Library of Congress Unveils National Jukebox

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, May 11, 2011  |  Updated 8:56 AM EDT
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The Library of Congress is placing more than 10,000 recordings of music, speeches and comedy from before 1925 into an online archive.

Tom Sherwood

The Library of Congress is placing more than 10,000 recordings of music, speeches and comedy from before 1925 into an online archive.

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It was pretty cool watching Harry Connick Jr. play the piano Tuesday -- even cooler because it was a short video of him playing as a 9-year-old in New Orleans in 1977. And sitting next to him was the late, great Eubie Blake.

Blake, then in his 90s, wrote “Just Wild about Harry” in 1922.

The short video was played Tuesday at the Library of Congress just before Connick walked into the room and played the same song on a 9-foot Steinway that have been carried up a flight of stairs just for this occasion.

It was a dramatic example of music in America and the perfect backdrop for a new undertaking by the Library of Congress in cooperation with Sony Music.

The Library announced that it’s making available online more than 10,300 early recordings of music, speeches and poetry dating from 1925 to the earliest days of recordings in the late 1800s.  The Library is calling it “the National Jukebox.”

“This is a treasure trove,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington.

“I’m blown away,” said Connick, who was getting his first glimpse of the material being made available.

The National Jukebox covers a wide range of music -- including jazz, opera, vaudeville and blues -- and other forms of recordings.

At the news conference Tuesday, the Library’s Gene Deana played the first known recording of opera great Caruso from 1904, believed to be the first recording artist to sell 1 million records.

The computer demonstration included a digital reproduction of a 1909 opera guidebook that exhaustively details all the major operas. But now you can digitally turn the pages, see an opera description and then click on icons to hear historic versions of the work.

Releasing the material will cure the nation’s “cultural amnesia” about how early American recorded music influenced the nation and the world, said Pat Loughney, who runs the Library’s music storehouse in Culpeper, Va.

Connick said it best and it’s worth repeating: “I’m blown away.”

Here’s one little footnote.

You’ll be able to access the National Jukebox online and you’ll be able to create your own playbook at the site, but you won’t be able to download the music on your personal computer or other device. 

Now, go explore a musical history, you maybe didn’t know America had.


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