRC

Having served in France during WWI, the all-Black 369th Infantry, known as “The Hellfighters,” returned to New York triumphantly on February 17, 1919. Their band, led by composer and orchestra leader James Reese Europe, also made an enormous impression, and received a hero’s welcome home. Shortly before beginning a national tour, the band began making a series of recordings for the American Pathé label. “Clarinet Marmalade” was a work composed by clarinetist Larry Shields and pianist Henry Ragas. It was recorded by Europe’s ensemble in 1919, and though their instrumentation was that of a standard military band, their delivery had a verve and abandon unheard of from such a group. “Clarinet Marmalade” was one of 24 titles released by Europe’s ensemble which helped introduce a new Black American music to a welcoming public. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Crazy Blues." Mamie Smith. (1920)

With her recording of "Crazy Blues," Mamie Smith became the first black vocalist to make a commercial vaudeville blues record. The recording was a surprise hit, reputedly selling more than 250,000 copies. It revealed to record companies a previously neglected market for records--African-Americans. Subsequently, thousands of recordings were made of black jazz and blues artists, invigorating the record business and enabling the documentation and preservation of one of the richest eras of musical creativity in the United States. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Harlem Strut" (single). James P. Johnson. (1921)

James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson. Courtesy: Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University – Newark

James P. Johnson (1894-1955), a native of New Brunswick, New Jersey, was one of the creators of the jazz piano style known as "Harlem Stride," which fused elements of ragtime with an active left hand that provided a bass characterized by wide leaps, or "strides." "Harlem Strut," a multi-strain work and a Johnson original, was his first recorded selection, although he did cut piano rolls prior. This recording, along with Eubie Blake’s "Sounds of Africa," lays claim to being the first recordings of Harlem Stride piano. Today, James P. Johnson is best remembered as the composer of "The Charleston," and as the mentor of pianist and composer Thomas "Fats" Waller. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Down Hearted Blues." Bessie Smith. (1923)

Bessie Smith
[Portrait of Bessie Smith] REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-100863 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1936

"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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing." Manhattan Harmony Four. (1923); Melba Moore and Friends. (1990)

Original label for Lift Every Voice and Sing
Original label for "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

With text written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" has served as the "Black National Anthem" since its adoption by the NAACP in 1919. As with "The Star-Spangled Banner," no single recording captures the hymn's essence or its overall meaning to Americans. Therefore, the registry recognizes two recordings: the 1923 version by the Manhattan Harmony Four, one of the last discs issued by the short-lived Black Swan Company—a pioneering African-American-owned record label based in Harlem—and a modernized 1990 version headed by Melba Moore. Moore sought to restore the standing of the song among young African-Americans. Among the many participants in her latter, all-star recording were Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick and Bobby Brown. The resulting single, which benefited charity, made headlines at the time and helped to raise public awareness of the Johnsons' anthem. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"See See Rider Blues." Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. (1924)

"Ma" Rainey, called by some "the Mother of the Blues," was a pioneering blues artist whose career began in tent shows and vaudeville. She is credited with influencing many blues singers, most notably Bessie Smith. Although others recorded blues songs before Rainey and had begun to refine the genre, her recordings retain the powerful directness and poignancy that made her famous. Rainey made numerous recordings for the Paramount label; this recording is from a session she recorded with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Sugar Foot Stomp." Fletcher Henderson. (1925)

Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra
Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra. Courtesy: MCA/UMG

“Sugar Foot Stomp” was a milestone recording that incorporated jazz into a dance band setting. Henderson was one of the most successful African American bandleaders of his time. From its inception in 1921, his band played rather polite dance music, laced with a well-intended yet ponderous style of jazz, typically found in New York during the early 1920s. This changed suddenly upon the October 1924 arrival of New Orleans cornetist Louis Armstrong into the Henderson ensemble. Based on Armstrong’s collaboration with Joe Oliver’s “Dipper Mouth Blues,” “Sugar Foot Stomp” — in a smart, forward-looking arrangement by Don Redman — becomes streamlined and timelessly hip. Its most salient feature was the 36-bar solo by Armstrong, based on Oliver’s own “Dipper Mouth Blues” solo. Selected for the 2023 registry.

Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. Louis Armstrong. (1925-1928)

Louis Armstrong
[Louis Armstrong, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, playing trumpet]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-127236 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1953

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Black Bottom Stomp." Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. (1926)

"Black Bottom Stomp" is a masterly example of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton's creative talents as a composer, arranger and pianist. Moreover, it is an authentic representation of the New Orleans jazz tradition, which relied strongly on an ensemble polyphony where the frontline instruments of trumpet, clarinet and trombone played simultaneous but complementary themes. "Black Bottom Stomp" has more than one theme, or "strain," a carryover from ragtime. Arranged with harmonized passages, breaks and solos, and a changing balance between the instrumentalists, Morton fashioned a unique, continuous whole. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Black Snake Moan" / "Match Box Blues." Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927)

Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson

By the time of this recording in 1928, Blind Lemon Jefferson, an African-American street singer from a small country town outside of Dallas, Texas, had reshaped and expanded the blues genre on record. With only his guitar for accompaniment, and a high wailing tenor of a voice, Jefferson recorded a series of powerfully individualistic performances on record from 1925 to 1929, the year of his death. Though he used what were already traditional frameworks for many of his songs, Jefferson personalized them with the interplay between his voice and guitar, extending vocal phrases with long intricate lines of notes, adding or omitting measures in the song as it suited him. This 1928 coupling issued by the Okeh label, and holds two of Jefferson's best performances—"Matchbox Blues," later recorded by Carl Perkins, the Beatles, and many others, and the eerie, lascivious "Black Snake Moan." Selected for the 2014 registry.

"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." Blind Willie Johnson. (1927)

Blind Willie Johnson
Blind Willie Johnson. Courtesy: Solider Meyer's Bop House/Columbia.

Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945), a blind African-American guitar-evangelist from Beaumont, Texas, recorded 30 titles between 1927 and 1930. Although most of them were classics, none were quite like "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." To create this singular work, Johnson drew on an 18th-century hymn of English origin known as "Gethsemane," which begins with the lines "Dark was the night, cold was the ground/On which my Lord was laid." Instead of singing the lyrics, however, he evoked the sorrowful intensity of the hymn's subject matter by humming and moaning wordlessly in the manner of a church congregation, reinforcing and ornamenting his voice with sliding notes on his guitar. Johnson has distilled the essence of the text and the tradition into an unforgettably intense evocation of Christ on the eve of the Crucifixion as relived in the music of the churches he knew in his youth. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"Ain't Misbehavin'." Thomas "Fats" Waller. (1929)

ats Waller
[Fats Waller, three-quarter length portrait, seated at piano, facing front] / World Telegram & Sun photo by Alan Fisher; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123107 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1938

"Fats" Waller's solo piano recording of his now-classic composition "Ain't Misbehavin'" preserves the composer's inventive talents as one of jazz's greatest pianists. In this recording Waller took the "stride" piano tradition to a new level of musical expression. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Night Life." Mary Lou Williams. (1930)

Mary Lou Williams
[Mary Lou Williams, full-length portrait, seated at piano]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-115074; Created/Published: 1945

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. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Minnie the Moocher" (single). Cab Calloway. (1931)

Cab Calloway
Cab Calloway. Courtesy: Library of Congress/UMG

By 1931, songs about Dens of Iniquity were nothing new, but one so deliberate, not to mention as entertaining, as Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher," was indeed remarkable. "Minnie" bears more than a slight resemblance to a 1920s ditty titled "Willie the Weeper," a song about a "chimney sweeper" with a drug addiction. Minnie, herself, is characterized as both "rough and tough" and big-hearted, and one who hung around with types as disparate as "Cokey Joe" and the King of Sweden. An equally unlikely pairing was the wild abandon, yet perfect control, with which Cab Calloway sang this minor-keyed fable. Calloway sang "Minnie" throughout his long career, including a rousing version he performed in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers," when he was an agile septuagenarian. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Goodnight, Irene." Lead Belly. (1933)

Huddie Ledbetter
[Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), half-length portrait, facing left, holding guitar]Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120591; Created/Published: 1948

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Stormy Weather." Ethel Waters. (1933)

Ethel Waters
[Ethel Waters in Lew Leslie's "Rhapsody in Black" at the Sam H. Harris Theatre. Opens May 4.]; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-08326; Created/Published: 1930-1940

Ethel Waters began her career as a blues singer but became a pioneer jazz singer, adapting her voice to a conversational style in which the meaning of the song lyrics are conveyed with subtle theatricality. Waters' rendition of "Stormy Weather" became a bestseller, bringing her tremendous exposure and respect as a jazz singer and incomparable interpreter of the American Songbook. "Stormy Weather" composers Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler originally intended their 1933 song to be sung by Cab Calloway in a revue to take place at Harlem's Cotton Club. However, it quickly made its way to Waters instead who then made it her own. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." Thomas A. Dorsey. (1934)

The acknowledged father of modern gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey made only a handful of gospel recordings himself. Recording first as "Georgia Tom" and "Barrelhouse Tom," Dorsey was a noted blues artist and composer during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1932, he dedicated the remainder of his life exclusively to gospel music. In four sessions in 1932 and 1934, Dorsey recorded several songs for Vocalion, including his popular composition "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again," which were released under his own name. His voice, although well-suited to his earlier blues and jazz recordings, was said to have lacked the qualities needed for gospel music and he made no further recordings, concentrating instead on songwriting and publishing. (Thomas Dorsey is not related to big-band leader Tommy Dorsey.) Selected for the 2007 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"One O'Clock Jump." Count Basie and His Orchestra. (1937)

Count Basie
[Count Basie and his orchestra] / James J. Kriegsmann, NY; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-126072;CREATED/PUBISHED: 1955

This landmark of the big band Swing Era first came together as a "head arrangement." Head arrangements, worked out in rehearsal and committed to memory rather than written down, gave much freedom to soloists and allowed the musicians to concentrate on the rhythmic drive for which Kansas City jazz and the Basie orchestra is noted. The Basie orchestra, like most Kansas City-style bands, was organized around its rhythm section. The interplay of brass and reeds on the "One O'Clock Jump" serves as a backdrop for the unfolding solos of the band's extraordinary players, including Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Buck Clayton. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Body and Soul." Coleman Hawkins. (1939)

An unlikely jukebox hit, this recording by Hawkins was the most popular and influential recording he made and one of the best-known recorded jazz performances in history. Through the influence of this recording, "Body and Soul" became a standard for tenor sax players, with many later recordings referencing parts of Hawkins' solo. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"If I Didn't Care" (single). The Ink Spots. (1939)

The Ink Spots
The Ink Spots. Courtesy: LOC

In 1939, when songwriter Jack Lawrence brought his new song to Bill Kenny and the other three members of his group—The Ink Spots—Kenny and his bandmates were at first reluctant to record it. Yet, they did, and soon after, it became one of the best-selling singles in history, eventually moving 19 million copies worldwide. The song's lovely opening guitar riff, flawless countertenor-singing and arresting mid-song spoken-word passage created a recording that is charming, haunting, evocative and both timely and timeless more than 75 years after its release. "If I Didn't Care" has since been covered by everyone from Connie Francis to Bryan Ferry, while the original has become a go-to standard for use in movies, television shows and even video games. Selected for the 2017 registry.

“Rose Room.” Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian. (1939) (single)

Benny Goodman with Charlie Christian
Benny Goodman with Charles Christian

Guitarist Charlie Christian’s tenure with the Benny Goodman Sextet remains a pivotal moment in the development of jazz and amplified guitar in the 20th Century. The jazz standard “Rose Room” served as Christian’s impromptu audition with Benny Goodman’s hugely popular band. Producer John Hammond had recommended Christian to Goodman after hearing of the guitarist’s growing local reputation. Goodman’s initial skepticism was dispelled at a live date in Beverly Hills when Hammond helped Christian sneak his bulky amplifier onstage during intermission. Goodman’s surprise was evident, but since there was a live audience, the performance continued. Christian’s guitar wowed the audience with an extended 45-minute version of “Rose Room” with numerous choruses. Goodman was convinced. Part of Goodman’s skepticism was likely based on the supporting role that guitar had played in jazz. Since acoustic guitars were too quiet to project over an ensemble, they had usually been relegated to the rhythm section. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Strange Fruit." Billie Holiday. (1939)

Billie Holiday
[Portrait of Billie Holiday]; REPORDUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-89028 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1949

This searing song is arguably Billie Holiday's most influential recording. It brought the topic of lynching to the commercial record-buying public. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Sweet Lorraine." Art Tatum. (1940)

Art Tatum
[Art Tatum, 1910-1956]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-67705; Created/Published: N/A

People who listened to an Art Tatum record often wondered if it featured multiple pianists. Tatum's cascading runs up and down the keyboard, the scales, arpeggios, broken bass lines and two-fisted piano choruses, often taken at blistering speeds, easily gave this impression. Although contemporary critics found his playing "ornate" and devoid of improvisation, Tatum won his spurs as a jazz pianist. "Sweet Lorraine" is one of his signature tunes. Its relaxed tempo allows one to hear and follow all the typical Tatum action, including the harmonies and dissonances that give any Tatum performance undisputed originality. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Were You There." Roland Hayes. (1940)

Roland Hayes
Roland Hayes. Courtesy: Columbia

Lyric tenor Roland Hayes was the child of former slaves and from an early age sang spirituals in church. As a young man, he studied European concert vocal techniques and refined his approach to spirituals as a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. In recitals, he regularly performed a mixture of spiritual and classical repertoire, eventually garnering considerable fame. Hayes recorded extensively, but his 1940 unaccompanied rendition of the spiritual "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)" may be his finest moment on record, and remains hauntingly moving over seventy years later. Selected for the 2013 registry.

Blanton-Webster era recordings. Duke Ellington Orchestra. (1940-1942)

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington, half-length portrait, seated, facing front; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-125934 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1951

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Me and My Chauffeur Blues" (single). Memphis Minnie. (1941)

Memphis Minnie
Memphis Minnie. Courtesy: Columbia/Sony

Lizzie Douglas, better known as Memphis Minnie, was born circa 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana. She took up guitar as a child after her family moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area in 1904, and was singing and playing on Beale Street in Memphis by the age of 13. She started recording under the name "Memphis Minnie" for the Columbia label in 1929 and went on to record over 200 songs, more than any other female country blues artist. "Me and My Chauffer Blues" showcases her aggressive and uncompromising vocal delivery and stinging guitar work. It also is her best known song, thanks in part to later covers by Big Mama Thornton, Nina Simone and Jefferson Airplane. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Wings Over Jordan." (May 10, 1942)

Wings Over Jordan
[Orlando, Florida. Wings over Jordan, a popular Sunday morning radio program broadcast by Columbia Broadcasting System from Station WDBO. The choir rehearsing]; Reproduction Number: LC-USW3-016890-C; Created/Published: 1943

The Wings Over Jordan choir was founded in 1935 by Rev. Glenn T. Settle, pastor of the Gethsemane Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1937, they began appearing on the radio program, "The Negro Hour," singing spirituals and other traditional gospel songs over local station WGAR. By 1938, the choir had become nationally known, broadcasting on CBS. The show, renamed "Wings Over Jordan," featured prominent African-American artists and scholars as well as choir selections. It ran until 1947. Thankfully, many of these radio programs can be studied and appreciated today because they were pressed as electrical transcriptions for broadcast by the Armed Forces Radio Network. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Straighten Up and Fly Right." Nat "King" Cole. (1943)

Nat King Cole
[Nat King Cole smoking a cigarette]; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-19700 (digital file from original); CREATED PUBLISHED: 1954

The King Cole Trio, featuring Nat "King" Cole on piano and vocals, is one of most respected small-group ensembles in jazz history. Cole's astonishing technical command of the piano, featuring a deceptively light touch, influenced many great piano virtuosos, including Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. His vocal solo on this recording introduced audiences to his beautifully smooth singing, immaculate diction and liquid style.It launched his career as a one of the most popular singers of the mid-20th century. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Down by the Riverside." Sister Rosetta Tharpe. (1944)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, considered to be one of the greatest gospel singers of her generation, merged blues and jazz into her performances and influenced many gospel, jazz and rock artists. She sang at John Hammond's historic 1938 concert, "From Spirituals to Swing," in Carnegie Hall, and was a frequent performer in night clubs as well as before religious groups. "Down by the Riverside" captures her spirited guitar playing and unique vocal style, demonstrating clearly her influence on early rhythm-and-blues performers. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s" (album). International Sweethearts of Rhythm. (1944-1946; released 1984)

Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s LP jacket
"Hottest Women's Band of the 1940s" LP jacket. Courtesy: Rosetta Records

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was an interracial all‑women jazz band formed in the late 1930's at the Piney Woods Country Life School, a boarding school for African-American children in Mississippi. The band made very few commercial recordings but toured extensively in the 1940's, performing in Europe as well as at predominantly African-American theaters and can also be seen in several motion pictures. Professional musicians who joined the band include vocalist Anna Mae Winburn, Viola Burnside on tenor saxophone, and Ernestine "Tiny" Davis on trumpet. Rosetta Records, founded by Rosetta Reitz, was a record label dedicated exclusively to reissuing performances by female jazz and blues artists. Rosetta Records' International Sweethearts of Rhythm album, released in 1984, includes commercially recorded tracks by the band and excerpts from an appearance on the Armed Forces Radio Service program "Jubilee." Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Caldonia." Louis Jordan. (1945)

Louie Jordan
Louie Jordan. Courtesy: MCA

Vocalist and alto saxophonist Louis Jordan left the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938 and started his own small group devoted to the jump blues style. By the mid-1940s he had achieved unparalleled crossover success. Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five scored national hits in the "race," country and pop markets with their infectious, driving performances of Jordan's sharp, witty songs, and were an important influence on early rock and roll. "Caldonia," one of Jordan's biggest hits, is a swinging, up-tempo, dance tune which may be best remembered for its comedic, shouted punch line, "Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?" Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Ko Ko." Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. (1945)

Charlie Parker
[Charlie Parker,half-length portrait, facing front, holding saxophone] / James J. Kriegsmann, N.Y.]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-120470 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1940-1955.

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Call It Stormy Monday But Tuesday is Just As Bad." T-Bone Walker. (1947)

The first recording of this blues standard was made by the Black and White label in Los Angeles on September 14, 1947. Backing up Walker on the session are Lloyd C. Glenn on piano, Bumps Myers on tenor sax and Teddy Buckner playing a muted trumpet. This lineup adds a strong jazz inflection to the recording. Over the years the song has been reinterpreted with great success by a wide range of blues, rock and jazz recording artists, including Bobby Blue Bland, Lou Rawls, The Allman Brothers and Kenny Burrell. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around" (single). The Fairfield Four. (1947)

The Fairfield Four
The Fairfield Four. Courtesy: Country Music Hall of Fame

The Fairfield Four has represented the Jubilee style of a cappella quartet singing in the African-American church since their early days in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1920s, a legacy carried on by the present incarnation of the group. At their second session for Nashville’s Bullet Records label in 1947, they recorded “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around,” a signature song that they would perform and re-record throughout their career. The Rev. Sam McCrary had been their lead tenor since 1940, powerfully sustaining words and syllables while the other members intoned their accompaniment. The song had been in the repertoire of others since the 1920s, but at a time when African-American religious music was changing rapidly, adding instruments and amplification in service of the message, the Fairfield Four broke through as the accomplished and passionate embodiment of the older Jubilee style, making their mark in the louder and faster postwar world of America. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Manteca." Dizzy Gillespie Big Band with Chano Pozo. (1947)

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie featured with "Norman Granz" Jazz at the Philharmonic / James J. Kriegsmann, NY; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-125932 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1955

Latin jazz, sometimes called Afro–Cuban jazz, incorporates jazz improvisation with Cuban rhythms. The music strongly emphasizes percussion, using congas, timbales and bongos to supplement piano, guitar or vibes with horns and vocals. A pioneer of this pulsating, infectious sound was Dizzy Gillespie, who was greatly influenced by Chano Pozo, a Cuban singer and drummer. Performing with Gillespie for the first time in 1947, Pozo joined Gillespie's bebop big band and composed "Manteca" with him, later recording it for RCA Victor. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"Move On Up a Little Higher." Mahalia Jackson. (1948)

Mahalia Jackson
[Portrait of Mahalia Jackson] / Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer;Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-109778; Created/Published: 1962

This recording was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's breakthrough disc, a bestseller that appealed equally to black and white audiences and reputedly became the bestselling gospel release of the time. In her performance, Jackson blends the vocal styles of blues singers, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, with the heartfelt emotion and commitment common to traditional gospel singing. Her recordings helped to make gospel music popular with racially and reiligously diverse audiences. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Destination Freedom." Episodes: "A Garage in Gainesville" and "Execution Awaited" (September 25; October 2, 1949)

man at typewriter

From June 1948 to August 1950, Chicago radio station WMAQ broadcast "Destination Freedom," a remarkable program dedicated to presenting not only the accomplishments of black Americans, but also the obstacles they overcame and the prejudice they endure. All episodes were written by Richard Durham, who had been previously been an editor at the "Chicago Defender" newspaper. This two-part episode is a searing indictment of racial prejudice in America. In the first, a black businessman in the south is harassed; in the second, "Execution Awaited," prejudice itself is put on trial. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"How I Got Over" (single). Clara Ward and the Ward Singers. (1950)

Clara Ward
Clara Ward. Courtesy: LOC

The Ward Singers were one of the earliest female gospel performing groups to bring their distinctive sound outside the church and into popular culture. Their song, “How I Got Over,” is delivered in gratitude and as a promise to overcome the challenges and struggles. The song has served as a song of praise and a call to action ever since. According to Clara’s sister, Willa, Clara chose to cover the song after the singers were menaced with racial epithets while on their way to a performance at an Alabama church. This experience led Clara to contemplate hardship and survival, and she published her reworking of the gospel standard. Later, Mahalia Jackson performed the song at the 1963 March on Washington, and it has remained vital as a standard in the gospel genre and via the work of many artists, including The Blind Boys of Alabama and Aretha Franklin. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"Jesus Gave Me Water" (single). The Soul Stirrers. (1950)

The Soul Stirrers
The Soul Stirrers

"Jesus Gave Me Water" comes from the first studio session of a young Chicago gospel singer named Sam Cook, seven years before he added an "e" to his last name and gained worldwide fame in the pop and R&B fields. Cook was 19, with only about 18 months of professional experience on the local gospel scene, and he had been chosen to replace the much loved and respected leader of the group, R.H. Harris. Without Harris, the group’s future was uncertain, but the combination of its three veteran members with Cook and another recent addition, tenor Paul Foster, was a winner. Cook’s deceptively gentle, mellifluous voice was a new sound in the music, and drew younger audiences back to gospel programs in droves. Cook excelled at songs that told a story, and "Jesus Gave Me Water" recounts a key event in the life of Jesus, his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the lesson of living water he reveals to her. "Jesus Gave Me Water" sold strongly for the Specialty label in the spring of 1950, re-establishing the Soul Stirrers as a premier group, and launching one of American music’s greatest artists. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Dust My Broom." Elmore James. (1951)

Elmore James
Elmore James

Several versions of "Dust My Broom" had been released by 1951 when Elmore James made this landmark 78-rpm recording for the Trumpet label. Though the song wasn't new, his sound was. James replaced the acoustic, solo blues of Robert Johnson with an electric blues band. James is known to have tinkered with his guitar pickups and fans still argue about how he achieved his signature sound. Whatever combination of guitar and pickup was used in his slide guitar opening, Elmore James created the most recognizable guitar riff in the history of the blues. The influence of "Dust My Broom" has been widespread and long-lasting. Many blues and rock artists has since covered "Dust My Broom" in the Elmore James arrangement, including Hound Dog Taylor, J.B. Hutto, and the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, featuring slide guitar by Jeremy Spencer. James later recorded "Dust My Broom" for other labels, often under different titles including "Dust My Blues" or "I Believe," but his signature treatment of the song began with this 1951 Trumpet version. Selected for the 2013 registry.

“Rocket ‘88’.” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats. (1951) (single)

Jackie Brentson
Jackie Brentson. Courtesy: Jasmine

There are many candidates for the honor of having been the “first” rock and roll record, but “Rocket ‘88’” stands out due to its raucous blend of the styles that we now know helped give birth to the genre. Although it was released on the Chess Records label out of Chicago, it had been recorded and licensed to them by Sam Philips in Memphis, TN, who would later make the first recordings of Elvis Presley on his own label, Sun. Willie Kizart’s distorted electric guitar riffing and group leader Ike Turner’s piano lines, which influenced Little Richard, provided a hard-charging swing over which singer Jackie Brenston’s sang the praises of partying in the latest postwar powerhouse automobile. “Rocket ‘88’” anticipated rock and roll like no other record of the time, and helped to cultivate the integrated audience that would bring it to the mainstream a few years later. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest." Rev. C.L. Franklin. (1953)

Reverend C.L. Franklin
Reverend C.L. Franklin. Courtesy: Franklin.

Long before his daughter Aretha attained stardom in the 1960s, Rev. C.L. Franklin (1915-1984) was a recording star in his own right, with dozens of his riveting sermons reaching an audience well beyond his New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich. African-American entrepreneur Joe Von Battle, whose record shop was only a few blocks from Franklin's church, recorded Franklin's sermon "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" and released it on three 78-rpm discs on his JVB label in 1953. In the sermon, Franklin draws his text from the Book of Deuteronomy and expounds on the parallels between "God and the eagle." He builds to a thunderously emotional climax before his very enthusiastic and vocal congregation. Franklin's many and varied vocal devices inspired not only other preachers, but also gospel and rhythm-and-blues artists who appropriated many of his techniques. Franklin was a national figure in the African-American community from the 1950s on and a close friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"Hound Dog." Big Mama Thornton. (1953)

Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton. Courtesy: LOC

The original version of "Hound Dog" brought together several key figures from the world of early 1950s rhythm and blues. Bandleader Johnny Otis invited composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, both still teenagers, to his house to hear Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, a physically imposing singer with a powerful voice. She inspired them to write "Hound Dog" in a matter of minutes. The song was recorded Aug. 13, 1952, with Otis on drums and two members of his band providing backup: guitarist Pete Lewis and bassist Mario Delagarde. It would be six months before the disc was released, but the unique mix of styles, rhythms and rhymes made "Hound Dog" a major hit and an enduring classic. "Hound Dog" became a standard of the rock ‘n' roll era. The song went on to be recorded by many artists, including Elvis Presley. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Let's Go Out to the Programs." The Dixie Hummingbirds. (1953)

The Dixie Hummingbirds. Courtesy: MCA Records

At the time of its release, "Let's Go Out to the Programs" was considered to be a novelty, but it now stands as a celebration of a golden age of African-American gospel music. In the fifties, high-energy quartets and quintets like the Dixie Hummingbirds played multi-artist shows known as "programs," where several top gospel acts pushed each other to the limit. Led by the legendary Ira Tucker, the Hummingbirds recreate such a program in less than three minutes with striking but good-natured imitations of four gospel groups: the Soul Stirrers (with their young lead singer, Sam Cooke), the Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Pilgrim Travelers, and the Bells of Joy. The Dixie Hummingbirds continue to perform today, led by Ira Tucker, Jr.; younger singers carry on the legacy of the Soul Stirrers, while original members of the Bells of Joy still sing in their home of Austin, Texas. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Tipitina." Professor Longhair. (1953)

Professor Longhair
Professor Longhair. Courtesy: Atlantic Records.

Pianist Henry Roeland Byrd (1918-1980), aka "Professor Longhair," was a pivotal figure in New Orleans rhythm-and-blues although he attained little success outside the city before the 1970s. His music was a classic New Orleans fusion of blues figures, parade-band cadences, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and melodies that he worked into dense, but light-fingered piano lines, and topped off with his merrily idiosyncratic singing, whistling and scatting. Although Byrd's 1953 recording of "Tipitina" had little impact outside of his hometown, it was a signature distillation of the musical ideas and personality that inspired and influenced such New Orleans pianists as Fats Domino, Huey "Piano" Smith, James Booker, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)." The Penguins. (1954)

Released as a "B-side," this doo-wop ballad quickly garnered enormous popularity and became one of the first recordings to cross over. It climbed to the number three position on the rhythm-and-blues charts and reached number eight on the pop charts. "Billboard" has termed the single of this song the "top R&B record of all time" measured by continuous popular appeal. The Penguins, a vocal group from Los Angeles that formed in 1954, featured high-school friends Cleveland Duncan (lead), Dexter Tisby (tenor), Bruce Tate (baritone), and Curtis Williams (bass). The recording was released on DooTone, a black-owned and operated label. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man." Muddy Waters. (1954)

Muddy Waters
[Muddy Waters and his orchestra]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123600; Created/Published: 1964

Originally recorded in 1941 for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax on a recording expedition through Mississippi, Muddy Waters went on to become an exemplar of Chicago's electric, urban blues style. "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," written by Chess Records mainstay Willie Dixon, was one of Waters' hits. It features a tight band with Dixon on bass, Little Walter on harmonica, Otis Span on piano, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, and Fred Below on drums. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"A Night at Birdland (Volumes 1 and 2)" (albums). Art Blakey. (1954)

A Night at Birdland LP cover
"A Night at Birdland" LP cover. Courtesy: Blue Note Records

Art Blakey, through his energetic drumming and inspiring leadership, helped solidify bebop and hard bop's mid-'50s takeover of the jazz mainstream. "A Night at Birdland" documents the inspired, high-energy live performances of Blakey and this early incarnation of the Jazz Messengers which included co-leader Horace Silver, Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson. The momentum that drives these performances comes from Blakey--his flawless timing and energy on the drums which pushes Brown and Donaldson to soar to new improvisational heights on their solos. Meanwhile, Silver's bluesy approach to piano revolutionized small group jazz playing. All together, the ensemble became the architects of a new, modern musical language, one that is fully captured on this recording. Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Bo Diddley" and "I'm a Man." Bo Diddley. (1955)

Bo Diddley LP jacket
"Bo Diddley" LP jacket. Courtesy: Chess Records

Born Elias Otha Bates in Mississippi in 1928, Bo Diddley acquired his stage name after moving to Chicago as a child. He played guitar locally with a small group, drawing inspiration from the polyrhythmic song and music emanating from storefront churches, a pulsing blend that he distilled into the song "Bo Diddley," the A-side of his first single. Drummer Clifton James played the defining beat, and Bo's guitar and Jerome Greene's maracas added further rhythmic layers beneath the chanted couplets. Having introduced himself, he threw down the gauntlet on the B-side, "I'm a Man," a throbbing slow blues that, as simple as it seems, took nearly thirty takes to get down just right. It was also a major hit, and inspired Muddy Waters' answer song, "Manish Boy." Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Tutti Frutti." Little Richard. (1955)

Here's Little Richard album cover
Little Richard ("Here's Little Richard" album cover). Courtesy: Globe; Specialty Records.

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. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Blueberry Hill." Fats Domino. (1956)

Domino's relaxed-tempo R&B version of "Blueberry Hill" was inspired by Louis Armstrong's 1940 rendition. The singer's New Orleans roots are evident in the Creole inflected cadences that added richness and depth to the performance. Recorded in Los Angeles for Imperial records, Domino insisted on performing the song despite the reservations of his producer. The wisdom of this choice is borne out by the enduring association of the song with Domino, despite a number other popular versions. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Brilliant Corners" (album). Thelonious Monk. (1956)

Brilliant Corners album cover
Brilliant Corners. Courtesy: Ojc

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Calypso" (album). Harry Belafonte. (1956)

Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte. Courtesy: LOC

The child of a Jamaican mother and a Martinican father, Harry Belafonte had tried singing conventional pop songs in New York in the 1940s, but was drawn to the city's small but vibrant folk scene of the time. There, he encountered Josh White, Pete Seeger and Lead Belly and developed a folk-influenced repertoire that included West Indian songs. In the fall of 1955, he performed several Caribbean songs in a televised musical production number, including "Day-O," a Jamaican folk song he adapted with his friend, writer, Bill Attaway, and Irving Burgie, another New York singer with West Indian roots. The positive audience response convinced Belafonte that a full album of such songs was viable. The album "Calypso," featuring "Day-O" and more song contributions by Burgie, was released in May 1956, on the heels of Belafonte's second album, which had been the nation's best-selling LP in April. "Calypso" proved to be a far bigger hit, exceeding all expectations. The title was evocative; only a few of the songs on the album were actually in the calypso song form of Trinidad, which Belafonte acknowledged. The album was rather a masterfully presented celebration and exploration of Caribbean song. Initially, it sold mainly to the older audience that purchased albums. However, when "Day-O" and "Jamaica Farewell" were released as singles, Belafonte became popular with the teenage audience as well, a unique achievement at the time, and perhaps the reason that "Calypso" is still a much-beloved album. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book" (album). Ella Fitzgerald. (1956)

Ella Fitzgerald
[Ella Fitzgerald, head-and-shoulders portrait, singing];Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-114744; Created/Published: 1964

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Ellington at Newport" (album). Duke Ellington. (1956)

Ellington at Newport album cover
“Ellington at Newport” album cover. Courtesy: Columbia Records

After enduring a decade of waning record sales, Duke Ellington reignited his career via one single solo recorded in 1956. After their short set at the Newport Jazz Festival, on July 7, 1956, Duke and his orchestra were recalled to the stage. One of the numbers they performed at that time was the 1930s composition "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." For this piece, at first, just the rhythm section played, then they were joined by the full orchestra. And, then, saxophonist Paul Gonsalves jumped in, and at the urging of the crowd and Ellington himself, wailed through 27 choruses. The performance was historic. "Time" magazine would later call it a turning point in Ellington’s career and the Duke himself later said, "I was born in 1956 at the Newport Festival." For decades, this performance was only available to record buyers in a version sourced from a tape where Gonsalves was off-mic and could only be heard beneath the band and audience. But, years later, a location tape recorded for overseas broadcast by Voice of America was discovered and a restored version was finally released as part of a 1999 CD set. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Marian Anderson. (1956)

Marian Anderson
[Marian Anderson, half-length portrait, facing slightly left]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-117250 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1965

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Roll Over Beethoven." Chuck Berry. (1956)

Chuck Berry
[Chuck Berry, full-length portrait, standing, facing front, playing guitar];Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123597; Created/Published: 1957

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Saxophone Colossus" (album). Sonny Rollins. (1956)

Saxophone Colossus album cover
"Saxophone Colossus" album cover

To saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the recording of "Saxophone Colossus" didn't seem that different from any of his previous albums. To jazz fans, however, it would become, along with "Way Out West," one of the defining albums of Rollins' career. With only five tracks and under 40 minutes, the album may appear slight, but the quality of the music has earned it a place of honor among jazz fans for more than 60 years. Solidly anchored by a rhythm section of drummer Max Roach, bassist Doug Watkins and pianist Tommy Flanagan, Rollins is able to solo with power, grace and humor. On the calypso-based "St. Thomas," inspired by a melody his mother sang to him, Rollins is at first playful, then harder-edged as the tune segues from a calypso rhythm to a standard jazz beat. "St. Thomas" went on to become not only one of Rollins' signature tunes but a jazz standard, with dozens of recorded versions. The album closes with the critically acclaimed "Blue 7," arguably the most important recording of Sonny Rollins' distinguished career. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Smokestack Lightning." Howlin' Wolf. (1956)

Smokestack Lightning cover
Howlin' Wolf ("Smokestack Lightning" cover); Image Credit: Courtesy David Redfern; Instant/Charley Records.

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." Selected for the 2009 registry.

“Chances Are.” Johnny Mathis. (1957) (single)

Johnny Mathis
Johnny Mathis. Courtesy: Time/Life

In the late 1950s, as rock and roll was driving teenagers wild and their parents to despair, Johnny Mathis was popular with both groups. He brought a sophisticated approach to a series of double-sided hit singles that were expressive and passionate but free of cliché and false drama. Though producer Mitch Miller is remembered for his bombastic arrangements and the large chorus that he led, his work with Mathis was modulated and restrained, the better to highlight Mathis’s nuanced singing. “Chances Are” has become Mathis’s signature song, and also exemplifies why his is one of the signature styles of pop music. Selected for the 2024 registry.

 "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues" (album). Odetta. (1957)

Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues album cover
“Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” album cover. Courtesy: Soul Jam

This is the debut album from an important voice in the folk revival--featuring a mix of blues, spirituals and ballads. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta was a major influence to a generation of folk singers, including the young Bob Dylan who has cited this album as what convinced him to trade in his electric guitar for an acoustic when he heard it as a 15-year-old teenager in Minnesota. This 16-song LP showcases Odetta's extraordinary vocal power which she always manages to temper with great emotion. Among the selections: "Muleskinner Blues," "Jack o' Diamonds," "Easy Rider," "Glory, Glory" and her concluding spiritual trilogy: "Oh, Freedom," "Come and Go With Me" and "I'm on My Way." Selected for the 2020 registry.

"'Freight Train,' and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes" (album). Elizabeth Cotten. (1959)

The debut album of singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Cotten was released when she was over 60 years old. A self-taught guitarist, her expressive two-finger picking style was enormously influential on folk song guitarists. Cotten was a popular performer during the folk music revival of the 1960s and a major inspiration to many aspiring musicians of the time. Cotten, who wrote "Freight Train" at the age of 12, was inspired by living next to the railroad tracks. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Giant Steps" (album). John Coltrane. (1959)

John Coltrane
[John Coltrane, head-and-shoulders portrait, holding saxophone] / Friedlander, Lee photographer; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-137406; Created/Published: 1959

John Coltrane's lightning-fast runs on this debut recording for Atlantic Records have been described by writer Ira Gitler as "sheets of sound." In characteristic fashion, Coltrane plays phrases forward, backwards and upside down, exhausting the possible permutations of a motive before proceeding. These fast runs signal Coltrane's movement away from a chordal approach to jazz in favor of a more scalar approach. "Giant Steps" contains seven original compositions by Coltrane, many of which have gone on to become jazz standards. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Kind of Blue" (album). Miles Davis. (1959)

Miles Davis
[Miles Davis, head-and-shoulders portrait]; REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-137405 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1969

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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Lord, Keep Me Day by Day" (single). Albertina Walker and the Caravans. (1959)

The Caravans
The Caravans, c. 1959. Courtesy: Malaco

Influenced by and spurred on by her mentor, Mahalia Jackson, in 1947 Albertina Walker formed her own—and now legendary—gospel group, Albertina Walker and the Caravans. Soon, Walker would be nicknamed "Star Maker" for the incredible talent she fostered via her group. Shirley Caesar, Bessie Griffin, Rev. James Cleveland and Inez Andrews, among others, all began their careers as part of the Caravans. Meanwhile, Walker herself would inherit the title "Queen of Gospel Music," after the passing of Jackson in 1972. This 1959 recording was one of Walker’s signature songs and performances—a heartfelt, soulful, and sometimes bluesy testament to her faith, written by the group’s pianist Eddie Williams, who also sings lead. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Mingus Ah Um" (album). Charles Mingus. (1959)

Mingus Ah-Um album cover
Mingus Ah-Um. Courtesy: Sony

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"A Program of Song" (album). Leontyne Price. (1959)

A Program of Song LP cover
"A Program of Song" LP cover. Courtesy: RCA Victor

Leontyne Price's debut recital recording, "A Program of Song," recorded in 1959 at Town Hall in New York, showcases the soprano's beautiful, well-balanced voice that had been garnering praise since the early 1950's. As a student at the Juilliard School of Music she caught the attention of Virgil Thomson and was invited to sing the role of Saint Cecilia in the 1952 revival of his "Four Saints in Three Acts." Success soon followed with U.S. and European tours and debuts in opera houses around the world. Known for her insightful and adventurous musicianship, as well as the dramatic feeling she brought to roles, in 1960, Price became the first African American to sing a leading role, Aida, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. "A Program of Song," featuring renditions of French and German works by Gabriel Fauré, Francis Poulenc, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf that are considered to be among the most challenging of vocal pieces, revealed to listeners at home an artist of amazing power, range and depth. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"The Shape of Jazz to Come" (album). Ornette Coleman. (1959)

The Shape of Jazz to Come LP cover
"The Shape of Jazz to Come" LP cover. Courtesy: Atlantic

On his debut for Atlantic Records, Ornette Coleman pushed the boundaries of jazz even further into the unknown than he had on his earlier efforts for Contemporary Records. Critic Ralph J. Gleason observed that "the musical and critical world [was] split neatly in two" by Coleman's willingness to abandon bebop's harmonic structure and timing when his music required it. What Coleman never abandoned was the centrality of improvisation to jazz. In this effort he is ably assisted by Don Cherry on cornet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums – all musicians with whom he had played intermittently for several years. Cherry and Coleman achieve a close interaction on several tracks, particularly in their speedy unison playing at the beginning of "Eventually" and "Congeniality." Haden not only accompanies the other musicians, but also stretches the melodic potential of his instrument, particularly in his solo on "Focus on Sanity." For all the record's iconoclasm, it swings, and even Coleman's more outrageous timbral experimentation can be understood as rooted in the expressiveness of the blues. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Drums of Passion" (album). Michael Babatunde Olatunji. (1960)

Nigerian drummer Michael Babatunde Olatunji came to the United States in the early 1960s and released several popular and influential drumming albums. Musicians as varied as Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and Carlos Santana have all noted Olatunji's virtuosity or counted him as an influence. "Drums of Passion" features traditional Nigerian drumming with Western choral arrangements in songs written by Olatunji. It was many Americans' first exposure to Nigerian drumming. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery." Wes Montgomery. (1960)

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery album cover
"The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery" album cover. Coutesy: Riverside

On Wes Montgomery's second album for Riverside Records, producer Orrin Keepnews encouraged the guitarist to stretch out more than he had previously, and the record they produced has proven to have enduring appeal. Montgomery's playing is characterized by his trademark thumb-picking technique and frequent use of paired notes an octave apart in his melodic statements, often at staggering speeds. Montgomery's unique technique was a result of being self-taught which, in the words of saxophonist Ronnie Scott, allowed him to play "impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible." In fact, his technique is probably the chief reason he was able to achieve such a full and resonant tone, which did not impede his deft, fluid melodies. On this album, he is also able to switch easily between a variety of styles including swing, up-tempo numbers, ballads and blues while also playing standards and original compositions. The album influenced a wide range of guitarists including George Benson, Pat Martino and Larry Coryell. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Texas Sharecropper and Songster" (album). Mance Lipscomb. (1960)

Mance Lipscomb
Mance Lipscomb. Courtesy: Arhoolie

Mance Lipscomb, was born in 1895 in Navasota, Texas. His father was a former slave who took up the fiddle after the Civil War, his mother, a half Choctaw gospel singer. Lipscomb played guitar and wrote songs from his teens, but never recorded until this 1960 session, done in his kitchen, that resulted in this album, the first LP released by Arhoolie Records. A proud man, Lipscomb disliked the term "sharecropper," preferring to think of himself simply as a farmer, and the word was later dropped from the title of CD reissues. Although he was influenced by such artists as Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lipscomb didn't consider himself a blues musician and preferred the term "songster" which better conveyed his wide-ranging repertoire of over 300 songs. After the success of this album, Lipscomb became a regular on the folk festival circuit. On this album, Lipscomb plays fingerstyle guitar, except for when he uses a jackknife to play slide guitar on Jefferson's "Jack O' Diamonds." Selected for the 2013 registry.

"Tonight’s the Night" (album). The Shirelles. (1960)

Tonight’s the Night album cover
“Tonight’s the Night” album cover. Courtesy: Spector

The Shirelles are often referred to as a "girl group," but as their first album demonstrates, they sang with the grown-up passion of teens entering their 20s, a winning combination that made them trendsetters in the early 1960s. Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Doris Kenner and Adele "Micki" Harris met in junior high school in Passaic, NJ. The three hit singles from, this, their first album—"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "Dedicated to the One I Love," and the title track—remain moving performances that still communicate maturing desire with plaintive vulnerability, while other album tracks like "Boys," later covered by the Beatles, are delivered with untroubled gusto and abandon. "Tonight’s the Night," may have once seemed like kid’s stuff, but it has stood the test of time. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"The Twist." Chubby Checker. (1960)

The Twist LP cover
"The Twist" LP cover. Courtesy: Parkway Records

Chubby Checker's rendition of "The Twist" became emblematic of the energy and excitement of the early 1960s. Originally a twelve-bar blues song written and released as a "B" side in 1959 by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, "The Twist" enjoyed only moderate success until American Bandstand host Dick Clark selected Checker, a young singer from Philadelphia, to record the new version and perform it on his program. Checker's recording quickly became a hit with teens and the model for many takeoffs. "The Twist" caught on with adults as well when café society worldwide embraced the dance craze even as teens were moving on to new steps, such as "the mash potato" and "the slop." Frank Sinatra recorded a "Twist" song, "The Flintstones" twisted, and Bob Hope quipped, "If they turned off the music, they'd be arrested." Reissued in 1962, Checker's version soared again to the top of the charts, ahead of the other "Twist" records that had inundated the recording industry in the intervening months. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2008 registry.

"The Christmas Song" (single). Nat King Cole. (1961)

Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole. Courtesy: Bear Family

One of America’s favorite holiday songs was inspired by a hot summer day. During a sweltering July afternoon in 1945, while visiting his frequent songwriting collaborator, Robert Wells, at his Toluca Lake, California home, Mel Tormé noticed some lines Wells had written to distract himself from the heat, with wintry images like "Jack Frost nipping at your nose." Sensing their potential as a song, Wells and Tormé went to work and in less than an hour created an enduring holiday standard. Although Tormé himself was an accomplished singer, he felt that a bigger name was needed to generate more record sales. He and Wells pitched the song to Nat King Cole, the leader of a long established jazz trio, who was becoming a popular vocalist. Cole recorded "The Christmas Song" four times: in June 1946 with just his Trio; in August of that same year with an added string section; in 1953 with a full orchestra, conducted by Nelson Riddle, and in 1961 with a full orchestra, conducted by Ralph Carmichael, the first stereo version and the one most commonly heard today. According to reports, King Cole Trio guitarist Oscar Moore created the "Jingle Bells" coda heard at the end of every one of Cole’s versions. "The Christmas Song" is said to be one of the most recorded holiday songs in history, but it’s Cole’s 1961 performance, with perhaps his most lush vocal take, that is generally regarded as definitive. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Stand by Me." Ben E. King (1961)

Ben E. King
Ben E. King

Ben E. King intended "Stand by Me" for his former group, the Drifters, but luckily ended up recording it himself. It would go on to become one of the most broadcast songs of the 20th century. Inspired by a gospel song, King shared songwriting credit with Elmo Glick, a pseudonym for the team of Leiber and Stoller. Anchored by one of the best known bass lines in history, composed by Stoller and played by Lloyd Trotman, the upright acoustic bass is doubled by an electric guitar playing an octave higher. According to Stoller, a guiro played "... on every second beat and a triangle on every fourth." Meanwhile, Stan Applebaum wrote the soaring string arrangement, which included a two-part invention. And while all these elements contributed to the success of "Stand by Me," it is King's incandescent vocal which made it a classic. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"GO" (album). Dexter Gordon. (1962)

Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon. Courtesy: Blue Note/UMG

Legendary jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon was tall and elegant. Nicknamed "Long Tall Dexter," Gordon had been very active in the 1940s, but due to drug addiction and incarceration, he practically disappeared in the '50s. In August 1961, he was finally clean and free. "GO" was not merely Gordon's return to form, but a brilliant display of his hard-won maturity. His tenor sax solos are often playful, even mischievous, sprinkled with quotes from music as diverse as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in "Three O'Clock in the Morning" or "El Jarabe Tapatio" ("Mexican Hat Dance") in "Love for Sale." On the other hand, Gordon is known for his sensuous ballads, such as his tender treatment of "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry." Lester Young was one of Gordon's main influences and "Cheese Cake" is inspired by "Tickle Toe," composed by Young and recorded by Count Basie and His Orchestra in 1940 with Young playing tenor. All six tracks were recorded on August 27, 1961 and feature Blue Note regulars pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Billy Higgins, a trio which Gordon called a perfect rhythm section. Dexter Gordon is quoted as saying that "GO" is his favorite album. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Green Onions." Booker T. & the M.G.'s. (1962)

Green Onion LP jacket
"Green Onion" LP jacket. Courtesy: Stax Records

Booker T. & the M.G.'s were a rarity when they were formed in the early 1960's: a racially integrated rhythm and blues group. Formed as a house band for Stax Records, Booker T. & the M.G.'s were playing around in the studio in early 1962 when they came up with two catchy instrumentals. "Green Onions" was originally intended as the B-side to "Behave Yourself," but was quickly reissued as the A-side, then later, as the title cut to their first LP. Anchored by the rhythm section of drummer Al Jackson, Jr., and bassist Lewie Steinberg, "Green Onions" is propelled by Booker T. Jones' driving organ and Steve Cropper's stinging guitar. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Peace Be Still" (album). James Cleveland. (1962)

This enormously successful gospel recording influenced many later groups and remains an excellent example of gospel performance. Rev. Cleveland, a protege of Thomas A. Dorsey and Roberta Martin, was himself a pioneer gospel recording artist, and the first to make a live gospel album. "Peace Be Still" features keyboardist Billy Preston and the Angelic Choir of Nutley, New Jersey. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"Be My Baby." The Ronettes. (1963)

This single is often cited as the quintessence of the "girl group" aesthetic of the early 1960s and is also one of the best examples of producer Phil Spector's "wall of sound" style. Opening with Hal Blaine's infectious and much imitated drumbeat, distinctive features of the song, all carefully organized by Spector, include castanets, a horn section, strings and the able vocals of Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett. Enhancing the already symphonic quality of the recording is Spector's signature use of reverb. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Live at the Apollo" (album). James Brown. (1963)

Live at the Appolo cover album
"Live at the Apollo." Courtesy: Polydor

James Brown's best-selling "Live at the Apollo" remains significant for presenting his incandescent performances of "I'll Go Crazy," "Think" and "Night Train." At the time of its release, none of Brown's prior studio albums had done justice to his dynamic performance style. With this album a wider audience became familiar with his velocity and showmanship. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"A Change Is Gonna Come." Sam Cooke. (1964)

Sam Cooke
[Sam Cooke, singer, half-length portrait, standing, facing right, singing into microphone]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-107994 (b&w film copy neg.); Created/Published: 1964

Sam Cooke, a central figure in the creation of soul music in the 1950s and 1960s, composed "A Change Is Gonna Come" to express his impatience with the progress of civil equality in the United States. The song would go on to become an anthem of the civil rights movement in the United States. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Dancing in the Street." Martha and the Vandellas. (1964)

This rousing dance hit has been cited as one of the first examples of what would come to be known as the Motown sound. Written by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, the song was turned down by another Motown act before Martha and the Vandellas performed it in the Motown studios. The group, which consisted of Martha Reeves, Rosalyn Ashford and Annette Beard, had alternated between singing backup for other Motown acts and working on their own material, but, after the success of this song, their career as a backup group was definitively ended. The African-American community would come to infuse the tune with political sentiments. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"A Love Supreme." John Coltrane. (1964)

John Coltrane

John Coltrane viewed "A Love Supreme" as a personal and deeply spiritual devotional work. As noted by others, not only do the titles of the four movements—"Acknowledgment," "Resolution," "Pursuance," and "Psalm"—suggest a redemptive spiritual journey, the second movement is harmonically related to the third movement and the first to the fourth in a way that unifies the piece. The qualities offered on this album guaranteed it a much wider listenership than most jazz albums at the time, letting it appeal to a public that was increasingly turning its attention to a wider range of spiritual concerns. The album's legacy, which includes a deep influence on a generation of saxophonists and other musicians and its repeated quotation in sampled music and its actual use in church services, has made the work huge and enduring. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Mississippi Goddam" (single). Nina Simone. (1964)

Nina Simone
Nina Simone. Courtesy: Polygram/UMG

Written by Simone in response to the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young African-American girls, "Mississippi Goddam" is one of the most vital songs to emerge from the Civil Rights era. Though surprisingly upbeat in tempo (Simone said of it, "This is a show tune, but the show hasn't been written for it yet."), the message of "Mississippi" is brutally clear and addressed racial strife in music without the safety of abstraction and metaphor. (In introducing the song in concert, Simone often said, "And I mean every word!") Simone's lyrics and impassioned vocal performance lays out her outrage and though the curse word in its title immediately limited the recording's radio airplay, the meaning and musicianship of this work has ensured its fame and endurance. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"My Girl" (single). The Temptations. (1964)

The Temptations
The Temptations. Courtesy: Motown

"Were it not for The Temptations, I never would have written ‘My Girl,'" declared Smokey Robinson, who co-wrote the song and co-produced the recording with fellow Miracle Ronald White. According to Robinson, "My Girl" wasn't written about a specific girl, but it was written for a specific guy, David Ruffin. Robinson felt Temptations tenor Ruffin could be a star if he had the right song to show off his talent. Both he and The Temptations (Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and Otis Williams) believed "My Girl" was that song and began working out the arrangements and rehearsing it while on the road. The recording took place in Studio A of Hitsville U.S.A., Motown's Detroit headquarters and featured the legendary group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. One of the most remarkable outcomes of "My Girl" is that James Jamerson's barely there opening bassline has become so iconic that the song is instantly recognizable from just those three notes. Guitarist Robert White quickly adds an ascending guitar riff, a pentatonic scale. From there, the sound builds, layer by layer: finger snaps, drums, Ruffin's lead vocal, other members of the Funk Brothers, vocal harmonies by the other Temptations and, finally, strings by members of the Detroit Symphony. "My Girl" was at the top of the charts for only one week, but it remained on jukeboxes for years, becoming a classic of the Motown era. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band." Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band (1964)

New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band album cover
"New Orleans' Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band" album cover

This 1964 offering by seven veterans of New Orleans jazz, before a live Minneapolis audience, well illustrates the credo of music spoken simply: play the melody from the heart and elaborate with care. Pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, along with the Humphrey Brothers (clarinetist Willie and trumpeter Percy); trombonist "Big Jim" Robinson; bassist Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau; banjoist Emanuel Sayles, and drummer Josie "Cie" Frazier, perform in a manner that has become known as "New Orleans Revival Jazz." The band's music is simple, direct, and majestic. The front line (trumpet, clarinet, and trombone) contains all the necessary elements needed to provide the ear with a satisfying melodic, harmonic and rhythmic picture. The support of the rhythm section provides the solid four-beats-to-the-measure that seems to push forward and hold back at the same time. This is the magical essence of New Orleans jazz. Selected for the 2014 registry.

“The Sidewinder.” Lee Morgan. (1964) (album)

Sidewinder album cover
“Sidewinder” album cover. Courtesy Blue Note

The “Penguin Guide to Jazz” said of the 10-minute title track of this album, “[it’s] a glorious 24-bar theme as sinuous and stinging as the beast of the title.” And that’s just the start of this blues masterpiece, which, to many, is the epitome of the “hard bop” genre. An unexpected smash whe it was released, the title track was even co-opted by Chrysler for a TV ad for a time but the entire album is splendid, innovative and invigorating with Morgan skillfully blending an eclectic mix of influences—soul, jazz, and boogaloo--with all of them united under his deft trumpet, creating a style he would continue to develop until the end of his legendary career. Meanwhile, “Sidewinder’s” commercial success also almost singlehandedly saved its label, Blue Note, from certain bankruptcy at the time. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Where Did Our Love Go?" The Supremes. (1964) (single)

The Supremes

The breakthrough hit for Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard, "Where Did Our Love Go?" was written by Motown's star songwriters and producers Holland, Dozier and Holland. Lead singer Ross, singing in a lower register, found a distinctive and mature tone that set her apart from other female singers of the era, while Wilson and Ballard's full mastery of their behind-the-beat timing for their parts, helped reveal a depth of longing in the lyrics that made the song stand out even in the dynamic, varied and ever-shifting pop scene of 1964. This single's success ensured the future of both the Supremes and Motown Records. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Hoodoo Man Blues" (album). Junior Wells. (1965)

Hoodoo Man Blues LP cover
"Hoodoo Man Blues" LP cover. Courtesy: Delmark

"Hoodoo Man Blues"is cited as one of the first studio recordings to capture the energy of a Chicago blues club. Delmark Records owner Bob Koester was so anxious to record an album with blues singer and harmonica player Junior Wells that he allowed Wells to choose his sidemen and songs. Because Koester believed the selected guitarist was contractually obligated to another company, guitarist Buddy Guy was billed as "Friendly Chap" on the original LP release. Koester also allowed Wells to stretch out a bit on songs, half of which lasted longer than three and a half minutes at a time when three minutes or less was the norm for a blues record. One bit of bad luck turned out to be a godsend. During the session, Buddy Guy's amplifier quit working, and while it was being repaired, engineer Stu Black wired him through the Leslie speaker of the studio's Hammond B-3 organ, which gave Guy's guitar a distinctive sound, easily noticeable on the title cut. Koester later remarked, "I've always been amazed at how rarely reviewers commented on the guitar-organ tracks." Selected for the 2012 registry.

"In the Midnight Hour." Wilson Pickett. (1965)

Wilson Pickett
Wilson Pickett. Courtesy: LOC

Though he was only 24 in 1965, Wilson Pickett had already logged 10 years as a singer in Detroit gospel and R&B groups and had some intermittent success as a solo artist. When he arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, he found a chemistry that had eluded him in earlier recording sessions. Pickett and Stax Records session guitarist Steve Cropper, of the house band Booker T. and the M.G.s, had never met before, but in barely an hour, the pair wrote Pickett's first hit. Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler, whose idea it was to bring Pickett to Stax, suggested a rhythm based on the teenage dance the Jerk, and an arrangement was quickly realized. "In the Midnight Hour" clicked with audiences across the country in the summer of 1965 and firmly established Pickett as a major artist. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"Live at the Regal" (album). B.B. King. (1965)

Live at the Regal album cover
Live at the Regal. Courtesy: MCA

Bluesman B.B. King recorded this album at the Regal Theater in Chicago in 1964. The recording showcases King's inventive and emotional guitar style, which blends Delta blues with a rhythm and blues beat, spiking the combination with his "sliding note" style. The album, one of the first of an in-concert blues performance, also documents King's intimate relationship with his audience. King, who has been called "The King of the Blues" and the "best blues artist of his generation," has been a primary influence on a number of artists including Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Tracks of My Tears." Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. (1965)

William "Smokey" Robinson wrote, produced and performed some of the sweetest, most poetic and enduring love songs in rhythm and blues history. "Tracks of My Tears" is highlighted by Robinson's velvety high tenor voice and his heartbreaking lyrics. It captures the peak of Robinson's talent. His smooth voice conveys the passion and pain required to maintain a false, happy exterior after a romantic breakup. He heightens the effect when he sweeps into his remarkable falsetto. The recording won numerous awards and is considered to be among the best recordings by the Miracles. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Reach Out, I’ll Be There" (single). The Four Tops. (1966)

The Four Tops
The Four Tops. Courtesy: Universal

According to the Motown Museum, "Reach Out, I'll Be There" was the Four Tops’ biggest hit and is considered the vocal group’s theme song. Recorded in Studio A at Hitsville USA and written and produced by the powerhouse team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the lyrics grew out of their feeling that women "wanted someone to be there for them, through thick or thin." Lamont Dozier said that he wanted to write "a journey of emotions with sustained tension, like a bolero." To achieve that, he "alternated the keys, from a minor, Russian feel in the verse to a major, gospel feel in the chorus." Levi Stubbs’ impassioned vocal was inspired by an unlikely source: Bob Dylan. According to Dozier, they were inspired by Dylan’s shout singing style on "Like a Rolling Stone" and wanted lead vocalist Stubbs to sing like that. To give his vocal added intensity, HDH put Stubbs at the top of his vocal range so he would have to strain a little. The "galloping" sound, heard prominently at the beginning of the song, is a series of triplet beats struck on the plastic head of a tambourine with no jingles, played by Motown producer Norman Whitfield. Levi Stubbs improvised the lyric, "Just look over your shoulder." It sounded good, so they kept it in. Selected for the 2022 registry.

"Today!" (album). Mississippi John Hurt. (1966)

Today! album cover
Mississippi John Hurt ("Today!" album cover). Courtesy: Vanguard.

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. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"Wang Dang Doodle" (single). Koko Taylor. (1966)

Koko Taylor
Koko Taylor. Courtesy: Black & Blue Records

The hard-charging authentic Chicago blues sounds of “Wang Dang Doodle” made for an unlikely hit in the spring of 1966, when poppier sounds from both the U.S. and England dominated the charts. But when Koko Taylor, born Cora Walton in Tennessee in 1935, teamed up with blues composer, bassist and producer Willie Dixon to record it, they hit pay dirt and made a blues standard of a song that had not clicked with audiences even when the great Howlin’ Wolf released a version five years earlier. Taylor sang the lyrics with gusto, backed by a crack team of players that included Buddy Guy on guitar, and the song’s rogues’ gallery of party guests that included “Automatic Slim” and “Razor Totin’ Jim” rocked jukeboxes and radios around the country. Taylor went on to become one of the great voices of Chicago Blues, recording more than a dozen albums and performing around the world until her death in 2009. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" (album). Ella Jenkins. (1966)

Performer and educator Ella Jenkins has been leading children on musical journeys around the world for more than 50 years. Her call-and-response songs, and gentle soothing voice, encourage children to join in and sing along, overcoming any shyness or reluctance they might have. Singing with Ella, children have learned songs from a variety of cultures and in many languages. Her vast repertoire of songs includes nursery rhymes, folk songs and chants as well as her own original compositions. In keeping with the policy of its record label, Folkways, "You'll Sing a Song and I'll Sing a Song" has remained in print since it was first published in 1966. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Are You Experienced" (album). The Jimi Hendrix Experience. (1967)

Are You Experienced album cover
Are You Experienced. Courtesy: MCA

This 1967 release remains not only one of the quintessential statements of psychedelic rock, but also has proved to be one of the most groundbreaking guitar albums of the rock era. Hendrix's playing, while strongly rooted in the blues, also incorporated a variety of jazz influences and a uniquely personal vocabulary of emotive guitar feedback and extended solos. Including such classics as "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary," the album featured the able rhythm section of Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. It is difficult to overstate the enormous influence that Hendrix's recordings have had on subsequent guitarists. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Born Under a Bad Sign" (album). Albert King. (1967)

Albert King
Albert King

Albert King, with his signature Flying V Gibson guitar played in his distinctive left-handed manner, was one of the blues' greatest guitarists, and this album is considered to be his very best. Its title song became a blues standard, and was soon recorded by Eric Clapton and Cream. Other great songs on this album include "Crosscut Saw" and "The Hunter." Recorded in Memphis with backing from Booker T and the MG's, and the Memphis Horns, via this album, King was soon performing at the Fillmore East and West and gaining a large and enduring following. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Soul Folk in Action" (album). The Staple Singers. (1968)

Soul Folk in Action album cover
Staple Singers ("Soul Folk in Action" album cover). Courtesy: Stax.

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." Selected for the 2009 registry.

"The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake" (album). Eubie Blake. (1969)

Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake album cover
Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake. Courtesy: Columbia

This two-LP set introduced ragtime composer, performer and songwriter Eubie Blake to a new generation of listeners. The recorded musical autobiography featured his ragtime compositions from the early years of the 20th century and his musical theater pieces of the 1920s. In the recording, Blake is reunited with his partner from the 1920s, Noble Sissle. The recording captures the full range of Blake's genius, his ebullient music and his infectious personality. It also documents his enduring contributions to jazz and musical theater. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Stand!" Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Stand! album cover
"Stand!" album cover

Propelled by an impossibly smooth horn section, a funky organ, and dangerous maneuverings of the guitar and bass, the album's key selections "Sing a Simple Song," "I Want to Take You Higher," "Stand!" and "Everyday People," are all instantly recognizable and serve as foundational statements in the music of the late 1960s and as precursors of 1970s soul and funk. Having produced the multiracial band's previous three albums, Stone was amply qualified for this, their fourth studio effort. The resulting record remains one of the most heavily sampled records of all time and was the undisputed high-point of this band's recording legacy. Selected for the 2014 registry.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Gil Scott-Heron. (1970)

This poem, first released on Gil Scott-Heron's debut album, "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox," served as a rallying cry to black America and proved a foreshadowing of the more politically active strains of rap music. Having published a novel before he switched to a career as a recording artist, Scott-Heron's street poetry proved uncompromising in its vision. Selected for the 2005 registry.

“Ain’t No Sunshine.” Bill Withers. (1971) (single)

Bill Withers
Bill Withers. Courtesy: Columbia

At the time he wrote the song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” singer/songwriter Bill Withers was working at a factory making bathrooms for 747 airplanes. Inspired by the 1962 film “Days of Wine and Roses,” Withers’ soulful lament would later serve as the (arguable) highlight of his 1971 debut album, “Just As I Am.” Produced by Booker T. Jones, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” though originally released as a B-side—eventually reached the ears and hearts of listeners. The song would eventually go gold and win the Grammy for Best R&B song of 1972. It has since been covered by an eclectic number of musicians –including Ladysmith Black Mambazo--and become a go-to selection for innumerable TV talent shows and soundtracks. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Let's Stay Together." Al Green. (1971)

Al Green
Al Green. Courtesy: Capitol Records.

Al Green's musical career began as a member of a gospel music vocal quartet. He found great commercial success when teamed with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, crafting a singing style that incorporates an understated delivery with occasional climbs to a casual, pure falsetto. Green's sleek delivery is complemented effectively by underlying brassy horns and funk rhythms played by the accomplished Hi Records studio band. At the height of his popularity in the mid-'70s, Green stopped performing secular music to pursue religious endeavors, singing gospel music and becoming an ordained minister. Since the mid-'80s, he has performed and recorded both secular and sacred music. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"Theme from 'Shaft'" (album). Isaac Hayes. (1971)

Theme from 'Shaft' LP cover
"Theme from 'Shaft'" LP cover. Courtesy: Enterprise

After several years behind the scenes as a writer and producer at Stax Records in Memphis, Isaac Hayes broke through as a solo artist with a series of albums that featured his lengthy, multi-layered compositions and distinctive speaking and singing styles. In 1971, after the Hollywood recording sessions for his soundtrack to "Shaft," a groundbreaking film about an African-American private detective caught between the mob and the police, Hayes returned to Memphis and created this double album. Hayes enhanced and expanded his earlier work as he saw fit, and created a listening experience as innovative and exciting as the film itself, leading off with an unforgettable opening theme highlighted by Charles Pitts's wah-wah guitar and Hayes's sexy banter with a female chorus. Selected for the 2013 registry.

"What's Going On" (album). Marvin Gaye. (1971)

What's Going On album cover
What's Going On. Courtesy: Motown

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. Selected for the 2003 registry.

"The Harder They Come" (album). Jimmy Cliff. (1972)

The Harder They Come album cover
“The Harder They Come” album cover. Courtesy: Universal/Island

In 1972, reggae singer Jimmy Cliff starred in the first Jamaican-produced feature film, "The Harder They Come." Around the time of the film's release, the soundtrack to this film made its way to American audiences and has been credited by "Rolling Stone" magazine as "the album that took reggae worldwide." Cliff has six songs on the album, including the title track, and the seminal "Many Rivers to Cross," which has since been covered by myriad artists, including Cher, John Lennon, UB40, Annie Lennox, Linda Ronstadt and Percy Sledge. While only the title track was recorded specifically for the soundtrack, the album collected numerous reggae stars and presented essential works in the genre to a new global audience. Other reggae pioneers and luminaries appearing on the album include Toots and the Maytals ("Pressure Drop" and "Sweet and Dandy"), Desmond Dekker ("Shanty Town"), and The Melodians ("Rivers of Babylon"). This exemplar of the diverse sounds of reggae in the '70s has enjoyed enormous critical praise and continued popularity in the US. The album has appeared on every version of "Rolling Stone's" Top 500 albums of all time. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Superfly" (album). Curtis Mayfield. (1972)

Superfly album cover
"Superfly" album cover. Courtesy: Curtom/Warner Music

"Superfly" is the soundtrack album from the Blaxploitation film of the same name. In a shrewd marketing move, the album was released weeks before the movie, increasing the interest of both the audience and film distributors. However, while supporting the film in those ways, songwriter Curtis Mayfield was concerned that the movie glorified drug use and sought to deliberately undercut what he saw as a "commercial" for cocaine. Mayfield wanted to counter "Superfly's" portrayals of drug use with songs that showed the consequences. For example, "Freddie's Dead" is used in the movie only as an instrumental, but Mayfield not only wrote stinging lyrics for it, he released it as the first single from the soundtrack. Having lived in Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green public housing project, Mayfield was all too familiar with the damage done by gangs and pushers. Mayfield said, "It was important for me to counter the visuals—to go in and explain it in a way that the kids would not read it as an infomercial for drugs." Mayfield produced the recording sessions and did all the vocals, but some of the credit for "Superfly's" sound should go to Johnny Pate, who is credited as an arranger and orchestrator on the album. Pate had previously worked with Mayfield on some of the Impressions' hits, including "Keep on Pushing." Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Burnin'" (album). The Wailers. (1973)

Burnin' album cover
Burnin'. Courtesy: Island

This 1973 release was the last album reggae master Bob Marley released under the name The Wailers and featured the final performances of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer within the group. While the group was rhythmically tight, Marley's role on this album is predominant. The album covers a variety of topics and moods from the militancy of "Get Up, Stand Up" and "I Shot the Sheriff" to the heartfelt rage and poverty-induced despair of "Burnin' and Lootin'." The final track, the traditional "Rastaman Chant," sounds a more redemptive note. These themes continued in Marley's work after he left the earlier Wailers lineup and became an internationally acclaimed solo artist. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Head Hunters" (album). Herbie Hancock. (1973)

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock. Courtesy: Sony

"Head Hunters" is a pivotal work in the career of Herbie Hancock; it was his first true fusion recording. Possessing all the sensibilities of jazz but with R&B and funk soul rhythms, "Head Hunters" had a mass appeal that made it the greatest-selling jazz album in history at the time of its release. The recording is notable for its use of an extremely wide range of instruments, including electric synthesizers which brought that new instrument to the forefront of jazz for the first time. Hancock's experiments caused controversy among jazz purists, many of whom at the time belittled it as "pop." "Head Hunters" proved to be influential not only to jazz, but also to funk, soul and hip hop musicians. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Live in Japan" (album). Sarah Vaughan. (1973)

Sarah Vaughan
[Sarah Vaughan, half-length portrait, seated, with hands at her shoulders, facing right] / James J. Kriegsmann, N.Y.; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-08328 (digital file from original photograph); Created/Published: 1953

Captivating performances by singer Sarah Vaughan, who Gunther Schuller once called "the greatest vocal artist of our century," are preserved in this two-LP set. The 1973 recording is an excellent example of Sarah Vaughan's range of talents: her stunning virtuosity, glorious instrument, heartfelt interpretations, and ease of performing before a live audience. It features several signature tunes, including "Summertime" and "Poor Butterfly." "Live in Japan" was produced relatively late in Vaughan's career and illustrates that, unlike most singers, Vaughan's voice seemed to grow richer, stronger and more versatile as she aged. Selected for the 2006 registry.

"Lady Marmalade" (single). Labelle. (1974)

Nightbirds by Labelle
“Nightbirds” by Labelle. Courtesy: CBS

The elemental trio of Labelle—Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash—first formed in 1962 as Patti Labelle and The Bluebelles. By the early 1970s, they were simply Labelle, and released six albums under that name. Their biggest hit was this French-infused dance track written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and produced by Allen Toussaint and Vicki Wickham. Inspired by a few choice streets in New Orleans, the song has been covered several times since its release, still unwittingly prompting listeners to sing its famous refrain phonetically:  "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, (ce soir)?," often unaware of its true meaning. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"The Wiz." Original cast album. (1975)

The Wiz Original Cast Album
"The Wiz" Original Cast Album. Courtesy: Atlantic

An urbanized retelling of Baum's classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," "The Wiz" (as both show and cast album) has endured as a family favorite and cultural touchstone since its debut on the New York stage in 1975. One of the first musicals with an all-black cast in the history of the Great White Way, the musical would go on to win seven Tony Awards, including for best musical. Along with showcasing the talents of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ted Ross and Mabel King, the show made an instant star of its original "Dorothy," Stephanie Mills. The original-cast album from the show included well-known songs as "Home," "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News," "So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard" and, of course, "Ease On Down the Road." Selected for the 2016 registry.

"Songs in the Key of Life" (album). Stevie Wonder. (1976)

Songs in the Key of Life
Songs in the Key of Life. Courtesy: Motown

In addition to Stevie Wonder's impeccable musicianship, this album features contributions from Nathan Watts (bass), Raymond Pounds (drums), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), Ben Bridges and Mike Sembello (guitar) and a guest appearance by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. To produce the album, Wonder and the group worked in the studio relentlessly for two years, occasionally logging sessions of 48 hours in duration. These efforts paid off with a number of excellent jazz, blues and gospel-influenced songs including "I Wish" and "Pastime Paradise." The album also includes the Duke Ellington tribute "Sir Duke," in which Wonder acknowledges his debt to the African-American musical tradition. Selected for the 2005 registry.

"Wild Tchoupitoulas" (album). The Wild Tchoupitoulas. (1976)

Wild Tchoupitoulas LP cover
"Wild Tchoupitoulas" LP cover. Courtesy: Island Records

Since the 19th century, bands of African Americans in New Orleans have masqued as American Indians during Mardi Gras. They wear elaborate, homemade costumes planned and constructed throughout the year preceding the celebration, and take to the streets chanting merry boasts about their tribes. Their music is one of the many rich strands of New Orleans music, and Indians themselves are celebrated in many songs originating in the city. George Landry, an uncle of the famous Neville Brothers, formed the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indian group in the 1970s. The Nevilles were not yet performing as a group, but two brothers belonged to the Meters, New Orleans' top r&b and funk group. The Meters and the other Nevilles formed the backing group for the Wild Tchoupitoulas album, and with Landry and the other Wild Tchoupitoulas, they celebrated this century-old tradition and broke new musical ground at the same time. Although it was not a success outside of New Orleans, the record marked the beginning of the Neville Brothers as a performing group and has attained classic status. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"I Feel Love." Donna Summer. (1977)

I Feel Love single sleeve
"I Feel Love" single sleeve. Courtesy: Universal Music

Brian Eno famously declared after hearing Donna Summer's single "I Feel Love" that the track would "change the sound of club music for the next 15 years." Summer wrote the song in collaboration with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte, who felt that the song was supposed to represent the music of the future and should be entirely electronic. Consequently, they hired Robbie Wedel who brought four cases of Moog synthesizer to the session and which produced nearly all the sounds on the record, including synthesized bass drums and cymbals. Particularly notable was the bass line which Belotte has described as "a giant's hammer on a wall." When the thunderous sound was combined with Summer's breathy and ethereal vocal, the cut, as Eno predicted, took the clubs by storm. Partly through the involvement of Patrick Cowley, who made remixes of 15 and 8 minutes lengths, the song won particular popularity in gay dance clubs and soon achieved the status of an anthem in the LGBT community. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"I Will Survive." (single). Gloria Gaynor. (1978)

Gloria Gaynor

According to its co-writer, Dino Fekaris, "I Will Survive" was initially inspired by his being fired from his job but then realizing that he was going to be okay. For performer Gloria Gaynor, it took on added meaning as she was, at the time, recovering from a serious spinal injury. Originally released as a "B" side, so many deejays began playing "Survive" that the record company reissued it as a single. It was immediately embraced as an emblem of women's empowerment and soon became anthem among the LGBT community. Over time, it has also been adopted as an anthem by survivors of all kinds. Selected for the 2015 registry.

"Le Freak" (single). Chic. (1978)

Le Freak 45 sleeve
"Le Freak," 45 sleeve. Courtesy: Atlantic

One of the most influential disco acts of the 1970s, the five-member band Chic had a unique sound propelled by the innovative, funky guitar work of guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards. Rodgers and Edwards were also the writers of this, the group's biggest hit—an infectious, danceable confection that lyrically celebrated the then-moment (with its mention of "54") as well as the past (with its mention of the Savoy), while rhythmically keeping everyone on the dance floor in motion. Chic's work has gone on to influence a host of other acts, including Madonna, Mtume, The Pointer Sisters, The Sugarhill Gang, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Teena Marie, Shalamar, Soul II Soul and Justin Timberlake, among others. Despite the supposed "death" of disco, Chic's "Le Freak" has become a staple of wedding receptions, movie soundtracks and nightclubs. Selected for the 2017 registry.

"September" (single). Earth, Wind & Fire. (1978)

Best of Earth, Wind & Fire album cover
"Best of Earth, Wind & Fire" album cover. Courtesy: Columbia/Sony

Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist Al McKay remembers waking one morning "feeling really good" and picking up his guitar to have the central guitar groove of "September" roll out effortlessly "piece by piece." When he showed it to Maurice White, the band's leader and co-writer on the track, White wrote the opening lyric after only a few repetitions. Then assisted by the inimitable Allee Willis, the immediate, buoyant and upbeat mood of this beginning remained imprinted on the track through the final mix, and these attributes help explain much of the song's enduring appeal. White also singles out Thomas "Tom-Tom" Washington's Latin-tinged horn arrangement with opening fanfare, and the nonsense "ba-dee-ya" vocalization as contributing to the "feel-good, anthemic qualities" that the band strove for in their songs of the time. The pioneering multi-track techniques employed on this recording sustained the deep groove the band was noted for. The synthesis of funk, falsetto, and forward driving momentum of just a few chords are powered by the clarity of the individual channels and the punctuation of the horns. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Wanted: Live in Concert." Richard Pryor. (1978)

Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor. Courtesy: Warner Bros.

At the height of his career in 1978, Richard Pryor recorded a rare double album of fresh comedy, "Wanted: Live in Concert." While a version was also released successfully as a theatrical film, "Wanted," the album, epitomizes the art of Pryor's verbal comedy unleashed. Raised in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor grew up in the family "house of ill-repute." His genius was to live on the edge and manage to laugh about it. His hilarious characterizations of Jim Brown ("Give me the ball") and Leon Spinks ("Ain't got no teefes") were only second to his universe of monkeys making love in trees; German Shepherds that psychoanalyze ("Hey, Rich, what's the matter?"); and Dobermans snarling ("I want to play!"). Pryor even personified his own heart in a heart attack ("Don't breathe no more!") and examined the woods ("Snakes make you run into trees. Snake!... Pow!"). Pryor did not avoid talking about the harder aspects of life, but his sensitivity made him one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time. This album captures all the hilarity and vulnerability that propelled Pryor to the top of the 1980s comedy boom. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" (single). Sylvester. (1978)

The Fabulous Sylvester
The Fabulous Sylvester. Courtesy: Fantasy/Concord Music Group

Disco was at its peak of popularity in late 1978 when Sylvester (nee Sylvester James, Jr., a.k,a. The Fabulous Sylvester) released "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)." His urgent falsetto reflected his childhood background in both African-American gospel music and his more recent work as a drag performer in San Francisco. Though, to some, "You Make Me…" evidenced that disco was just a mass-produced sound, lacking in depth or personality, to others, the highly personal and emotional performance of Sylvester gave it gravitas while also pushing gender-bending (which Sylvester reveled in) further into the musical mainstream. Patrick Cowley's production anticipated later developments in electronic dance music and, together, the result was an anthem that has since been covered, successfully, several times. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Rapper's Delight." Sugarhill Gang. (1979)

Rapper's Delight LP jacket
"Rapper's Delight" LP jacket. Courtesy: Sugarhill Records

The Sugarhill Gang's infectious dance number from late 1979 might be said to have launched an entire genre. Although spoken word had been a component of recorded American popular music for decades, this trio's rhythmic rhyming inspired many MC's-to-be and other future rap artists. The album version of "Rapper's Delight" is an epic 14-1/2 minute salvo of irreverent stories and creative word play. The song dates from hip-hop's infancy. As such, it does not address subject matter that has given rap music both positive and negative notoriety, but the song's inventive rhymes, complex counter-rhythms, and brash boastfulness presage the tenets of hip hop. "Rapper's Delight" also reflects an early instance of music sampling and a legal settlement; it draws its bass line and other features from Chic's 1979 hit "Good Times." As a result, songwriting credits for "Rapper's Delight" include that song's composers, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, as well as Sylvia Robinson and the Sugarhill Gang (Michael Wright, Guy O'Brien, and Henry Jackson). Selected for the 2011 registry.

"We Are Family" (single). Sister Sledge. (1979)

Sister Sledge
Sister Sledge. Courtesy: Cotillion

The four members of Sister Sledge were veteran performers by their early 20s, but as 1979 dawned, they had enjoyed only intermittent success in eight years of recording. A collaboration with the members of the disco powerhouse Chic proved to be the turning point for the family group, and they scored their first major hit early that year with "He's the Greatest Dancer," setting the stage for the release of the album and single "We Are Family," written by Chic founders Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, in May. Twenty-year-old lead singer Kathy Sledge nailed the eight-and-a-half-minute song entirely on the first take, and it seemed to be everywhere through the summer and fall of 1979. Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates made it their theme song, and the group's performance of it at the opening game of the World Series and the Pirates' subsequent come-from-behind victory to win the championship made "We Are Family" an anthem, with its own status and meaning. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"The Audience with Betty Carter" (album). Betty Carter. (1980)

The Audience with Betty Carter LP cover
"The Audience with Betty Carter" LP cover. Courtesy: Betcar, Verve

In 1969, after 20 years as a professional jazz singer that were sometimes frustrating, Betty Carter took the difficult and risky step of starting her own label, Bet-Car Records. It proved fortuitous for her, as once she was in charge of her own recording, she entered the most productive and successful phase of her career. Her double album, "The Audience with Betty Carter," was recorded with her instrumental trio during a three night engagement at San Francisco's Keystone Korner, one of her favorite venues, and the material is divided between her original compositions like "Sounds (Movin' On)," her 25-minute tour de force of improvisation and scat singing; and an eclectic mix of standards such as "The Trolley Song," "My Favorite Things," and more obscure gems such as Charles Henderson and Rudy Vallee's "Deep Night." Throughout, one can appreciate the special rapport with her musicians and listeners that informed her live performances, and which enabled her to gain recognition as a superlative musician during a lean era for jazz singers. Selected for the 2012 registry.

"Celebration" (single). Kool & the Gang. (1980)

Kool & the Gang
Kool & the Gang. Courtesy: De-Lite/PolyGram

Founded in 1964 by brothers Robert "Kool" Bell and Ronald Bell, Kool and the Gang (formerly the Jazziacs or the Soul Town Band early on) had already had hits with their songs "Ladies Night" and "Jungle Boogie," when they released their 1980 album "Celebrate!" containing the group's most famous and enduring song--"Celebration." Led by J.T. Taylor's spirited lead vocal, it would be their biggest hit and quickly became a feature of national celebrations like the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl and the 1981 NBA Finals. While others have released covers to great success, such as Kylie Minogue in 1992, the original remains a staple of every party DJ's set list--be it at a high school dance or a 50th anniversary party. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"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. Selected for the 2002 registry.

"Thriller" (album). Michael Jackson. (1982)

Thriller album cover
Thriller. Courtesy: Sony

Michael Jackson's second album with legendary producer Quincy Jones attained stratospheric national and international success. Featuring outstanding guest performances by Paul McCartney on "The Girl is Mine" and Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It," the album's influence on the record industry and subsequent popular music is immeasurable. The album also includes the strong disco-inflected "Billie Jean" and the compelling title track "Thriller," featuring an eerie voice-over by Vincent Price. Jackson's keen pop sensibilities, the performances by a wide range of talented musicians and Quincy Jones' expert production all contributed to making "Thriller" the best-selling album of all time. Selected for the 2007 registry.

"Private Dancer" (album). Tina Turner. (1984)

Private Dancer album cover
"Private Dancer" album cover. Courtesy: Universal

Tina Turner survived a brutal marriage to reclaim fame and obtain recognition as a solo artist and a superstar in her own right with this timeless 1984 comeback album. After several solo projects she released following her divorce from Ike Turner failed to sell, Turner was without a recording contract when John Carter signed her to Capitol Records in 1983 and she began work on "Private Dancer" in England. Propelled by the lead single, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" (later the title of the big screen biopic about Turner's life), "Private Dancer" revealed Turner as a mature and versatile singer whose work transcended categories like rock and pop. Since then, the album and its song cycle have become a touchstone and a symbol for powerful womanhood. "Private Dancer" solidified her as a legend — a status she achieved on her own terms. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Purple Rain" (album). Prince. (1984)

Purple Rain LP jacket
"Purple Rain" LP jacket. Courtesy: Warner Bros

Prince was already a hit-maker and a critically acclaimed artist when his sixth album, the soundtrack for his 1984 movie debut, launched him into superstardom. Earlier, he had played all the instruments on his records to get the sounds he wanted, but now he led an integrated band of men and women who could realize the dense, ambitious fusion that he sought, blending funk, synth-pop, and soul with guitar-based rock and a lyrical sensibility that mixed the psychedelic and the sensual. Prince experimented throughout the album, dropping the bass line from "When Doves Cry" to fashion a one-of-a-kind sound, and mixing analog and electronic percussion frequently. Portions of "Purple Rain" were recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis, and the success of the album served notice that the Twin Cities were a major center for pop music as numerous rock and R&B artists from the region emerged in its wake. Like much of Prince's other work, "Purple Rain" was provocative and controversial, and some of its most explicit lyrics led directly to the founding of the Parents Music Resource Center. Selected for the 2011 registry.

"Black Codes (From the Underground)" (album). Wynton Marsalis. (1985)

Black Codes album cover
“Black Codes” album cover. Courtesy: Columbia Records/Sony

“Black Codes (From the Underground)” is regarded as one of Wynton Marsalis’ most beloved and artistically successful recordings. In contrast with the electronic and funk-infused jazz of the 1970s, these recordings hearken back to the acoustic jazz of the 1950s and ’60s, but with a distinctly 1980s flair and virtuosity. Aided by Marsalis’s brother Branford, the brilliant playing by everyone defined the era, and launched the group that came to be known as the “Young Lions.” Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Charnett Moffett and pianist Kenny Kirkland play with muscular assurance, and a guest appearance by bassist Ron Carter, an alumnus of the second Miles Davis quintet, gives a seal of approval on this new take on 1960’s post-bop jazz. Recorded when he was only 23 years old, “Black Codes” won two Grammy awards that year, including Best Jazz Instrumental Performance-Group. Two years later, in 1987, Wynton Marsalis would help start the Classical Jazz summer concert series at Lincoln Center in New York City and the Jazz at Lincoln Center department, which continues today. Selected for the 2023 registry.

“La-Di-Da-Di.” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick (MC Ricky D). (1985) (single)

Doug E. Fresh
Doug E. Fresh Courtesy: Reality/Fantasy

Originally released as a B-side to the single “The Show,” “La-Di-Da-Di” is one of the most sampled and referenced sound recordings in history. This early hip-hop classic features Doug E. Fresh, known as “the human beatbox,” providing verbal percussion, and MC Ricky D (later known as Slick Rick) on vocals. The song features no instruments, and the beat is from Doug E. Fresh’s ability to imitate drum machines and various special effects using only his mouth, lips, throat, tongue and a microphone. The lyrics to “La-Di-Da-Di” have been referenced in over 1,000 other songs and recordings, including works by the Beastie Boys, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., Beyonce, Naughty by Nature, Miley Cyrus, The Roots, Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, Tupac, and BTS. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Raising Hell" (album). Run-DMC. (1986)

Run-DMC. Courtesy: Arista

Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, Joseph "Run" Simmons and Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, or Run-DMC, introduced hip-hop to mainstream audiences on this, their third and best album. DMC has observed that the lyric from "My Adidas," which affirms that "[w]e took the beat from the street and put it on TV," describes what the album achieved as a whole. The album's mass appeal can partially be explained by their collaboration with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith on a remake of the rock band's 1975 hit "Walk This Way." Co-producer and guitarist Rick Rubin added power chords and guitar riffs on the title track, lending the album a rock flavor in keeping with DMC's mission to "take rock to the left." While this element of rock with a twist brought many new fans, songs like "Peter Piper" stayed true to the band's earlier stripped down minimalism in which only beats, lyrics and samples were required. Selected for the 2017 registry.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Bobby McFerrin. (1988) (single)

Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin Courtesy: EMI-Manhattan

The pop and adult contemporary charts of the summer of 1988 would not, one would think, be a hospitable place to an a cappella single inspired by an Indian mystic. Yet that is exactly what talented, innovative jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin gave to listeners—to endless, cultural acclaim. A simple but evocative expression, beget by spirit master Meher Baba, “Don’t worry…” had been a beloved 1960s slogan. When McFerrin stumbled upon the phrase in the 1980s, he was inspired to set it to music. Incorporating jazz, Mexican and reggae influences—but eschewing any musical instrument other than his mouth—McFerrin crafted an immediate anthem, an ode, to simple joy. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Straight Outta Compton" (album). N.W.A. (1988)

Straight Outta Compton album cover
"Straight Outta Compton" album cover. Courtesy: Aftermath/Interscope

The debut of the seminal rap group N.W.A. with their album "Straight Outta Compton" signaled not only a seismic shift in rap from East Coast to West Coast sensibilities, but also a startling socio-political shot across the bow of the culture. With its at times alarmingly blunt, raw language, imagery and subject matter, the musical partnership of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre (who co-produced the album), Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren ignited controversy (via tracks like "F—the Police") and ample doses of inspiration with the creative rhymes they delivered and the honesty and force with which they were delivered. Even within the fast-moving, ricocheting world of hip-hop, "Compton" remains—30 years after its arrival—one of the definitive works of the genre. Selected for the 2016 registry.

"3 Feet High and Rising" (album). De La Soul. (1989)

3 Feet and Rising album cover
"3 Feet and Rising." Courtesy: Tommy Boy Records

Bucking hip-hop's increasing turn toward stark urban naturalism in the late 1980s, De La Soul released this upbeat and often humorous album to widespread acclaim in the U.S. and abroad. The trio—Kelvin Mercer (Posdnuos), David Jolicoeur (Trugoy) and Vincent Mason (DJ Maseo)—was ably assisted by producer Prince Paul (Paul Huston) who has reported that these were some of the most productive, creative and entertaining sessions he ever worked on. For the album, the group marshaled an astonishing range of samples that included not only soul and R&B classics by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays, but also Steely Dan's "Aja" and cuts by Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Kraftwerk, Hall and Oates, and Liberace. Perhaps the most far-flung sample is a snippet of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reading the comics over the radio in 1945. Selected for the 2010 registry.

"All Hail the Queen" (album). Queen Latifah. (1989)

All Hail the Queen album cover
“All Hail the Queen” album cover. Courtesy: Tommy Boy

The release of Queen Latifah’s debut album “All Hail the Queen” in 1989 solidified the success of her past singles while also announcing that rap could be female, Afrocentric, and incorporate a fusion of musical genres. Those genres include reggae, as well as hip-hop, house and jazz as she raps in the song, “Come Into My House.” Moreover, Queen Latifah sang as well as rapped on the album. Lyrically, the album addresses race, gender, political and social issues that were contemporary and yet remain universal. The album was released when Queen Latifah was 19 years old. Born Dana Elaine Owens in New Jersey, Queen Latifah was not the first female rapper, but her work with other female rappers, like Monie Love, on both the single and the video for “Ladies First,” opened a new door for discussion about gender in rap. The success of “All Hail the Queen” was both a product of, and led to, Queen Latifah’s success in other areas of media. Selected for the 2023 registry.

"Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" (album). Janet Jackson. (1989)

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album cover
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” album cover. Courtesy: A&M

Despite her record label's wishes, Janet Jackson resisted the urge to release another album like her previous "Control" (1986) in favor of an album with more socially conscious lyrics. On the album, Jackson explores issues of race, homelessness, poverty, and school violence among other topics. Musically, the album continued the productive relationship Jackson had enjoyed on "Control" with producers James "Jimmy Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis. The duo relied on drum machines and samples of street sounds, breaking glass, and trash can lids to create several brief interludes between the songs that lent the album a unified feel. Jackson's impeccable vocal timing also helped the producers build up dense multi-layered vocal mixes of the funky "Alright" and other songs on the LP. Despite such cutting-edge touches, Jackson did deliver dance songs like the lively "Escapade," but also on display were ballads like "Someday is Tonight" and even the guitar-driven rocker "Black Cat." Even the tunes with a serious call for racial healing and political unity like "Rhythm Nation" featured catchy beats, proving that dance music and a social message are not mutually exclusive. Selected for the 2020 registry.

"Fear of a Black Planet" (album). Public Enemy. (1990)

Fear of a Black Planet album cover
Fear of a Black Planet. Courtesy: Def Jam

"Fear of a Black Planet" brought hip hop respect from critics, millions of new fans, and a passionate debate over its political content. The album signaled the coupling of a strongly political message with hip hop music. Its hit single, "Fight the Power," was the theme for Spike Lee's powerful film, "Do the Right Thing." Public Enemy forged a new sound for hip hop that included funk rhythms, samples from James Brown and Eric Clapton, and "found" sounds. Selected for the 2004 registry.

"The Chronic" (album). Dr. Dre. (1992)

The Chronic album cover
"The Chronic" album cover. Courtesy: Death Row Records

"The Chronic" is the 1992 solo debut album of hip-hop artist and producer Dr. Dre, a former member of N.W.A. Along with exemplifying the "G Funk" style of hip-hop production, it solidified the West Coast's dominance of the genre, and its influence would be heard for years to come. Although a solo album, "The Chronic" also featured appearances by future superstar Snoop Dogg, who used the album as a launching pad for his own solo career. "The Chronic" is considered one of the most important and influential albums of the 1990s and is regarded by many fans and peers to be the most well-produced hip-hop album of all time. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"I Will Always Love You" (single). Whitney Houston. (1992)

The Bodyguard soundtrack album cover
"The Bodyguard" soundtrack (album cover). Courtesy: Sony

Inspired in part by the end of her musical partnership with Porter Wagoner, this song had been a big hit on the 1974 country charts for its writer, Dolly Parton. Later, it would become one of her signature compositions; over the years, she often concluded her concerts and her TV variety shows with it. In the early 90s, actor Kevin Costner suggested that pop diva Whitney Houston record it for the soundtrack of their forthcoming film, "The Bodyguard." Already recognized as one the great voices of her generation, Houston took the song and made it her own. Her powerful, passionate performance drove her rendition to the top of the charts. The recording would eventually become Houston's signature song and sell upwards of 20 million copies. Selected for the 2019 registry.

"Illmatic" (album). Nas. (1994)

Nas. Courtesy: Columbia

Rapper Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones—"Nas"—released his groundbreaking studio debut in 1994. Critics quickly extoled it for its rhythmic originality, and its realistic yet fresh take on life in the Queensbridge projects. Characterized by the masterful use of multi-syllabic and internal rhyme, surprising line breaks, and rhythmic complexity, the album's technique has been widely copied and proven broadly influential. The album featured (along with Nas' father Olu Dara) the sample-soaked production of a set of deeply talented and experienced producers including Q-Tip, Large Professor, Pete Rock, L.E.S. and DJ Premier. The sound they forged features gritty drums, hazy vinyl samples and snatches of jazz and 70s R&B. It has been described as the sound of a kid in Queensbridge ransacking his parents' record collection. While the album pulls no punches about the danger, struggle and grit of Queensbridge, Nas recalls it as a musically rich environment that produced many significant rappers, and that he "felt proud being from Queensbridge…. [W]e were dressed fly in Ballys and the whole building was like a family." Selected for the 2020 registry.

“Ready to Die.” Notorious B.I.G. (1994) (album)

Ready to Die album cover
“Ready to Die” album cover. Courtesy: Bad Boy Records

Remarkably, “Ready to Die” was both the debut studio album and the only album created and released by The Notorious B.I.G. before he was murdered in 1997. “Ready to Die” is considered a landmark of rap and hip-hop. B.I.G. (nee Biggie Smalls, nee Christopher Wallace) remains celebrated for his smooth delivery which often runs counter to his brutally honest imagery and his vivid storytelling. But the rhymes of “Ready” also often exhibit humor, an erotic heart (for example, on “Juicy”) and a highly creative use of the art of the sample. Along with “Juicy,” the album’s second single, “Big Poppa,” made it to the top ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, an unusual feat for a hip hop track, then and now. Selected for the 2024 registry.

"Dear Mama." Tupac Shakur. (1995)

Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur (alone; B&W). Courtesy: Reisig & Taylor; Jive Records.

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. Selected for the 2009 registry.

"The Blueprint" (album). Jay-Z. (2001)

The Blueprint CD cover
"The Blueprint" CD cover. Courtesy: Island/Def Jam/UMG

As Jay-Z's fame and mainstream popularity grew, he became a tempting target for other hip-hop artists and his credibility came under threat. He was also facing charges relating to assault and weapons possession that could have dramatically affected his life and career. Hence, there was a lot riding on the success of his sixth album, "The Blueprint," when it was released on September 11, 2001, the same day as the devastating terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. But music critics quickly recognized it as a signature achievement. Neil Strauss, writing for "Rolling Stone," believed "personal and legal problems have provoked Jay-Z to write what may be his most personal, straightforward album, but also his most self-aggrandizing work." The album featured tracks crafted by two up-and-coming producers recently signed to Roc-a-Fella Records: Just Blaze, who went on to produce numerous R&B and pop hits, and Kanye West who, of course, would go on to become a significant producer and performer himself. "The Blueprint" demonstrates Jay-Z's range, from battle raps throwing shade on his lyrical adversaries such as Nas and Prodigy of Mob Deep, to triumphant anthems about life at the top, to heartfelt examinations of his personal history. Selected for the 2018 registry.

"Songs in A Minor" (album). Alicia Keys. (2001)

Songs in A Minor album cover
“Songs in A Minor” album cover. Courtesy: J Records/Sony

On this album, J Records label head, Clive Davis, afforded singer/songwriter Keys great independence in creating the album she wanted to release.  Under a previous record deal, Keys had written and recorded much of the album, but the label rejected it. Dissatisfaction with the rejection and the label’s unwillingness to take her seriously led Keys to J Records where Davis’ instinct proved prescient. Keys has describe her influences on the album as a "fusion of my classical training, meshed with what I grew up listening to," which included the jazz from her mother’s record collection, along with the classic R&B and Hip Hop that was prevalent in her Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.  Reviewers were quick to point out the sophistication and assurance with which the 20-year-old Keys realized the sound on this album. Her unaffected vocals were capable expressing feelings from heartbreak to new love, and from righteous women’s empowerment to elegant, stylish yearning. Selected for the 2022 registry.