All That Jazz … and Humor, Opera, Dance Music …

Today the Library of Congress, in conjunction with Sony Music Entertainment, launched a website – “the National Jukebox” – that streams 10,000 sound recordings from the historic Victor Records collection.  It’s a fun and fascinating ramble for anyone who loves American music and wants to dig down into the roots of jazz, opera, a vast range of popular music, famous political speeches — even early sound effects.  The collection launched today (which will expand over time) is the soundtrack of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ early lives – music from the dawn of sound recording just after the turn of the 20th Century to the eve of the Great Depression.  The url is www.loc.gov/jukebox/.

All the songs on the National Jukebox can be listened to free of charge, but they cannot be downloaded.  The site is made possible by Sony Music Entertainment, which owns the rights to the historic Victor Records Co. collection, which is closely associated with the early “Victrola” hand-cranked record players now collected by early-music buffs and antique aficionados.  Sony has licensed the collection to the Library for the site.

“This brings online one of the most explosively creative periods in American culture and music,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who was joined at today’s launch at the Library by singer, actor and pianist Harry Connick, Jr. and Richard Story of Sony, the corporation’s president of its Commercial Music Group.

Just what might you find on the National Jukebox?

How about Fanny Brice – the original “Funny Girl” – singing the original “My Man?”

How about Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech on “The Farmer and the Businessman?

There’s the novelty song in which two seemingly normal singers suddenly begin impersonating a couple of lovestruck, yowling cats.

And there is a huge trove of opera music sung by voices still famous today – Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, Geraldine Farrar.  Some of the arias they sing were freshly penned by the then-contemporary Giaccomo Puccini, composer of “Madame Butterfly,” “Gianni Schicchi” “Tosca” and “La Boheme.”

The site is of special interest to opera lovers (or students of the form) because it has an interactive “Victrola Book of the Opera” (sometime called the Victor Book of the Opera) that lets you follow the stories of the great operas and then click on the favorite arias, bringing up selections from the Victor collections.

Singer Connick, who performed Eubie Blake’s song “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” one of the numbers in the Jukebox (a tune that first emerged from another song called “Bandana Days”), said he was honored to attend and looking forward to digging around in the Jukebox for more of the music he’s enjoyed, and helped to make famous.  “This is a really big deal,” he said.

4 Comments

  1. edward day
    May 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    What a remarkable collection!!! Once again, the Library has done itself proud. It was an absolute treat to hear some of the songs and artists who were still popular when I was growing up.
    May this be the start of an even larger and more inclusive collection.
    Choosing 1925 as a cut-off date was just right. After that we see the transition to a totally different type of music and humor. This provides an insight into the mind-set of a very diffewrent era from the one that followed.
    Again: Congratulations.

  2. Paula
    May 17, 2011 at 4:34 am

    Can you explain why this recordings (1900-1919) are not in Public Domain? I thought works from 1923 backwards were in Public Domain in USA.
    Thanks

  3. John Sayers
    May 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Paula, it’s a little complicated. But, in brief, sound recordings weren’t covered under Federal copyright law until 1976, but by various state laws. Federal law will supercede these previous laws to place these older recordings into the public domain, but not until 2067. Therefore, the Library needs a license from the label owner to share these recordings. Fortunately, Sony was generous enough to grant us this license, and other rightsholders will be joining them soon.

  4. Nicolas Becker
    October 6, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Hey, really nice blog

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