Iconic recordings from Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Marlo Thomas, Kool & the Gang, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Phil Rizzuto, Jimmy Cliff and Kermit the Frog are among the latest aural treasures inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has named these and 15 other recordings as worthy of preservation this year.
The National Recording Registry is a selection of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.” They are preserved in perpetuity by the Library of Congress.
The selections span the years 1878 (a recording on tinfoil of the voice of Thomas Edison) to 2008 (an episode of This American Life, marking the first podcast to be honored).
Here’s a chronological list of this year’s selections (they must be at least 10 years old to be eligible), with (edited) descriptions provided by the Library of Congress:
Thomas Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878) – This is possibly a record of the oldest playable recording of a voice. It is a survivor — the earliest extant document that captures a musical performance. The recording is on a piece of tinfoil, lasts 78 seconds and was made on a phonograph in St. Louis on June 22, 1878.
”Nikolina,” Hjalmar Peterson (1917) – In this song, a young Swedish husband tells of his comical difficulties with his father-in-law. The tune was brought to America by Peterson (1886-1960), who settled in Minnesota and became a hugely popular entertainer.
”Smyrneikos Balos,” Marika Papagika (1928) – Born on the Greek island of Kos in 1890, Papagika immigrated to New York City in 1915 with her musician husband, Gus. She began recording in 1918 and quickly became one of the most popular singers in the Greek-American community.
”When the Saints Go Marching In,” Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra (1938) – In this first jazz version of the famous hymn, Armstrong, in the guise of “Rev. Satchelmouth,” introduces this vivid recording. His democratic attitude toward music saw little difference between the church and the dance hall, and as a result, he received backlash from clergy and fans for daring to mix the sacred with jazz.
Christmas Eve Broadcast — Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (Dec. 24, 1941) – On Dec. 24, 1941, President Roosevelt lighted the White House Community Christmas Tree for the first time as the leader of a nation at war. While staying at the White House, Churchill took part in the lighting of the Christmas tree. He and Roosevelt were heard coast-to-coast on the major radio networks.
The Guiding Light (Nov. 22, 1945) – The Guiding Light was the longest-running scripted program in broadcast history, running from 1937 until 2009 on radio and television. The program was notable as an archetype of the highly popular “soap opera” genre.
Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, Odetta (1957) – This is the debut album from an important voice in the folk revival — featuring a mix of blues, spirituals and ballads. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta was a major influence to a generation of folk singers, including a young Bob Dylan.
“Lord, Keep Me Day by Day,” Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) – Influenced by and spurred on by her mentor, Mahalia Jackson, Walker formed her own — and now legendary — gospel group, Albertina Walker and the Caravans, in 1947. Soon, Walker would be nicknamed “Star Maker” for the talent she fostered through her group.
Roger Maris hits his 61st home run (Oct. 1, 1961)On this day, Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth’s home run record set in 1927, and Rizzuto’s radio play-by-play call of the at-bat remains an iconic moment in sports broadcasting.
Aida, Leontyne Price, et al. (1962) – This superb recording includes Price as Aida, a role she performed more than 40 times. PBS viewers voted her singing in a MET production of the Act III aria “O patria mia” as the No. 1 “Greatest Moment” in 30 years of Live From the Met telecasts.
“Once a Day,” Connie Smith (1964) – Smith has been called one of the most underrated vocalists in country music history. And she’s greatly admired by her peers; Dolly Parton once said, “There’s only three real female singers: Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith.
Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King (1967) – King, with his signature Flying V Gibson guitar played in his distinctive left-handed manner, was one of the blues’ greatest guitarists, and this album is considered his best.
Free to Be … You & Me, Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972)This album is remarkable both as a snapshot of social change with regard to gender roles and expectations in the early 1970s and for the wide array of talent it assembled. Appearances by talent as varied as Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Dick Cavett and Rosey Grier (in “It’s All Right to Cry”) further ensured appeal to a wide audience.
The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff (1972) – In 1972, reggae singer Cliff starred in the first Jamaican-produced feature, The Harder They Come. Around the time of the film’s release, the soundtrack made its way to American audiences and has been credited by Rolling Stone magazine as “the album that took reggae worldwide.”
“Lady Marmalade,” Labelle (1974) – The Labelle trio— Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash — first formed in 1962. Their biggest hit was this French-infused dance track written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and produced by Allen Toussaint and Vicki Wickham.
Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne (1974) – Although Browne had some success with his first two albums, he was still primarily known as a songwriter in 1974, his works having been recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Tom Rush and the Eagles. Bruce Springsteen called Late for the Sky Browne’s “masterpiece.”
Bright Size Life, Pat Metheny (1976) – Metheny’s debut album signaled a new direction for jazz in the mid-1970s — not only for Metheny but also for innovative bassist Jaco Pastorius, drummer Bob Moses and vibraphonist Gary Burton.
“The Rainbow Connection,” Kermit the Frog (1979) – Written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, and performed by Kermit (voiced by Jim Henson), they received an Oscar nomination for their work. The song is from The Muppet Movie.
”Celebration,” Kool & the Gang (1980) – Founded in 1964 by brothers Robert “Kool” Bell and Ronald Bell, Kool and the Gang had already had hits with “Ladies Night” and “Jungle Boogie” when they released their 1980 album Celebrate! “Celebration” would be their biggest hit and quickly became a feature of national celebrations at the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl and the 1981 NBA Finals.
Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs, Jessye Norman (1983) – This superb album by Black opera singer Norman is beloved by critics and audience alike. In homage to her after her death in 2019, fans mentioned this recording most often as her best, while Alex Ross in The New Yorker wrote of it: “In her prime, she let loose sounds of shimmering magnificence.”
Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet Jackson (1989) – On Rhythm Nation, Jackson explores issues of race, homelessness and school violence using cutting-edge touches, like layered vocals and sampling. It became the no.1 album around the world.
Partners, Flaco Jiménez (1992) – When asked about the significance of American roots music, Jiménez once replied that it was in “the sharing and blending of different kinds of musics, like a brotherhood thing. It makes the world rounder when there’s coordination.” On this bilingual album, Jiménez shows this philosophy in action in collaborations with Stephen Stills, Ronstadt, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris and Los Lobos in a variety of traditional and contemporary musical settings.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/What a Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) – Kamakawiwo’ole, or “Bruddah Iz” or “Iz,” as he was also known to his fans in Hawaii, created this medley of two classic pop standards. It’s the first Hawaiian album ever certified platinum and this single was an international hit.
(The Judy Garland Somewhere Over the Rainbow was added in 2016 as well)
Illmatic, Nas (1994) -Upon the album’s release, critics quickly extoled Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones’ groundbreaking studio debut for its rhythmic originality and its realistic yet fresh take on life in the Queensbridge projects.
This American Life: “The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)While This American Life started as a radio series in 1995 and continues in that format on public radio, it has also found popularity as a podcast, with millions of listeners downloading it every week. Life was the first winner of the Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting in 2020.
David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.