Grammy-winning performer Harry Connick, Jr., was on hand recently to help the Library of Congress launch a website that offers 10,000 rare and historic sound recordings to the public in digital format for the first time - at no charge.
The massive collection includes popular music, opera and early jazz as well as poetry and famous political speeches. Al Jolson, Arturo Toscanini, Enrico Caruso and George Gershwin are just some of the musical giants featured in the collection.
The site, called National Jukebox, is a collaborative project between the Library of Congress and Sony Music Entertainment. It offers online access to a vast selection of music and spoken-word recordings produced in the U.S. between 1901 and 1925.
James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, characterizes the collection as a “vast treasure trove of recordings produced in the U.S. prior to the end of 1925.”
"It includes early jazz, famous speeches, poetry, humor, opera, dance music with authoritative production information for each recording," says Billington.
The Library of Congress holds the largest collection of historic sound recordings in the United States. They're stored and digitally preserved at a special facility in the state of Virginia. The Jukebox recordings come from that facility.
Richard Story, president of the Commercial Music Group of Sony Music Entertainment, says the remarkable collection traces the roots and development of American music and includes the work of “some of the most influential, most important artists ever."
Story presented a few samples from some of those influential artists that are now available on the Jukebox. In a video clip from the 1970s, American composer Eubie Blake performs his signature song “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” with a young Harry Connick, Jr., sitting at the piano with him.
Connick, now 43, played that same song from long ago and reminisced about his day with Blake.
"I remember I was nine and he was around 95, 96 years old, and I’ll never forget sitting next to him. I look back on it now and I realize, this guy wrote such significant music, not only musically but that song was pretty much the song that cleared away the taboo of any depiction of love between black people on screen or in music," says Connick. "But all I could think about at that age was looking at this guy’s hands saying ‘I’ve never seen hands that big,’ I mean the longest fingers you can imagine."
Connick says it's both heartwarming and inspirational for him to see the Library of Congress and Sony Music Entertainment ensuring that “new generations have access to these treasures.”
"I was lucky. I grew up with it firsthand but I look at my kids and to know that they have a technological way, a vehicle to get these songs, is absolutely imperative and I applaud you all for doing that."
Opera, Jazz and much more…
Unique music now available on National Jukebox includes a 1904 recording of great Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso performing "Vesti la Giubba" from the opera "Pagliacci," as well as a sample of the first jazz recording ever released, a 1917 recording of “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
According to library officials, National Jukebox currently features only a fraction of what’s to come.
"We think the jukebox is dynamic, it’s an evolving archive of historic sound and we want to grow it to include tens of thousands of more recordings in the next few years," says Gene DeAnna, head of the Library’s Recorded Sound Section.
There are about 100,000 recordings at the Virginia facility. Visitors to National Jukebox can now listen to 10,000 of them on a streaming-only basis while also viewing thousands of label images and performer biographies.