America's Dream Captured in Voice and Song

Elvis, Orson, Bob and Rosa feature in Top 50. This is a Top 50 with a difference. While veterans of countless hit parades such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra feature prominently, so do Franklin D Roosevelt, Orson Welles and Martin Luther King; and the organization behind the list is not a music magazine or a television show, but the Library of Congress. This week, officials from the library announced their first National Recording Registry collection: 50 recordings of moments of cultural, historical or aesthetic significance in the history of the United States. Like all good lists, the choices are certain to stimulate debates over the breakfast tables of the nation. Some of the recordings choose themselves. Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech, made in 1963, has long been part of the national psyche. So too, for an older generation, are the "fireside chats", reassuringly delivered to the nation by Franklin D Roosevelt in the 30s and 40s; and General Dwight D Eisenhower's 1944 D-Day address to the allied nations. Historic moments from the struggle for racial equality are included in the list. A recreation of the former slave Booker T Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech, in which he controversially sought compromise from African Americans, calling on them to accept a temporary lower social status, is there, alongside the Highlander Center Field Recording Collection from the 30s to the 80s. This features such activists as Rosa Parks, who triggered a momentous series of events by refusing to leave the white section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. The pioneering set of Edison exhibition recordings from 1888 is the oldest part of the collection, closely followed by 1890 recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians. Orson Welles' 1938 recording of HG Wells' War of the Worlds, which so realistically evoked a Martian invasion that it sent thousands of Americans running for cover, is also listed, as is the 1937 description of the crash of the airship Hindenburg - an emotional live report by Herbert Morrison in New Jersey. "It's a fire and it's crashing!" said Morrison, his voice cracking as 36 passengers died. "Oh, the humanity!" There is also a nod to the lighter side of life, with Abbott and Costello's first broadcast from 1938, entitled Who's on First. TS Eliot, WH Auden and others who took part in the Harvard Vocarium recording sessions are at number 17 in the list, which is tactfully based on chronology rather than perceived importance. The last entry is from 1982, a record which started to bring hip-hop music into the mainstream: The Message, by Grandmaster Flash. Recordings had to be more than 10 years old to qualify, so today's big noises - be they Eminem, Britney Spears, or George Bush's post-September 11 speech - will have to wait to see if they past the test of time. It is the music featured which is likely to spark the fiercest debate. Many iconic US musicians are included: Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley, George Gershwin and Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Woody Guthrie. But when it comes down to the recordings which have been nominated, was Sinatra's Songs for Young Lovers his best? Is Les Paul and Mary Ford's 1951 How High the Moon really up there with Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit? Should it be Dylan's Freewheelin' album, or blond on blond? As the names were announced, the librarian of Congress James Billington said: "The registry was not intended by Congress to be another 'best of' list." Those chosen had to pass the test of being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". A group of 20 experts, including archivists, musicologists, recording specialists, composers and librarians who make up the National Preservation Board made the final choices. The registry was set up in 2000 by the National Recording Preservation Act. The first radio and stereo recordings are included, as are other recording breakthroughs. Mr Billington said that the public had been canvassed for their views, but the response had been disappointing. Comments and suggestions are being invited on the library's website. New names will be added annually. The list may stimulate an interest in long-forgotten music. Lovey's Trinidad String Band Recordings from 1912 and fiddler Eck Robertson's 1922 recording of Arkansas Traveler have drifted out of the national consciousness, and could well benefit from being noted alongside Miles Davis, Bing Crosby, Scott Joplin, Aretha Franklin's 1967 Respect and Woody Guthrie's 1944 This Land is Your Land. Library of Congress choices 1888-89 Thomas Edison's exhibition recordings 1890 Field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians 1897 First recording of Stars and Stripes Forever 1900-03 Metropolitan Opera 1900s Scott Joplin piano rolls 1906 Booker T Washington's Atlanta Exposition speech 1907 Vesti la giubba, from Pagliacci by Enrico Caruso 1909 Fisk Jubilee Singers' Swing Low, Sweet Chariot 1912 Lovey's Trinidad String Band recordings 1915 Casey at the Bat, recited by DeWolf Hopper 1918 Tiger Rag, Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1922 Arkansas Traveller and Sallie Gooden, Eric Robertson 1923 Down-Hearted Blues, Bessie Smith 1924 Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin 1925-28 Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven 1927 Victor Talking Machine Co, hillbilly music sessions 1930s-40s Harvard Vocarium: Eliot and Auden 1930s-80s Highlander Centre Field recordings 1931-32 Bell Laboratories' experimental stereo 1933-44 Roosevelt's 'fireside chats' 1934-49 Henry Cowell's New Music Recordings series 1937 Hindenburg crash report 1938 Abbott and Costello 1938 War of the Worlds 1938 God Bless America's radio premiere, Kate Smith 1938 The Cradle Will Rock, Marc Blitzstein and cast 1939 John and Ruby Lomax Southern states recording trip 1939 First network broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry 1939 Strange Fruit, Billie Holliday 1940-42 Blanton-Webster Era recordings, Duke Ellington 1940 Bela Bartok and Joseph Szigeti concert 1940 Stravinsky conducts the Rite of Spring 1942 White Christmas, Bing Crosby 1944 This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie 1944 Eisenhower, D-Day radio address 1945 Koko, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis 1947 Blue Moon of Kentucky, Bill Monroe 1951 How High the Moon, Les Paul and Mary Ford 1954-55 Elvis Presley's Sun Records sessions 1955 Frank Sinatra: Songs for Young Lovers 1958 Tito Puente: Dance Mania 1959 Miles Davis and John Coltrane: Kind of Blue 1959 What'd I Say, Ray Charles 1963 Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech 1963 Bob Dylan: Freewheelin' 1967 Aretha Franklin: Respect 1971 Babbitt's Philomel, Bethany Beardslee 1973 Precious Lord, Thomas Dorsey and Marion Williams 1973-1990 WWOZ radio, New Orleans, archive 1982 The Message, Grandmaster Flash
Source: For Elvis CD Collectors Forum / Updated: Aug 11, 2008 
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