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:
Representative of the Columbia Grand Opera Series. Columbia Records’ 1903 “celebrity” series of discs featured seven Metropolitan Opera stars who were considered some of the most significant singers of the period. Perhaps of great historical significance within the series are the three recordings made by bass Edouard de Reszke. They are his only known published recordings, made when he was approaching the end of his performing career. Other performers included in the series are Giuseppe Campanari, baritone; Marcella Sembrich, soprano; Suzanne Adams, soprano; Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto; Antonio Scotti, baritone; and Charles Gilbert, baritone.
Representative of the Hampton Quartet Collection at Hampton University. Natalie Burlin (1875-1921), a pioneer in the study of American minority cultures, was one of the leading collectors and transcribers of indigenous music of Africa and the United States. Beginning around 1903, she worked to document and preserve Native American culture and in 1910, extended her work to carry out important studies of African-American and African culture. Burlin published four volumes of transcriptions taken from performances by students at Virginia’s Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1918-1919. Recordings by the Hampton Quartette made on wax cylinders during the 1880s, including this recording of “Listen to the Lambs,” were probably the basis of some of her published transcriptions.
Inextricably associated in popular imagination with World War I, Nora Bayes’ recording introduced George M. Cohan’s song and became an international hit. Cohan had specifically requested that Bayes be the first singer to release his composition. A former member of the “Ziegfeld Follies,” an extremely popular vaudevillian and a Broadway star, she recorded a number of other songs to boost morale during the war and performed extensively for the soldiers.
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-American buyers. 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.
Performed by Fanny Brice in the “Ziegfeld Follies of 1921,” “My Man” and “Second Hand Rose” were recorded by Victor Records the same year and issued together on a double-faced 78-rpm disc. Known for her comedic songs in Yiddish and other dialects, Brice was in the midst of marital woes when she recorded “My Man.” Audiences, connecting strongly with her passionate performance, concluded she was singing about herself. “Second Hand Rose” was a follow-up to a previous hit song, “Rose of Washington Square,” and was a rare instance of the sequel excelling its predecessor.
This ensemble of trombonist Kid Ory, originally called “Spikes’ Seven Pods of Pepper,” was the first recording ever issued of a black jazz band from New Orleans. It was recorded by Andrae Nordskog for his Santa Monica, Calif.-based Nordskog record label. Under confusing circumstances, the record was issued on the Sunshine label belonging to Los Angeles music promoters the Spikes Brothers.
Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration in 1925 was the first presidential inauguration to be broadcast. Using the latest technology, RCA and Bell Telephone aired the ceremonies over a makeshift network of radio stations. The New York Times estimated that more than 25 million Americans would be able to hear the president’s address, thus making it a national event in a manner not previously possible. Twenty-one radio stations, linked in a circuit throughout the country, broadcast the president’s 47-minute inaugural address from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. This recording was made as an experiment, not for publication. It features announcers Graham McNamee on AT&T’s Red Network and Major J. Andrew White and Norman Brokenshire for the RCA/Westinghouse stations.
Pawlo Humeniuk was a renowned violin player in Ukrainian communities before beginning his recording career with Columbia, for which he made this dance number. He learned violin in western Ukraine at the age of 6 and enjoyed a busy career playing concerts, dances and vaudeville theaters. The song is an excellent example of the ethnic releases that record labels began to produce in the 1920's for sale to immigrant communities in the United States.
Saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke created some of the most significant jazz recordings of the 1920s, works still noted for their beauty and influence on fellow musicians. Trumbauer and Beiderbecke had worked together in the orchestras of Jean Goldkette, Adrian Rollini and Paul Whiteman. For a brief period in 1927, Trumbauer had his own recording contract with Okeh Records. Together with guitarist Eddie Lang and other members of the ensemble, Trumbauer and Beiderbecke recorded “Singin’ the blues,” which contains one of Beiderbecke’s greatest solos.
Upon the opening of the transatlantic telephone circuit for commercial service, W.S. Gifford, president of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., called Sir Evelyn P. Murray, secretary of the General Post Office of Great Britain, offering felicitations.
Popular Cuban singer and radio artist Rita Montaner recorded the first version of the traditional song “El Manisero” in Havana in 1927. The Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino orchestra version of “El Manisero,” adapted from Montaner’s recording, was made in New York City three years later. It is the first American recording of an authentic Latin dance style. This recording launched a decade of “rumbamania,” introducing U.S. listeners to Cuban percussion instruments and Cuban rhythms.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of incandescent light, inventor Thomas Edison was honored at a dinner Oct. 21, 1929. Portions of the celebration were broadcast over an NBC radio network. Hosted by announcer Graham McNamee, the radio program included speeches by President Herbert Hoover, Marie Curie, Henry Ford and, speaking over shortwave from Berlin, Albert Einstein. Messages from the Prince of Wales, President Von Hindenberg and Commander Richard Byrd from the South Pole were read to Edison during the broadcast.
This 1930 recording of the Modesto, Calif., High School Band is the only known recording made by a high school band participating in the National High School Band contests held between 1926 and 1934. Under the direction of Frank Mancini, Modesto High School placed third in the 1927 and 1928 contests, and second in 1929. An important educator and conductor who directed band programs in California area schools, Mancini was a former member of the bands of John Philip Sousa and Patrick Conway. Limited edition high school band recordings were once common, produced as fundraising tools for school bands and treasured as souvenirs by band members. However, few high school bands were recorded before the advent of tape recording and long-playing discs in
the late 1940s.
Original cast recordings of hit musicals were not made at the time of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s landmark 1927 show, “Show Boat.” Brunswick Records recorded 10 sides of selections from the musical in 1932 and issued them as an album set. The most notable performances on the set are those of Helen Morgan, the original “Julie” in the musical, and Paul Robeson, who played “Joe” in the London cast. The set also includes discs of the musical’s overture and finale, making it as close to an original cast album as one may encounter from this period.
Fiddler and vocalist Roy Acuff's “Wabash Cannonball” was first recorded in 1936, featuring the vocals of Sam “Dynamite” Hatcher of Acuff’s band, the Crazy Tennesseans. Acuff later changed the band’s name to the Smoky Mountain Boys while continuing to make himself well known through motion picture appearances, recordings and personal tours. He first appeared in 1938 as a regular on the Grand Ole Opry and was its top star by 1942. “Wabash Cannonball” was recorded again by Acuff, this time with his own vocals, in 1947. Acuff was the first living artist to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962.
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.
As broadcast on “The Columbia Workshop,” Earle McGill’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s chilling vision of a not-so-future war featured Orson Welles as the narrator. This program brought experimental radio as pioneered by “The Columbia Workshop” to maturity and profoundly influenced a generation of creative radio producers and directors.
Prior to the release of its 1938 film, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” Warner Bros. studio arranged to promote the motion picture by broadcasting portions of its musical score over its Los Angeles radio station, KFWB. The radio broadcast included composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s symphonic scoring of 10 sequences from the film, with narration by actor Basil Rathbone. “Robin Hood” is one of Korngold’s most respected dramatic scores, an outstanding example of what he termed “operas without words.” Because commercial recordings of motion picture scores did not exist in 1938, this unusual film score recording was not published until 1975.
It is believed that more than 70 million people, the largest audience to date for a single radio broadcast, listened to NBC’s broadcast of the boxing rematch between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling. From its inception, the fight was viewed as more than a sports event. The symbolism of an African American defeating a citizen of the political state that proclaimed the superiority of the white race was lost on no one. Veteran announcer Clem McCarthy delivered a blow-by-blow account of the 124-second match to radio audiences from a packed Madison Square Garden.
This pioneer Virginia gospel quartet of the 1930s and 1940s had a profound influence on gospel music, furthering the development of gospel vocal quartets from the Jubilee-style of the 19th century to one influenced by 20th century jazz and popular music. Their smooth Mills Brothers-influenced harmonies, humor and vocal improvisations brought the quartet large audiences that extended far beyond the church.
“Adagio for Strings,” adapted for orchestra by Samuel Barber from a movement of his 1936 String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11, was created for maestro Arturo Toscanini. It was premiered to a widely enthusiastic audience on a Nov. 5, 1938, radio broadcast of the NBC Symphony. Its tense melodic line and taut harmonies have made this moving composition one of the most popular of all 20th century classical works. The work is often performed and can be heard in the scores of many motion pictures and television programs, most notably “Platoon” and an episode of “Seinfeld.”
Although Bob Hope is known for his tireless touring for United Service Organizations (USO) shows, he also lent his services to other entertainment projects for the troops during World War II, including “Command Performance.” Of the programs broadcast by the Armed Forces Radio Service – a wartime broadcasting service for the troops – “Command Performance” consistently attracted the biggest stars of the day. Hope appeared on the program as master of ceremonies a number of times, and service personnel reported greatly enjoying his performances.
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 of the greatest piano virtuosos who followed him, 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, launching his career as a one of the most popular singers of the mid-20th century.
Starting on Dec.13, 1942, “The Fred Allen Show” featured a segment known as “Allen’s Alley” in which Allen would stroll along a fictitious alley and meet a colorful cast of characters, including Senator Bloat, Minerva Pious, Mrs. Pansy Nussbaum and Falstaff Openshaw. One measure of the continuing influence of the show was Warner Bros.’ modeling the cartoon rooster Foghorn Leghorn on Senator Claghorn, the blustery Southern politician who was a regular character on “Allen’s Alley.” The Oct. 7, 1945, broadcast marked the debut of the Senator Claghorn character.
“Jole Blon,” by fiddler Harry Choates, is credited with introducing Cajun music to a national audience and making that genre a significant component of country music. Choates is known to many as the “Godfather of Cajun Music” and “Fiddle King of Cajun Swing.” “Jole Blon,” recorded for the Gold Star label, quickly became a country charts hit, the first Cajun song to make the top 10.
The charming musical story of Tubby introduces children to the sounds and roles of orchestra instruments and is one of the most enduring children’s recordings ever made. The work was first recorded in 1946, featuring the narration of character actor Victor Jory. “Tubby” has since been recorded in many different forms.
This recording was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s breakthrough disc, a best-seller that appealed equally to black and white audiences and reputedly became the best-selling gospel release to date. 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. She helped to make gospel music popular with racially diverse audiences of all religions.
The “Harry Smith Anthology,” compiled for Folkways Records from obscure, commercially released 78-rpm discs originally recorded between 1926 and 1934, brought a variety of neglected and virtually forgotten genres of American music to the public’s attention. The anthology was drawn from the personal record collection of the independent filmmaker and record collector Harry Smith, who also annotated and illustrated the set. It includes country blues, hillbilly tunes, Cajun social music, Appalachian murder ballads and other genres of American music rarely heard on record in the early 1950s. The LP set was widely influential and played a seminal role in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
Representative of the Ivan Walton Collection, Bentley Library, University of Michigan. In the 1930s, Great Lakes folklorist Ivan Walton collected songs and music in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula in an effort to save the music of Great Lakes sailors. This recording by fiddler Pat Bonner reflects and preserves a fading tradition tied to maritime life at the end of the schooner era.
Recorded in Boston’s Symphony Hall on Feb. 21 and 22, 1954, this “live” performance of Berlioz’s “dramatic legend” was recorded through a single condenser microphone suspended 17 feet above the conductor’s podium, with one auxiliary microphone enlisted occasionally to strengthen the chorus. Conductor Charles Munch, considered one of the great interpreters of Berlioz, leads the Boston orchestra with assistance from G. Wallace Woodworth directing the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society. Soloists include Suzanne Danco, David Poleri, Martial Singher and Donald Gramm.
Domino’s relaxed-tempo, R&B version of “Blueberry Hill” was inspired by Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the 1940 composition. The singer’s New Orleans roots are evident in the Creole inflected cadences that add richness and depth to the performance. Recorded in Los Angeles for Imperial records, Domino insisted on performing the song despite the reservations of the producer of the session. The wisdom of this choice is borne out by the enduring association of the song with Domino, despite a number other popular renditions.
“Variations for Orchestra” by Elliot Carter is one of many works commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra under its Rockefeller Foundation-funded program to commission, premiere and record 20th century classical music. Premiering on April 21, 1956, with Robert S. Whitney conducting, “Variations for Orchestra” was recorded the next month. From 1954 through 1959, the Louisville Orchestra commissioned and performed 116 works from 101 composers, issuing 125 long-playing discs on its First Edition Recordings label, the first recording label owned by an American orchestra.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ second release for Sun Records included this lively number that launched the performer to international popularity. A reworking of an R&B single penned by Roy Hall (aka Sunny David) and Dave Williams, Lewis radically altered the original, adding a propulsive boogie piano that was perfectly complemented by the drive of J.M. Van Eaton’s energetic drumming. The listeners to the recording, like Lewis himself, had a hard time remaining seated during the performance.
Buddy Holly had actually recorded an earlier version of this song with a more country-and-western feel than the hit version that Brunswick records released. In an era when performers were not necessarily songwriters, Buddy Holly and the Crickets wrote most of their own material, including this number. Holly's fellow songwriters were drummer Jerry Allison and bassist Joe B. Mauldin who also provided an excellent rhythm section for the group.
Described by composer Joel Chadabe as “the ultimate statement of tape music as musique concrete,” this work premiered in the Philips pavilion designed by famed architect Le Corbusier for the 1958 Brussels Exposition. The work incorporated innumerable recorded sounds – voices, sirens, bells, tone generators – that were all heard by visitors to the pavilion from 425 loudspeakers positioned throughout the hall. The speakers allowed the sound to be moved through the space in interesting patterns that clashed with or complemented an array of projected images. The Columbia release (ML 5148) used the actual tapes that Edgard Varese employed in the original performance.
Spawned by the “Cool Jazz” movement, Time Out is an album both accessible and musically and rhythmically sophisticated. “Take Five,”composed by the Quartet’s saxophonist Paul Desmond, has an unforgettable melody but is written in 5/4 time. “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” which Brubeck claimed to be inspired by Turkish music he heard while on tour, is in the challenging 9/8 meter, but a generation of listeners would instantly recognize it.
From 1952 to 1997, Studs Terkel hosted a radio program featuring interviews with a broad variety of performing artists, writers, poets, playwrights, historians, political commentators, activists and people who in other circumstances might be termed average Americans. He has long been recognized as an outstanding interviewer and practitioner of oral history. His skills extend beyond getting others to talk candidly about themselves to producing revealing interchanges that illuminate and inform about creativity, commitment and life in the United States.
Three months before his death, in one of his last public appearances, William Faulkner spent two days as a guest lecturer at West Point, where he read from his novel “The Reivers” and participated in a question-and-answer session with the press and public. Recorded and transcribed by two English professors at the Academy, Joseph L. Fant III and Robert Ashley, Faulkner is extremely candid, lucid and generous. Among the subjects he discusses are Hemingway, Dreiser, race relations and the future of the South and the purpose of literature.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Frank Zappa’s inventive and iconoclastic album presents a unique political stance, both anti-conservative and anti-counterculture, and features a scathing satire on hippiedom and America’s reactions to it. The album art is a brilliant parody of the Beatles’ sleeve design for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Zappa’s radical audio editing and production techniques produced an eclectic blend of electronic, avant-garde and rock music that was influenced by composers such as Varese and Stravinsky, with pop melodies, virtuoso instrumental performances, verbal asides and sound effects that segue into a cohesive work. The result is an electronic sound collage that may be Zappa’s definitive musical statement on America in the 1960s.
This meticulously recorded album introduced the Moog synthesizer to a much wider audience than it had previously reached. Many of the separate synthesizer voices on the album were recorded to tape individually and carefully mixed to create the final product. After the recording, Bob Moog’s musical circuitry enjoyed an enormous boom. Within a decade the synthesizer was well established in the idioms of rock music, dance music and Western art music. Wendy Carlos went on to record several more well-crafted Bach recordings.
Regarded as the springboard for the development of contemporary gospel music, “Oh Happy Day” was based on a 19th century white hymn. Its popular music and jazz-influenced harmonies, infectious rhythms and use of instruments not often found on earlier gospel recordings have made the recording enduringly popular and influential. Originally recorded on a long-playing album, “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord,” as a fund-raising effort for the Northern California State Youth Choir by director Edwin Hawkins, its compelling, exhilarating sound found its way onto radio playlists in San Francisco. Re-recorded under the name “Edwin Hawkins Singers,” the song became an international crossover hit.
Firesign Theatre, the Los Angeles-based comedy group, started on radio station KPFK in 1966 and began producing comedy records in 1968. Don’t crush that dwarf was recorded in 1970, utilizing many sophisticated production techniques for the first time on a comedy album, including 16-track recording and Dolby noise reduction. The technology, enlisted in service of the ensemble's creativity, enabled the use of surreal sound effects and layered storytelling to create an album of far more than individual comedy sketches. “Dwarf “is a one-act play that satirizes radio and television programs to comment on political, social and literary topics of its day, remaining funny decades later.
This poem, first released on Gil Scott-Heron’s first 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. Flutist Hubert Laws accompanied Scott-Heron’s spoken and sung pieces.
For Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, previously known for their country-rock and jug band music, brought together a stellar group of musical giants of country music for an unprecedented collaboration. The recordings, made in Nashville, showcased traditional songs and country music classics with guest performances by Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Jimmy Martin, Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis and Earl Scruggs. The resulting three-LP set introduced acoustic country music to a new generation of audiences and revived the careers of several of the guest performers.
In the late 19th century, Kewaunee, Wis., one of the great maritime ports of the northern Great Lakes, sought to challenge Chicago as Lake Michigan’s supreme port city. Its car ferry and rail loading tracks were constructed in 1891 within a vast program of harbor improvements toward this goal. The port's original fog signal was removed in 1981 when an automated signal was installed. Improved rail connections to other cities led to the ultimate decline of the port; Kewaunee’s aspirations were short lived. This recording preserves lost sounds of the once bustling northern lake port.
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 straight. 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.
Pioneer members of New York City’s clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca’s large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On Daydream Nation, their breakthrough album, the group’s forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings.