The following is a guest post by David Gibson and David Sager of the Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress.
Since its initial launch in 2011, the National Jukebox has provided researchers the ability to stream thousands of acoustic sound recordings from the very earliest days of the commercial record industry. As the National Jukebox has grown and developed over the last decade, the Recorded Sound section of the Library of Congress’ National Audio-Visual Conservation Center continues to find new ways to engage the public through unprecedented access to these early 20th century recordings from the library of Sony Music Entertainment.
On January 1, 2022, the Music Modernization Act took effect, granting public domain status to all sound recordings published prior to 1923 under the Classics Protection and Access Act. With recordings spanning the years 1900-1925, a large majority of the content available on the National Jukebox is now in the public domain. The Recorded Sound section took advantage of this groundbreaking legislation by kicking off an initiative to enable the public to download select recordings from the National Jukebox.
Staff of the Recorded Sound section identified 5,868 sides for download, all from the Victor Talking Machine Company. The recordings selected for this initial downloadable set were published between 1900 and 1922, recorded in the United States and come from collections held by the Library of Congress. As time goes on, we hope to work closely with our external partners and contributors to the National Jukebox project to allow for even more downloadable content.
As each year passes and more recordings enter the public domain, the Recorded Sound section is thrilled to be able to add more downloadable content to our online collections. Another feature we hope to include is a facet on downloadable content to allow researchers quick access to the full set of recordings that are available for download. For now, researchers can access the full set here.
The following annotated list of downloadable recordings represents some of the many highlights from the 5,868 selected titles on the National Jukebox:
Medley Overture: Echoes of 1900
The Lancers, an already old-fashioned square dance in 1900, was still popular with the middle-aged and older crowd. Here we have a lancers medley of tunes popularized in 1900. Astute eyes will notice that the label for this recording shows a variant on the title. This was a typical thing happening during the early days of the recording industry.
All Going Out and Nothing Coming In
Bert Williams (1874-1922) and his partner George Walker (ca 1872-1911), were the most prominent and successful black entertainers during the early 1900s. Williams was born in Nassau, Bahamas, and as a youth, came to America with his parents, settling in Riverside, California. Where he met George Walker, with whom he wrote and starred in a series of enormously successful Broadway musical comedies. Williams later was a star performer in the Ziegfeld Follies. “All Going Out,” features Williams’ sly nuances and swinging delivery. For more on this recording, please see https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2020/02/all-going-out-and-nothing-coming-in/
The Washington Post March
John Philip Sousa began a long asso0ciation with the Victor Talking Machine Company in October 1900 and continued until 1931. Prior to that, his musicians recorded for the Berliner company, beginning in August 1897. It is notable that for such a long recording career, Sousa himself rarely made an appearance in the recording studio. He mostly left the recording work to others. Here, Arthur Pryor, Sousa’s star trombone soloist and assistance conductor, leads the band through this jaunty version of this classic Sousa march, edited down to fit on a seven-inch master. During Victor’s early years, they would record the same selection for issue on 7, 10, and 12-inch discs.
I Want to Go to Morrow
Dan W. Quinn
Dan W. Quinn (ca. 1859–1938) was a tenor and a comedian most famous for his interpretations of comic Irish songs. Quinn, a prolific recording artist, performed for many of the early record companies, including Edison, Columbia, and Zonophone. His 1900 recording of “Strike Up the Band” for Eldridge R. Johnson, became one of the first Victor records issued. The hilarious “I Want to Go to Morrow” twists the mind as well as the tongue.
Royal Italian Marine Band, w/ Ferruccio Giannini
The Royal Italian Marine Band get top billing on this title. However, vocalist Ferrucio Giannini is the star on this rousing version of this familiar Neapolitan song. This sort of mix-up in billing happened frequently. It is ironic here, since Giannini recorded over 100 titles between 1894 and 1908, while the Royal Italian Marine Band recorded 15 instrumental titles, all in 1903.
Down Deep Within the Cellar
Frank C. Stanley
Frank C. Stanley (1868–1910), a powerful bass-baritone, who specialized in sacred repertoire. His career on record began in 1891 as a banjoist, under his real name, William Stanley Grinsted. He adopted his pseudonym in order to his career, at a time when making phonograph records was considered low-class. Stanley was also adept at comedy. “Down Deep Within the Cellar” was a perfect choice for his magnificent voice and sly wit.
A Matrimonial Chat
An extraordinarily versatile performer, Len Spencer (1867–1914) sang ragtime songs, sentimental ballads, recitations of presidential speeches, and did New York Bowery dialect comedy sketches.
Here he is in the guise of a vaudeville comic, onstage, doing a remarkably well-honed, fast talking sketch.
Yes, this is the very same “Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main,” a rousing anthem composed in 1880, and performed here by Victor’s Haydn (pronounced “Hay-den”) Quartet. It includes a rarely-heard opening strain. Note the sudden cessation of the orchestral accompaniment, effectively highlighting the a capella voices.
The Widow Dooley
Ada Jones & Len Spencer
Ada Jones (1873–1922) a British subject, began her recording career during the mid-1890s, but did not begin recording prolifically until 1905. By 1906, she was “probably the most popular phonograph singer in the world,” according to historian Jim Walsh. In addition to a fine and flexible voice, she specialized dialect comedy of all sorts, often portraying a lower-class New York City Bowery maiden in the company of her boyfriend, depicted by Len Spencer. Here, she is in the guise of an Irish widow, exchanging barbs with her suitor, portrayed by Spencer. Take note of her spiffy rendition of an Irish chanty.
“Madame Butterfly”: Un Bel Di, Vedremo
Geraldine Farrar (1882–1967), a great American operatic soprano, made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1906 as Cio Cio San in “Madama Butterfly.” Her voice had a highly individual timbre, which combined with her beauty, beguiled many who saw her on the stage. Like Enrico Caruso, she possessed a voice that recorded well by the acoustical process. Here she sings the famous aria as she did on the night of her debut.
“Smiler Rag” was originally published as “The Smiler (Joplin – Rag),” and referred not to Scott Joplin, but rather Joplin, Missouri, hometown of its composer, Percy Wenrich (1887-1952), the composer of popular tunes, including all-time great “Moonlight Bay.” Discarding the usual mechanical approach to instrumental ragtime, conductor Walter B. Rogers, led the Victor ensemble in a relaxed and engaging performance.
All That I Ask
Reed Miller (1880–1923) specialized in oratorio singing and brought his fine tenor to many different recording companies between 1904 and 1921. His tenure at Victor Records was from 1910 to 1914, when he left for Columbia Records. Fans of traditional jazz may recognize, “All that I Ask,” as a ballad sung, quite faithfully, by Jelly Roll Morton, for his storied sessions with Alan Lomax.
That Slippery Slide Trombone
The distinctive sound of Billy Murray, who sang lead in the quartet, permeates this engaging and amusing performance. The identity of the trombonist is unknown. However, the glissandos are magnificent.
January 17, 1913
The fabulous and storied tenor, Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), had been recording for about a decade when he put Tchaikovsky’s “Pimpinella” on wax. From the beginning of his recording career, Caruso demonstrated an instinctive knack for recording via the microphone-less acoustical method. Here, he comfortably glides and hurdles over the song’s vertical terrain, maintaining poise throughout.
Castle’s Lame Duck
Europe’s Society Orchestra
James Reese Europe (1880–1919) led the first African American instrumental ensemble featured on Victor records. He was perhaps the first African American musician to become popular with a nationwide audience and was a major influence as a trailblazer for rights for Black performers. He was also the musical director for the fabulously successful dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. The “Lame Duck” was a syncopated waltz invented by Vernon and Irene Castle, with original music composed by maestro Europe. One may find other Victor recordings by Europe’s Society Orchestra at https://www.loc.gov/collections/national-jukebox/?q=Europe%27s+Society+Orchestra .
Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra
Composed by Hugo Frey, “Money Blues” is a multi-themed work in fox trot time, from the earliest period of that particular dance. Violinist Joseph C. Smith (1883–1965) led his dance orchestra at New York’s Plaza Hotel, and began recording for Victor 1916. “Money Blues” offers us a rare peep into American dance music during a time when dance styles were changing quickly. The performance here, though a bit stiff-legged, has a rollicking feel, full of fun.
Irish Jigs Medley
Tom Ennis (1888-1931) was an Irish-America Uilleann piper, who recorded about 14 published titles, between 1917 and 1923, for a variety of labels. He returned to the Victor studio in 1928 to record six titles, only four of which appear to survive. In the days of acoustical recording, many instruments did not project sufficiently to register via the metal recording horn; the pipes not among them.
After You’ve Gone
Cabaret star, Marion Harris (ca. 1896-1944) sang popular songs and Tin Pan Alley blues. A native of Kentucky, Harris sang with a trace of a warm southern accent. In addition to cabaret work, she also worked in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in some films. Hers was the first recording of the all-time hit “After You’ve Gone,” composed by the African American team of composer Turner Layton and lyricist Henry Creamer. Here, Harris demonstrates – in contrast to the formal delivery of the day – a relaxed, musically inviting style.
That Tumble-Down Shack in Athlone
The Irish-American tenor John McCormack (1884–1945) was renowned for his renditions of sentimental Irish-themed songs. He also possessed a fine operatic voice and worked steadily on the opera stage during the early part of his career. McCormack’s voice was very pure, and light, and at the same time, powerful. McCormack’s long career as a recording artist extended from 1904 to 1942. He began his association with the Victor Company in 1910. Alma Sanders, a popular songwriter of both theater and freestanding pop songs composed “That Tumble-Down Shack in Athlone.”
What-cha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Jazz?
When Prohibition was still new, it was likely a question on the public’s mind, “What next will be forbidden?” Jazz was also new and considered licentious by the staid middle-agers. The wry-voiced musical comedy star, Esther Walker (1894-1943) asks the musical question.
I’m Just Wild About Harry
Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra
We close this first selection of public domain recordings with one of the several hit songs from “Shuffle Along,” the first all-Black show to hit Broadway in over a decade. “Shuffle Along,” featured a wonderful score by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” made a surprise reemergence, a bigger hit than before, as the campaign song for Harry S. Truman’s 1948 run for the Presidency. This rollicking version, which features a virtuosic saxophone chorus by Ross Gorman, is by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, at the time, the most famous dance band in the world.
Don’t hesitate to contact Ask a Librarian about the Jukebox or any other items in our collections. Before you plan to come in and view any collection items, please get in touch with our reference staff in the Recorded Sound Research Room.