Put away your handful of quarters, nickels and dimes. This month the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. launched a new ambitious project called The National Jukebox.
I first heard about this project earlier this month on NPR. The site is a free archive of sound recordings that documents sounds (music and speeches) recorded at the dawn of the 20th century and allows the listener to stream (but not download) each song via their computer. Still the site garnered interest from the public with over 250,000 visits already.
The Library of Congress spent the majority of 2010 digitizing over 10,000 sides (78 RPM records have one song on each side) from the Victor Talking Machine Company (now under the arm of Sony Music Entertainment) originally produced between 1900 and 1925. The website states that, "The National Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives." As a mission this ambitious project has
The goal of the Jukebox is to present to the widest audience possible early commercial sound recordings, offering a broad range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning.
Further, this collection will not remain static and stodgy lending credibility continued. The website continues by stating, "New recordings are added to the Jukebox every month. Later this year, we will begin digitizing recordings from additional record labels, including Columbia and Okeh, along with selected master recordings from the Library of Congress Universal Music Group Collection."
First, I clicked on genre and found the Traditional/Country section and near the top was a favorite country standard of mine.
Wreck Of The Old 97 - Vernon Dalhart - 1924 http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.8696789029376122
Next used a search term "St. Louis" and found some interesting hits from an even earlier era. The first song is a classic from the 1904 World's Fair hosted in Forest Park in St. Louis performed here by Billy Murray. A strong tenor voice helped Murray become one of the most popular singers of the first quarter of the 20th century singing into as acoustic recording horn. Murray started out in vaudeville as a teenager and by 1903 he was in the New York area making studio recordings. By the mid-1920s when the electronic microphone came into use, the new sound of crooners eclipsed Murray's sound forever.
Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie - Billy Murray - 1904 http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.8545572064060243
St. Louis Tickle - Ossman-Dudley Trio - 1906 (Instrumental) http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.4831903982451466
St. Louis Blues - Original Dixieland Jazz Band - 1921 http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.18645644567922426
That Baseball Rag - Arthur Collins - 1913 http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.4422833037025974
As an owner of both a vintage jukebox and my great-grandfather's Victrola, this project intrigues me to no end. The website allows you to make playlists to back and listen to these songs again and again; just like pulling out your old records over and over.
Before reading any articles or news reports, the first thing I thought about when I heard about this project was Joe Bussard's collection of 78 RPM records. Wouldn't it be great to have his collection as part of this rich history of recorded American music?
If you've never heard of Joe Bussard then you're in for a treat. Bussard, the self-professed "King of Record Collectors," is a record collector who started collecting 78 RPM records in the 1950s and 1960s - mostly blues, Cajun, country, folk, gospel, and jazz. He took trips into remote Mid-Atlantic towns near his Maryland home to seek out people who would sell their rare records. Presently, Bussard is an opinionated, cigar smoking old man with a record collection of 78 RPM sides that has few rivals. There is a well done documentary about Bussard called Desperate Man Blues: Discovering the Roots of American Music that gives a nice synopsis of the man and the collection.
Old Hat Records released a compilation of some of Bussard's 78 RPM sides a few years ago on Down In The Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78's.
But these will remind others of the collection Harry Smith put together in the 1950s for Moe Asch's Folkways Records called the Anthology Of American Folk Music. Cited by countless musicians as a heavy influence on their work, this collection effectively re-started the entire Folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Kudos to the Library of Congress for taking on such an ambitious project. America's musical heritage is a treasure and worth preserving for future generations to hear.
Footnote: For some reason the ability to embed these songs into the post did not work correctly and I'm not sure why. If you can speak to that issue please let me know.