From rare audio interviews of former slaves to recordings by Donna Summer and the Grateful Dead, 25 sounds that shaped the American cultural landscape are being inducted into the National Recording Registry.
Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love” is joining the Grateful Dead’s famous 1977 Barton Hall concert as sounds of cultural significance, among 25 additions that are being announced Wednesday by the Library of Congress as part of its registry.
The world’s largest library has chosen a diverse array of songs and sounds from history to retain for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry. Among the new choices this year are Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colours,” Prince’s “Purple Rain” and more.
Some selections are truly historic and rarely heard. They include the only known audio of former American slaves who were interviewed in the 1930s. There’s also a cylinder from a talking doll created by Thomas Edison in 1888 that is the earliest known commercial sound recording. It was considered unplayable until last year, after new digital mapping tools were used to reveal its sound of a woman singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
The library also is saving Leonard Bernstein’s conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio from 1970, which introduced millions of people to jazz through the TV soundtrack.
“America’s sound heritage is an important part of the nation’s history and culture, and this year’s selections reflect the diversity and creativity of the American experience,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington, in announcing his final selections.
Though Summer died last week of cancer, her hit single was selected for the sound registry weeks ago, said Matt Barton, the library’s curator of recorded sound. Summer had many hits, but “I Feel Love” rose to the top because it was a breakthrough that would change club music for years to come, according to the library’s citation.
The registry includes early sounds from hip-hop with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” from 1979 that is credited with launching a genre and inspiring future artists.
Funk will have its place in the sound history collection with Parliament’s “Mothership Connection” from 1975 with George Clinton’s “Ain’t nothin’ but a party, y’all” on the title track.
Blues singer Bo Diddley is being inducted to the sound registry, too, with “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man.”
For Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Diddley’s sound was some of the first beats he learned as a little boy, he told The Associated Press. So he was thrilled that sounds of the Dead were being preserved at the same time.
Hart had a hand in helping create the sound registry, pushing for a law in Congress in 2000. He said he didn’t lobby for his own music to be included this year, though he was letting other “lads” in the band know about the honour.
Their music will be represented with the 1977 Barton Hall concert at Cornell University, which has been cited as one of their best performances ever. The recording was hailed for its sound quality.
“The Grateful Dead just touched a nerve, and it’s still relevant in many ways today,” Hart told the AP. “It’s American-based music, but the combination of it, I guess, was the chemical that ignited, the energy that ignited the spirit of the people for many generations.”
One key choice they made was to allow fans to record their concerts live, rather than hiring guards to take away recorders. That helped build an army of “Dead heads,” Hart said, because they could all take the experience they had paid for with them. And every concert was always different.
Hart said he is impressed with his fellow inductees in the library collection.
“These are not just songs,” he said. “These are talking books — thousands of years of evolutions of cultures are in this music. It represents something even greater, the hopes, the dreams … the joy, everything it takes to make up a people are embedded in this music.”