The Sounds of American Life and Legend Are Tapped for the Seventh Annual National Recording Registry

June 10, 2009

Washington, DC--The unforgettable lyrics of a Broadway and movie classic, the historic recital of one of the nation’s greatest contraltos, and the speech that warned of “an iron curtain” descending across the continent have made the list of recordings that have been identified as cultural, artistic and historical treasures to be preserved for future generations. Today, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington named the 25 new additions to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as part of its efforts to ensure that the nation’s aural history is not lost or forgotten. 

Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), is tasked with selecting 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and are at least 10 years old.  The selections for 2008 bring the total number of recordings in the registry to 275. 

“This year’s selections lovingly reflect the diversity and humanity of our sound heritage where astonishing discoveries and a vibrant creative spirit seem to appear around every corner,” said Billington.  “Our daily lives and memories are suffused with the joyous notes of recorded sound, making these choices extremely difficult. The Library, in collaboration with others, will now work to ensure that these cultural touchstones are preserved for future generations to hear and experience.”

The list of recordings named to the registry features a diverse selection of spoken and musical recordings that span the years 1908-1966.  They cover a broad scope of the American soundscape, encompassing the nation’s rich tapestry of imaginative and disparate voices.

Among the selections are Marian Anderson’s recital at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939; Mary Margaret McBride’s interview with Zora Neale Hurston; the sounds of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Louisiana swamp forest, the last confirmed aural evidence of what was once the largest woodpecker species in the United States; studio recordings of violinist Jascha Jeifetz from 1917-24; the recording credited with launching the American audiobook industry, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”; Etta James’ “At Last” crossover masterpiece; Winston Churchill’s “Sinews of  Peace” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri; and the original cast recording of “West Side Story.”

Additions to the registry also feature notable performances by The Who, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, the Andrew Sisters, Ray Bolger, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

Nominations were gathered from online submissions from the public and from the NRPB, which comprises leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation. The Library is currently accepting nominations for the next registry at the NRPB website (

As part of its congressional mandate, the Library is identifying and preserving the best existing versions of the recordings on the registry.  These recordings will be housed in the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va., which was made possible through the generosity of David Woodley Packard and the Packard Humanities Institute.  

Later this year, the Library will issue a detailed report on the current state of recorded sound preservation.  In 2010, the Library will also publish a national plan to ensure America’s aural heritage survives and is made accessible for future generations. The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division’s collections include nearly 6 million items, including nearly 3 million sound recordings.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its Web site at and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at

Press contact: Sheryl Cannady (202) 707-6456,
Public contact: Stephen Leggett (202) 707-5912,

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2008 National Recording Registry

1.  “No News, or What Killed the Dog,” Nat M. Wills (1908)

This recording captured a gifted monologist at his best and became one of the most popular performances on early records. The “No News” monologue, with roots in oral tradition, was one of vaudeville’s most famous and often-copied routines. The monologue unfolds as a piecemeal report by a servant to his master who recently returned from a trip, assuring him that there is nothing new to report from home, except that his dog has died. Nat M. Wills displays masterful comic timing as he slowly reveals, in a escalating hierarchy of domestic disasters, the events that led up to the dog’s death.

2.  Acoustic Recordings for Victor Records, Jascha Heifetz (1917-1924)

Sixteen-year-old Jascha Heifetz made his debut at Carnegie Hall in October 1917. He was immediately hailed as one of the greatest violinists of the time, praised for his immaculate technique and exceptional tonal beauty. Soon after his debut, Heifetz started recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company, maintaining a relationship with Victor, and later RCA Victor, over the course of his career. The acoustic recordings, made between 1917 and 1924, were mostly light recital pieces with piano accompaniment. The Victor Records brochure promoting his first four recordings touted “his phenomenal technique, complete mastery of bow and control of finger” and proclaimed his performances “as Mozart might have played.”

3.  “Night Life,” Mary Lou Williams (1930)

When a record producer asked for an impromptu solo piano performance, 20-year-old Mary Lou Williams created an original three-minute collage of stride, ragtime, blues and pop styles that summarized the art of jazz piano to that time while pointing to the future of that genre and her own career in it. At the time, she was a pianist, composer and arranger for Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy, one of the great jazz bands of the Midwest. She later said that thoughts about the nightlife of Kansas City had driven this composition.

4.  Sounds of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (1935)

In 1935, on their expedition to document rare North American birds, Arthur Allen
and Peter Paul Kellogg of Cornell University recorded a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers in an old-growth Louisiana swamp forest known as the  Singer Tract. These recordings of the birds’ calls and foraging taps are presently the last confirmed aural evidence of what was once the largest woodpecker species in the United States. The last universally accepted sighting of an ivory-bill occurred in 1944.  However, since that time, many scientists believe there have been credible sightings of the species, suggesting the bird might not be extinct. The 1935 recordings have been vital to recent searches and have been used to train searchers on what to listen for and to compare with new recordings made in the field.  They have also been used to develop pattern-recognition software to enlist computers to analyze new field recordings to identify similar sounds.

5.  “Gang Busters,” radio program broadcast (1935-1957)

The radio crime drama series “Gang Busters” was the creation of Phillips H. Lord, producer of the successful “Seth Parker” series. Capitalizing on the public’s fascination with gangsters, Lord based his new show on true crime stories, going so far as to obtain the cooperation of the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. “G-men,” as the series was known initially, premiered in mid-1935, but the FBI’s enthusiasm waned quickly and its cooperation diminished. Revised as “Gang Busters,” the show remained on the air until the late 1950s. The program’s spectacular opening, which included sirens, police whistles, gunshots and tires screeching, inspired the slang expression, “come on like gangbusters!”  

6.  “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Andrews Sisters (1938)

This adapted English-language version of a popular song from a Yiddish musical by Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda brought the Andrews Sisters to national attention and made them famous.  In the adapted version by Sammy Cahn, the only Yiddish retained was the song title (translation: To me, you are beautiful), a phrase which was repeated throughout the song.  Vic Schoen, the sisters’ bandleader and arranger, turned the new song into a swing sensation that showcased the girls’ close harmony singing and smooth vocal syncopations.  

7.  “Que é Que a Bahiana Tem?,” Carmen Miranda (1939)

This recording, with its lively exchange between singer and dancer Carmen Miranda and the band, embodies the merriment of Brazilian Carnival songs. “Que é Que a Bahiana Tem?” (“What does the Bahian girl have?”) was an enormously successful recording in Brazil that celebrated Bahia culture at its roots and solidified samba's hold on Brazilian popular music. The recording helped to introduce both the samba rhythm and Carmen Miranda to American audiences. It was also the first recording of a song by Dorival Caymmi, who went on to become a major composer and performer.

8.  NBC Radio coverage of Marian Anderson's recital at the Lincoln Memorial (April 9, 1939)

By 1939, Marian Anderson had been hailed as the greatest contralto of her generation, yet she was refused the use of Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. because she was an African-American. The ensuing controversy climaxed with her historic recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. There she sang to an audience of over 75,000 people, with a national radio audience of millions more. Though brief newsreel excerpts of her brilliant performance have become familiar and even iconic since that time, the contemporary impact of this live, continuous radio coverage cannot be underestimated, and it is now our most complete documentation of this key event in the struggle for civil rights.

9.  “Tom Dooley,” Frank Profitt  (1940)

Frank Profitt (1913-1965) first sang the murder ballad “Tom Dula” for Frank and Anne Warner in 1938 in Beech Mountain, North Carolina. Proffitt recorded a portion of it for the Warners two years later, accompanying himself on a banjo of his own making. Although Profitt’s performance would not be commercially released until many years later, it provided the basis for Frank Warner’s national performances of the song as a singing folklorist and for the arrangement of the song, now known as “Tom Dooley,”  that appeared in John and Alan Lomax’s “Folk Song USA” songbook in 1948.

10.  “Uncle Sam Blues,” Oran “Hot Lips” Page, accompanied by Eddie Condon’s Jazz Band. V-Disc (1944)

During the 1940s, the United States was in the record business. The V-Disc label was created to boost morale by providing recordings of familiar American artists to service camps overseas as well as on the home front. The V-Disc program took on added significance when, owing to a dispute between the record labels and the musicians’ union over royalties, union musicians were forbidden to make commercial recordings. With the understanding that V-Discs would not be sold in the domestic market, the union permitted musicians to contribute their services for free so that some V-Disc releases could include fresh, new performances. Trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page had played with the Bennie Moten Orchestra in Kansas City and was a featured performer with Artie Shaw during 1941-42. Page’s V-Disc recording of the “Uncle Sam Blues,” an ode to military conscription, must have resonated on both the war and home fronts.

11.  The Mary Margaret McBride Program, Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Margaret McBride, (January 25, 1943)

Zora Neale Hurston’s appearance on the Mary Margaret McBride program is a unique audio document of this vital African-American writer whose legacy continues to grow.  It is also a fine example of McBride’s widely heard and highly influential afternoon radio program at the peak of the host’s fame.  As a talk-show host, McBride pioneered the unscripted radio interview.  While her interview of Hurston sounds casual and folksy, it is a very informative and focused discussion of Hurston’s recent writings, her early life and education, and her ethnographic field work in Haiti and Jamaica.  It is filled with humorous stories and interesting observations.

12.  “Sinews of Peace” (Iron Curtain) Speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill (March 5, 1946)

Lamenting the deepening shadow of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe and fearing Soviet-directed, fifth-column activities in the West, Winston Churchill delivered this opening salvo of the Cold War at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.  The speech heralds an increasingly widespread feeling in the West that a tougher stance was needed toward Russia, a departure following the positive image that the country enjoyed as a wartime ally in World War II. Churchill famously pronounced that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

13.  “The Churkendoose,” Ray Bolger (1947)

The Churkendoose is a children’s tale of tolerance, compassion and diversity, written by Ben Ross Berenberg for his daughter. The recording features the voice of Ray Bolger, music composed by Alec Wilder, and a supporting cast of farm animals. The Churkendoose, a creature who is part chicken, turkey, duck and goose, didn’t fit in at the farm. Rejected and ridiculed, he became a hero by saving the other animals from the fox.  Ultimately, the animals embrace the Churkendoose with genuine warmth and learn a valuable lesson about acceptance.  

14.  “Boogie Chillen,”  John Lee Hooker (1948)  

This first hit for the largely self-taught John Lee Hooker showcases his take on the Delta blues.  Hooker was born in Coahoma County, Mississippi, spent his early years in Memphis and eventually moved to Detroit.   The R&B label Modern released the infectiously rhythmic track after Hooker’s manager presented them with a demo.  While the song’s instrumentation is simple, featuring only vocal, guitar and the tapping of Hooker’s foot, the driving rhythm and confessional lyrics have guaranteed its place as an influential and enduring blues classic.

15.  “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Dylan Thomas (1952)

Part nostalgic childhood remembrance and part poetic incantation, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” was issued with five of Dylan Thomas’ poems on Caedmon Records’ first release.  According to the label’s co-founder Barbara Holdridge, Thomas arrived in the studio with insufficient material to fill an entire LP, but he remembered writing a Christmas story for Harper’s Bazaar. Holdridge and her business partner, Marianne Roney, were able to identify the piece as “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and obtained a copy from the magazine.  It became one of Caedmon’s most successful releases and has been credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States.  “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice,” Holdridge said of Thomas’ reading, “We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.”

16.  “A Festival of Lessons and Carols as Sung on Christmas Eve in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge,” King’s College Choir; Boris Ord, director (1954)

The annual Festival of Lessons and Carols by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, was introduced in 1918 to bring a new, imaginative approach to worship. The British Broadcasting Corporation began broadcasting the festival in 1928 and included it in BBC’s overseas shortwave schedule starting in the early 1930s.  Organist and choirmaster Boris Ord, who conducted the service most years between 1929 and 1957, is highly respected for the standards of musical excellence that he elicited from the choir. This 1954 Argo recording, published in the U.S. by Westminster Records, provided most Americans with their first opportunity to experience this beloved Christmas tradition, which has since become a seasonal mainstay in many American churches.

17.  “West Side Story,” original-cast recording (1957)

While there are over 40 recordings of the score to the Broadway show “West Side Story” in various languages and styles, the original-cast recording is in many ways unequaled. The orchestra was increased to 37 for the recording, but the performances of this rich score are visceral and passionate. Bernstein’s music—with its Latin, jazz, rock and classical influences—was arguably the most demanding score heard on Broadway up to that point. Boasting Stephen Sondheim’s first lyrics for a Broadway musical, the songs range from the passionate love song “Tonight,” through the social satire of “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” to the anthem hoping for a better world, “Somewhere.”

18.  “Tom Dooley,” The Kingston Trio (1958)

The Kingston Trio recorded their version of “Tom Dooley” on their debut album for Capitol Records in early 1958. The song was already part of their regular set list and was also in the repertoire of other folk revivalists such as the Tarriers and the Gateway Trio. In spite of Dave Guard’s distinctive and dramatic opening narration, the song attracted little attention on its own until a Salt Lake City radio station began playing it heavily, prompting Capitol Records to place an 1866 murder ballad on a 45rpm record for the teenage market.  This sparked a modern-folk revival, the influence of which would be felt throughout American popular music.

19.  “Rumble,” Link Wray (1958)

Asked for a tune that kids could dance “The Stroll” to, Link Wray came up with this powerfully menacing guitar instrumental on the spot, and the crowd went wild, demanding encores. When he couldn’t recreate the distorted sound of his live version in a studio, Wray poked holes in his amp speakers, cranked up the tremolo, and was then able to capture what he wanted in three takes -- for a cost of $57. Originally titled “Oddball,” it was renamed after the gang fights in “West Side Story” by a record producer’s daughter. Wray’s primal guitar influenced a generation of rockers including Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, the Kinks, Jimmy Page and Neil Young.  Bob Dylan called “Rumble” the “greatest instrumental ever.”  Pete Townshend said, “... if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.”

20.  “The Play of Daniel: A Twelfth-Century Drama,” New York Pro Musica under the direction of Noah Greenberg (1958)

Determined to change contemporary attitudes towards early music, Noah Greenberg founded New York Pro Musica, a performing ensemble of singers and instrumentalists in 1952, and found great success with performances of medieval, Renaissance and baroque music. Pro Musica introduced audiences to relatively neglected genres of music and influenced many early-music ensembles. His 1958 recording of “The Play of Daniel,” a 12th century liturgical drama, exemplifies the best of his work.  It is a joyful approach to the repertoire, early use of authentic instruments, and outstanding performances by the musicians under his direction.

21. “At Last!,” Etta James (1961)

Etta James’ recording of “At Last” is widely acknowledged as a “crossover” masterpiece. The song was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 Glenn Miller film, “Orchestra Wives.”  It became the title track on the first album that James recorded for Leonard and Phil Chess in 1961.  In the producers’ attempt to widen Jones’ audience and sales, the album features many jazz and pop standards in addition to blues, which had been the focus of James’ work until that time.  Her sultry, blues-inflected approach to “At Last” --  set in a brilliant strings and rhythm section arrangement by Riley Hampton --  transcends genre, like all great crossover interpretations.

22.  “Rank Stranger,” Stanley Brothers (1960)

The Stanley Brothers, one of the premier bands of the formative days of bluegrass, included sacred songs as a featured part of their performances. Their recording of “Rank Stranger,” written by famed gospel songwriter Albert E. Brumley Sr. and sung with reverence and simplicity in the traditional mountain style, shows why the Stanley Brothers continue to influence performers today.  Carter Stanley’s masterful handling of the verses and his brother Ralph’s soaring tenor refrain produce a distinctive duet. The spare accompaniment of unamplified guitar and mandolin and the emotional call-and-response style vocals heighten the emotional anguish of the lyric.

23.  “2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,” Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961)

The secret to living 2000 years? “Never touch fried foods!” In their party routine first performed for friends, Mel Brooks played a 2000-year-old man, while Carl Reiner, as the straight man, interviewed him. After much convincing, the two writers for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” recorded their ad-libbed dialogue for a 1961 album. Interview subjects ranged from marriage (“I was married over 200 times!”) and children (“I have over 1500 children and not one of them ever comes to visit!”) to transportation (“What was the means of transportation? Fear.”).

24.  “The Who Sings My Generation,” The Who (1966)

On their first album, The Who, assisted by The Kinks’ producer Shel Talmy, laid down a set of tracks that would include both enduring classics and mainstays of their later concert performances.  Pete Townshend penned the rebellious title track, “My Generation,” which features John Entwistle playing one of the earliest bass leads in rock. The song is also known for Townshend’s proto-punk, two-chord guitar riff with distortion and feedback. The album was billed as “maximum R&B” and it included Bo Diddley and James Brown covers.  However, it primarily marked Pete Townshend’s assumption of main songwriting duties for the band. Keith Moon, the band’s legendary drummer, is featured on “The Ox,” a song they would continue to play live throughout their career.

25.  “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones (1980)

George Jones has said that he initially thought “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was too sad to be very popular, but, at one of the lowest points of his career and personal life, he made it one of country music’s defining and most enduring songs. Billy Sherrill’s restrained production highlighted the plaintive yet highly nuanced vocals that were the hallmark of Jones’ mature style, but which stretched back to his days singing for tips in the streets of his hometown, Beaumont, Texas, in the 1940s.

2008 National Recording Registry (Listing in Chronological Order)

1. “No News, or What Killed the Dog,” Nat M. Wills (1908)
2. Acoustic Recordings for Victor Records, Jascha Heifetz (1917-1924)
3. “Night Life,” Mary Lou Williams (1930)
4. Sounds of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (1935)
5. “Gang Busters” (1935-1957)
6. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Andrews Sisters (1938)
7. “Que é Que a Bahiana Tem?” Carmen Miranda (1939)
8. NBC Radio coverage of Marian Anderson's recital at the Lincoln Memorial (April 9, 1939)
9. “Tom Dooley,” Frank Proffitt (1940)
10. “Uncle Sam Blues,” Oran “Hot Lips” Page, accompanied by Eddie Condon’s Jazz Band. V-Disc (1944)
11. The Mary Margaret McBride Program, Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Margaret McBride, (January 25, 1943)
12. “Sinews of Peace” (Iron Curtain) Speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill (March 5, 1946)
13. “The Churkendoose,” Ray Bolger (1947)
14. “Boogie Chillen,” John Lee Hooker (1948)
15. “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Dylan Thomas (1952)
16. “A Festival of Lessons and Carols as Sung on Christmas Eve in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge,” King’s College Choir; Boris Ord, director (1954)
17.“West Side Story,” original cast recording (1957)
18.“Tom Dooley,” the Kingston Trio (1958)
19. “Rumble,” Link Wray (1958)
20. “The Play of Daniel:  A Twelfth-Century Drama,” New York Pro Musica under the direction of Noah Greenberg (1958)
21. “At Last!,” Etta James (1961)
22. “Rank Stranger,” Stanley Brothers (1960)
23. “2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,” Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961)
24. “The Who Sings My Generation,” The Who (1966)
25. “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones (1980)