Ten Years of Touchstones

The cover of "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

"A Charlie Brown Christmas," the record album

One of the sad facts about the commercialization of the holiday season – for me, anyway — is that many Christmas carols I related to as a child have become so much sonic wallpaper.

On a positive note, though, my inner ear has anointed some tunes as “ex officio” holiday music – the entire Beatles album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” for example, because my brother brought it home during holiday break from college the year it came out.  Similar status has been achieved by those wonderful jazz piano riffs by the Vince Guaraldi Trio – the ones that backed the Charlie Brown TV specials.

So I’m pleased that the soundtrack album to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the trio is among this year’s 10th-anniversary additions to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Considering that the registry is chosen, each year, based on nominations, apparently Guaraldi and the Peanuts gang have leaked into other people’s collective subconscious as well.

This year’s list of 25 recordings deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant and therefore worthy of preservation range from the rare or singular to touchstones that form the soundtrack to people’s lives. Next year’s list is now being nominated – if you have suggestions, you can make them here.

You’ve got everything from the Thomas Edison company’s 1888 attempt to put a voice recording inside a doll (it didn’t work out very well — two other firms succeeded at this before the famous “Chatty Cathy” of the 1960s) and the Hawaiian slack-key guitar music of Gabby Pahinui (said to have influenced guitarists Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke and John Fahey) to the late Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” an anthem from the Disco era, and “Purple Rain” by Prince and the Revolution.

You’ve got interviews with U.S. citizens who were freed from slavery; a live performance by the Grateful Dead; Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”; two signature tunes by the great Bo Diddley; and the New York Philharmonic conducting debut of one of the most famous classical-music conductors of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein.

The 2012 list:

1.    Edison Talking Doll cylinder (1888)

2.    “Come Down Ma Evenin’ Star,” Lillian Russell (1912)

3.    “Ten Cents a Dance,” Ruth Etting (1930)

4.    “Voices from the Days of Slavery,” Various speakers (1932-1941 interviews; 2002 compilation)

5.    “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” Patsy Montana (1935)

6.    “Fascinating Rhythm,” Sol Hoopii and his Novelty Five (1938)

7.    “Artistry in Rhythm,” Stan Kenton & and his Orchestra (1943)

8.    Debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (Nov. 14, 1943)

9.    International Sweethearts of Rhythm: Hottest Women’s Band of the 1940s (1944-1946)

10.                  “The Indians for Indians Hour” (March 25, 1947)

11.                  “Hula Medley,” Gabby Pahinui (1947)

12.                  “I Can Hear It Now,” Fred W. Friendly and Edward R. Murrow (1948)

13.                  “Let’s Go Out to the Programs,” The Dixie Hummingbirds (1953)

14.                  “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1954, 1958)

15.                  “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man,” Bo Diddley (1955)

16.                  “Green Onions,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s (1962)

17.                  “Forever Changes,” Love (1967)

18.                  “The Continental Harmony: Music of William Billings,” Gregg Smith Singers (1969)

19.                  “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Vince Guaraldi Trio (1970)

20.                  “Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton (1971)

21.                  “Mothership Connection,” Parliament (1975)

22.                  Barton Hall concert by the Grateful Dead (May 8, 1977)

23.                  “I Feel Love,” Donna Summer (1977)

24.                  “Rapper’s Delight,” Sugarhill Gang (1979)

25.                  “Purple Rain,” Prince and the Revolution (1984)


  1. Terry
    May 24, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Voices from the Days of Slavery

    From the Internet articles and quoted by newspaper all over America, “All known recordings of former slaves in the American Folklife Center are included in this presentation. Some are being made publicly available for the first time and several others already available now include complete transcriptions.” Yea Right. And that makes this bull true and legitimate??

    Well well, lets see. A slave living in 1975 would have to be 110 years old at a minimum, and would have to be a slave on the day he/she was born. I believe the chances of that happening are extremely remote. And no one alive will remember the day they were born.

    The leftist, racist blacks, and history revisionists never cease to spread their false propaganda. They will stop at nothing, including using the Library of Congress to spread their falsehoods. At least the perpetrators of these lies could make the story believable and chose a more believable date for the recordings. But then that would disapprove their story too. Audio recordings were not possible to the extent claimed in this article in 1932.

    No where on the Internet sites quoted here is the actual recording. Only a bunch of words denouncing slavery, describing how terrible the slaves were treated. Some modern recordings are available. They are so clear that Dolby Stereo would be envious. But they do contain a consistent ping in the sound to make them sound old. HA HA. But in one supposedly female slave’s words, she claimed that ALL her family was together, and they were treated very good. Her words are an indictment that discredits the racist’s claims that families were split up and beaten everyday.

    These words were written within the last ten years. That’s about the age of the Internet, and about the time these words were written. Guaranteed these words on the Internet were NOT lifted from some fake recording that claims to be from 1938 – 1975. I contend that these words and pictures are nothing more than pictures of poor black families who lived just like many of their white counterparts – poor and living on a farm.

  2. Jennifer Gavin
    May 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    The slave narrative recordings that will be preserved were largely collected as part of a Federal Writers’ Project initiative that took place 1936-38. The people interviewed were elderly at that time. There were sound recorders that used discs then – they were supplanted by magnetic tape technology following World War II.

    The Library of Congress Manuscript Division holds more than 2,300 additional narratives that were collected in writing rather than via sound recording. We have also made them available online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html. In addition to these resources at the Library of Congress, another 1,200 dictated narratives are in other repositories around the country — many of those were published in the late 1970s in the 22-volume supplements to Greenwood Press’s “The American Slave” series.

    Some of the ex-slave recordings were made by collectors such as John Lomax (1867-1948) and Robert Sonkin (1910-1980). You can hear more of their recordings from the 1930s in the “Southern Mosaic” and the “Voices from the Dust Bowl” online presentations at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/lohome.html and http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tshome.html .

    You can see a photo of Robert Sonkin using a disc recording machine in this image:

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