On April 6, 2011, these 25 recordings were added to the National Recording Registry.
Note: This is a national list and many of the items listed are housed in collections across the country. The Library of Congress does not currently hold copies of all the recordings listed.
Recordings are listed in chronological order:
Phonautograms. Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. (c. 1853-1861)
In late 1853 or early 1854, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville captured the first recorded sounds by etching onto blackened glass plates the movements of a boar's-bristle stylus, vibrating in sympathy with a guitar and a human voice. Later, Scott made recordings on paper wrapped around a drum. The resulting "phonautograms" proved crucial to the development of recorded sound. Scott was interested solely in the visible tracings of sound waves in order to study acoustics and did not record with the intention of playing back or listening to his recordings. Nevertheless, in 2008, researchers from the First Sounds group, using contemporary audio technology (developed with the support of several institutions, including the Library of Congress and the National Recording Preservation Board) were able to play back Scott's recordings for the very first time.
Image Caption: Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Edward Meeker. (1908)
This popular song has become an unofficial national anthem of America's national pastime. It was composed in 1908 and was recorded by all three of the major U.S. record companies, Victor, Columbia and Edison. Few copies of these recordings are now extant, which may indicate that initially the song was not as popular as it was to become later. Comic vocalist Edward Meeker, whose duties for Edison included announcing the titles and artists on hundreds of cylinders, sings on this Edison recording. Meeker delivers the song in his stentorian, but good-natured baritone, including both verses, which remind us that the song is about a baseball-loving woman.
Image Caption: Original sheet music for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," detail; Image Credit: New York Music Co.
Cylinder recordings of Ishi. (1911-1914)
Recorded on 148 wax cylinders between September 1911 and April 1914, this is the largest collection of the extinct Yahi language. Ishi, the last surviving member of the Northern California Yahi tribe and the last speaker of its language, sings traditional Yahi songs and tells stories, including the story of "Wood Duck" recorded on 51 cylinders. The complete recordings, totaling 5 hours and 41 minutes, were made by anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman during Ishi's five-year residency at the University of California Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco (now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley). The cylinders are held at the Hearst Museum in Berkeley.
Image Caption: Ishi; Image Credit: Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology/University of California at Berkeley.
"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." Blind Willie Johnson. (1927)
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.
Image Caption: Blind Willie Johnson; Image Credit: Solider Meyer's Bop House/Columbia.
"It's the Girl." The Boswell Sisters with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. (1931)
The Boswell Sisters—Connie, Martha and Vet—produced vocal harmonies that were magical. While polished, their creamy blend revealed their New Orleans roots with its relentless swing and deep feeling for the blues. "It's the Girl," a popular song of 1931, is given a classic Boswell treatment: rhythmic variations on the original song, perfect diction projected with relaxed ease and a fast tempo—with sudden tempo and mood changes—and a sprint to the end. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra accompaniment, like the Boswell Sisters' performance, pairs the brisk, loose ease of New Orleans jazz within a tight knit ensemble.
Image Caption: The Boswell Sisters; Image Credit: University of Exeter.
"Mal Hombre." Lydia Mendoza. (1934)
Singer Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007) once said, "It doesn't matter if it's a corrido, a waltz, a bolero, a polka or whatever. When I sing that song, I live that song." Mendoza had been performing and recording with her family's band since the late 1920s, and was only 16 when she recorded "Mal Hombre," investing the song's bitter lyrics with an artistic maturity that belied her age: "Cold-hearted man, your soul is so vile it has no name." "Mal Hombre" launched her solo career, her stark voice and graceful 12-string guitar lines resounding strongly with the Spanish-speaking audience of Texas. The Houston-born singer was soon known as "La Alondra de la Frontera," The Lark of the Border.
Image Caption: Lydia Mendoza; Image Credit: San Antonio Light collection – Inst. Of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.
"Tumbling Tumbleweeds." The Sons of the Pioneers. (1934)
The cowboy vocal group The Sons of the Pioneers was formed in 1933 by Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan. The group became America's premier western singing group and remained so for decades. They still perform today with different singers. The Sons of the Pioneers are widely admired for their smooth and adventurous harmonies. Their songs serve as the foundation of non-traditional, popular cowboy music. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was one of the songs cut at the Sons' first recording session, and it became the group's theme song, beautifully evoking the cowboy's love of the land.
Image Caption: "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" sheet music; Image Credit: Bear Family Records.
"Talking Union" (album). The Almanac Singers. (1941)
Proponents of progressive causes and pioneers of the American folk revival movement, the Almanac Singers in 1941 recorded spirited performances of songs that have become labor-movement anthems. The members of the Almanac Singers on this recording are vocalists Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Sam Gary, Carol White, Bess Lomax Hawes, Pete Seeger (vocals and banjo) and Josh White (vocals and guitar). First issued on the Keynote label as a 78-rpm album and expanded for long-playing disc in 1955 by Folkways (now Smithsonian Folkways), the album includes songs by Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Jim Garland and Woody Guthrie.
Image Caption: Record label from the album "Talking Union" by the Almanac Singers; Image Credit: Keynote Recordings.
"Jazz at the Philharmonic" (album). (July 2, 1944)
Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) was the title of a series of jazz concerts, tours and recordings produced by Norman Granz between 1944 and 1983. With these concerts, Granz took the concept of the jam session out of the club and brought it to wider audiences via concert halls. The first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert was held on July 2, 1944, in the auditorium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It featured many of the foremost jazz musicians of the time, including Charlie Parker, Illinois Jacquet, Nat "King" Cole, Les Paul, Meade Lux Lewis, Buddy Rich, J.J. Johnson, Shorty Sherock, Jack McVea and others. The audience that night heard a wide variety of styles, including Dixieland, Swing, early Bop, and rhythm and blues. With the publication of these selections from this concert, a wide audience was able to experience and enjoy the excitement of ad-hoc ensembles and extended solos common to jam sessions, but rarely heard on published recordings.
Image Caption: Charlie Parker; Image Credit: Verve.
"Pope Marcellus Mass" (Palestrina). The Roger Wagner Chorale. (1951)
The Roger Wagner Chorale, established in 1947, initially specialized in madrigals of the 16th and 17th centuries. In this early recording by the Chorale, the ensemble performs with rhythmic precision and tonal opulence, inviting listeners to experience the rich beauty of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's 1562 mass.
Image Caption: Roger Wagner; Image Credit: EMI.
"The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest." Rev. C.L. Franklin. (1953)
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.
Image Caption: Reverend C.L. Franklin; Image Credit: Franklin.
"Tipitina." Professor Longhair. (1953)
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.
Image Caption: Professor Longhair; Image Credit: Atlantic Records.
"At Sunset" (album). Mort Sahl. (1955)
"At Sunset" is an early live recording of the influential satirist and stand-up comedian Mort Sahl. Sahl's comedy is typified by a conversational style, thoroughly grounded in up-to-the-minute topics and events, and is replete with satiric asides and smart, subtle punch lines. Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce are among the many comics who were influenced by Sahl. His approach to comedy became a staple on television and at comedy clubs for decades. This album, Sahl's second release but earliest recording, had not been authorized and was later withdrawn. "At Sunset" nevertheless retains the distinction of being the first recording of modern stand-up comedy.
Image Caption: "At Sunset" LP jacket; Image Credit: Fantasy.
Interviews with Jazz musicians for the Voice of America. Willis Conover. (1956)
From 1954 until his death in 1996, Willis Conover (1920-1996) hosted thousands of jazz programs for the Voice of America radio service, broadcasting to countries where jazz was rarely heard or even allowed. Ironically, although Conover was barely known in his own country, American jazz musicians knew and appreciated his efforts on their behalf, and were frequent guests on his programs. In 1956, Conover presented a series of interviews with some of the greatest jazz artists of the era, including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and Art Tatum. The Tatum interview is the only known in-depth recorded interview with the pianist; he died later that year. For many, these interviews were a first chance to hear the thoughts of great jazz artists who had come of age with the music itself, as they shared their reflections, opinions and predictions with Conover.
Image Caption: Willis Conover; Image Credit: Voice of America.
"The Music from 'Peter Gunn'" (album). Henry Mancini. (1958)
The suave detective as lead character in a television program was novel when the "Peter Gunn" series debuted in 1958. To emphasize the cool, sophisticated personality of the private eye, played by Craig Stevens, composer Henry Mancini wrote jazz-inflected instrumental themes. The renowned opening theme features a driving, and catchy, jazz ostinato figure punctuated by big band blasts and throbs. The theme and album became popular in their own right, helping to make the television series a hit with audiences. This album was one of the first television soundtracks to be issued commercially, and was a favorite of the early stereo era.
Image Caption: "Peter Gunn" lp jacket; Image Credit: RCA.
United Sacred Harp Musical Convention in Fyffe, Alabama (field recordings by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins). (1959)
Folklorist Alan Lomax characterized the folk polyphony that he and English folksinger Shirley Collins recorded at the annual United Sacred Harp Musical Convention as "choral music for a nation of individualists." About 150 Southern shape-note singers ranging in age from under 10 to over 90 participated, singing from "The Sacred Harp," a hymnal written in so-called "shape notes." This 19th-century notational system was originally devised to teach untrained singers to harmonize more fluently, but it also enabled the creation of invigorating and complex pieces sung in four parts by participants seated around a square, thus creating the multi-directional cascades of voices heard on these recordings. The future of the tradition was very much in doubt when these recordings were made. Lomax and others had earlier documented Sacred Harp singing on monophonic discs. These stereo tape recordings were the first to capture the music's full vigor and complexity. The dissemination of these recordings helped preserve and revitalize this uniquely American form both inside and outside of their original communities.
Image Caption: Alan Lomax; Image Credit: Rounder/Lomax.
"Blind Joe Death" (album). John Fahey. (1959, 1964, 1967)
In 1959 solo guitarist John Fahey self-published the first version of this album, pressing only 100 copies and distributing them locally in Washington, D.C. and among his acquaintances. In subsequent years, he re-recorded selections of the album on different occasions, expressing a preference for the more technically demanding performances on the 1967 stereo release. Heavily influenced by classic blues and folk 78-rpm recordings he had collected since his youth, Fahey's solo guitar compositions also incorporate such surprising influences as the work of Charles Ives and Bela Bartok to forge uniquely personal statements.
Image Caption: John Fahey; Image Credit: Paul Kagan.
"Stand by Your Man." Tammy Wynette. (1968)
Of the many popular recordings made by country-music vocalist Tammy Wynette, none elicited the reactions—pro and con—of "Stand By Your Man." The song, written by Wynette and her producer Billy Sherrill, is an ode to the weakness of men, the strength of their women, love, loyalty and support. When it was released in 1968, the women's movement in the U.S. was on the ascendancy and interpretation of the song created dissent. Must a woman stand by her man and forgive his transgressions because "after all, he's just a man" or do such attitudes signify subservience? However interpreted, Wynette's artistry transcends any literal message in the song. Her performance ranges from quiet, pensive reflection to a soaring, full-voiced chorus of affirmation, contributing to a song that remains one of the most beloved in country music.
Image Caption: Tammy Wynette; Image Credit: Sony.
"Trout Mask Replica" (album). Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. (1969)
This unclassifiable melding of country, blues, folk and free jazz filtered through Captain Beefheart's feverishly inventive imagination remains without precedent in its striking sonic and lyrical originality. Captain Beefheart (the stage name of Don Van Vliet) and the Magic Band—Bill Harkleroad, Jeff Cotton, Victor Hayden, Mark Boston and John French—had spent months sequestered in a house in the Los Angeles foothills, rehearsing and re-rehearsing the compositions to meet Van Vliet's exacting standards before they entered the studio, to be recorded by Frank Zappa. Upon its release, the album, by no means universally embraced, nonetheless garnered raves from many influential music critics. Scores of pop, new wave, punk and post-punk artists claim Beefheart as an influence, including The Gang of Four, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Minutemen, Pere Ubu, The Fall, Tom Waits, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The White Stripes.
Image Caption: "Trout Mask Replica" lp jacket; Image Credit: Straight Records.
"Songs of the Humpback Whale" (album) (1970)
The use of underwater microphones called hydrophones showed that not only can whales communicate, but they do so with beauty and complexity. Frank Watlington and Roger Payne, among others, made these unique recordings. The haunting sounds on "Songs of the Humpback Whale," along with Payne's liner notes for CRM Records, helped turn the tide of U.S. public opinion against whaling. In addition to the album's aesthetic and political significance, it can also be considered historically valuable: whales change their songs over time so these recordings document a cetacean performance practice of a time gone by.
Image Caption: Humpback whale; Image Credit: Photo by Peter Tyack, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution under National Marine Fisheries Service permit #184, issued to Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance.
"Let's Stay Together." Al Green. (1971)
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.
Image Caption: Al Green; Image Credit: Capitol Records.
"Black Angels (Thirteen Images from the Dark Land)." The New York Strings Quartet. (1972)
Composers Recordings Inc. (CRI) was established in 1954 by Otto Luening, Douglas Moore and Oliver Daniel. CRI was dedicated to the recording of contemporary classical music by American composers and, in doing so, helped to introduce hundreds of new musical works to audiences. American composer George Crumb is noted for his challenging and often surreal, emotionally effective works, which frequently incorporate new musical timbres and take complex forms. "Black Angels," one of Crumb's best-known pieces, was inspired by the Vietnam War. The piece is written for amplified electric string quartet and includes the playing of a number of percussion instruments, crystal goblets and chanting by the quartet members. The CRI recording of the New York String Quartet performing "Black Angels" creates an opportunity for listeners to appreciate this rich and dramatic work, as have the company's recordings of so many other new musical compositions.
Image Caption: "Black Angels" lp jacket; Image Credit: CRI.
"Aja" (album). Steely Dan. (1977)
"Aja" is an apotheosis of jazz-pop, a seamless fusion of jazz, pop and blues crafted with meticulous precision. Swimming against the tides of then-popular punk rock and disco, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan created an adult pop album—lyrically cynical and cryptic, melodically rich, and musically dense. The impeccable playing by a number of world-class musicians helped to achieve a musical whole even greater than the sum of its impressive parts.
Image Caption: "Aja" album jacket; Image Credit: MCA/Universal Music Company.
GOPAC Strategy and Instructional Tapes. (1986-1994)
GOPAC is a non-profit organization established in 1978 to develop and educate conservative leaders in the U.S., and to provide support to Republican candidates running for local, state and national offices. Among the most effective and best-known tools developed by GOPAC are instructional tape recordings made by Republican leaders. The tapes inform GOPAC members and aspiring politicians of conservative positions and assist them in articulating and honing their language and message on a wide array of issues, as well as providing "how-to" primers on everything involved in running an effective political campaign. The recordings have proved to be extremely influential in shaping political discourse from the 1980s to the present.
Image Caption: Newt Gingrich.
"3 Feet High and Rising" (album). De La Soul. (1989)
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.
Image Caption: "3 Feet and Rising" Image Credit: Tommy Boy Records.