The Library of Congress has announced the selection of fifty sound recordings to be added to its National Recording Registry, the Library's two-year-old audio preservation program for the past year. From be-bop to hip-hop to the spoken word, the Registry celebrates the richness and variety of 20th century American recorded sound. Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act passed by Congress in 2000, the Recording Registry must choose fifty recordings every year that are deemed culturally significant.
Some of this year's selections include Flatt and Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain, Breakdown," first recorded in 1949. It set benchmarks for generations of banjo players and bluegrass musicians. But the song might be more familiar to movie audiences, who first heard it as the soundtrack to a famous chase scene in the 1967 movie, "Bonnie and Clyde."
And in 1965, James Brown's 1965 best-selling album "Live at the Apollo" was the recording that made the high-energy blues singer a household name, and the first of its kind to reach a mainstream audience. . .
Shakespearean actor Alexander Scourby recorded all sixty-six books of the Bible for the American Foundation for the Blind. It became a best-seller when it was commercially released in 1966. . .
And few people who lived through World War II could ever forget Edward R. Murrow's famous eyewitness news broadcasts of a London air raid during the Battle of Britain in 1940, where he was "standing on a rooftop looking out over London . . ."
The head of the Library of Congress's Registry office, Greg Lukow, explained some of the criteria for selecting recordings. "Recordings that are at least ten years old (so we have a bit of the judgment of history on our side), they must be, to quote the law, 'esthetically, culturally or historically important to the American citizenry." Mr. Lukow says the recordings should not be thought of as "the Best of" or "Greatest Hits" of the Library. Rather, he says, "the Registry establishes a canon of sound recordings of significance to the history of the American people."
A favorite song of pianist Michael Feinstein is the 1924 recording of George and Ira Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm," featuring Fred and Adele Astaire, with George Gershwin himself at the piano. Now a member of the Library's National Recording Registry's board, Michael Feinstein was a teenager when he worked as a discographer for lyricist Ira Gershwin. Sitting at a piano that belonged to Ira's brother George Gershwin, Mr. Feinstein played his own version of "Fascinating Rhythm," but not before sharing his excitement at once again playing the historic instrument.
"I used to play this piano every day," he said. "It was in Ira Gershwin's home during the six years that I worked for him. So it's sort of coming full circle to be here playing this piano for the purpose of the announcement of the registry." He added, "This piano, for quite a few years has been behind a rope on exhibit in the Gershwin room. This year the categories of hip-hop and grunge music were also represented, with Public Enemy's 1989 hit, "Fight the Power," and Nirvana's 1991 hit "Nevermind," featuring lead singer Kurt Cobain - a troubled artist who committed suicide in 1994.
One of the benefits of programs like the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry is that the selection process often brings to light other recordings that have rarely been heard before. Such is the case of one of the Library's most exciting new discoveries announced at the Library press conference, although it was not included on this year's (2004) Recording Registry list. It's an extraordinary 1957 jazz concert in New York's Carnegie Hall featuring such luminaries as Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and the Thelonious Monk Quartet featuring legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. The master tape of the concert, recorded for the Voice of America and hosted by Willis Conover, was analyzed and preserved by a Library of Congress jazz specialist just a few months ago. It is just one of many important recordings and stories that Library archivists are collecting each year for the new National Recording Registry. Archivists hope that by doing so, they can ensure that these important sounds will be available to the public for all time.
Note: We encourage you to listen to this report which is amply illustrated with audio excerpts from the featured items.