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Music Memories: The 2019 National Recording Registry additions

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Collage of a some selected National Recording Registry 2019

In 2000, Congress created the National Recording Preservation Board, an agency of the Library of Congress, to select titles each year for a National Recording Registry. The Registry is a list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" recordings that have "enduring importance to American culture."

The first group of recordings was selected by the Board in 2002. Fifty recordings were added to the Registry in each of its first four years; after that, the annual list was reduced to twenty-five recordings. This year's additions to the Registry were announced in March.

Recordings added to the Registry must be at least ten years old and may be commercially recorded music, spoken-word documents, radio broadcasts, or any other type of sound recordings. Most of the recordings selected each year are commercially recorded music. The exceptions among this year's Registry additions are recordings made of Yiddish songs and stories between 1901-1905; Melville Jacobs's 1930s recordings of Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest; "The Cabin," a 1952 episode of the radio drama Gunsmoke; monologues written and performed by actress Ruth Draper in the mid-1950s; and Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 speech after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of the music that was added to the Registry this year is available for streaming or download at Freegal and Hoopla. Added to the National Recording Registry this year were:

This early composition by W. C. Handy helped to begin the American craze for jazz and blues.

The classic story of "rough and tough" Minnie, a good-hearted woman of ill repute.

Cellists knew the Bach suites before this recording, but thought of them largely as technical exercises; Casals' recording gave them new life as concert music to be performed for an audience.

  • "They Look Like Men of War," Deep River Boys (1941)

Recorded for radio broadcast, but not sold in stores, this hymn had a deep history among African-Americans, dating back to the Civil War, when it was a favorite of black soldiers fighting for the United States.

Valens's fusion of a traditional Mexican song with American rock 'n' roll inspired generations of Latino musicians and introduced a new sound to American audiences.

Frizzell's polished approach to honky-tonk music helped to carry country music beyond Appalachia in the 1950s, and this eerie ghost story was one of his most successful records.

Aided by a cast of the era's finest voice actors (Paul Frees, June Foray, and Jesse White among them), Freberg presents the Revolutionary War era in a series of comic songs and sketches.

  • GO, Dexter Gordon (1962)

Saxophonist Gordon had been absent from the public eye for a decade, battling drug addiction, when this album returned him to the spotlight and proved that he had lost none of his skill or musicality.

Britten selected the soloists himself, and conducted the first recording of his choral masterpiece, which mixes the Latin Requiem text with the World War I poetry of Wilfred Owen. It is still one of the finest recordings available of the piece.

This was Simone's response to the murder of Medger Evers, and to the death of four young girls in a Birmingham church bombing. The profanity limited the song's radio play, but Simone's passionate anger made it a civil rights landmark.

Songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter wanted to create a positive response to the 1967 Detroit riots, and the song they wrote is one of the most joyous, danceable, instantly recognizable records ever created.

  • Hair, original Broadway cast recording (1968)

Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll came to Broadway, and they made Hair a hit. Maybe the show didn't have much of a plot, and not everyone agreed with its politics, but it was impossible to deny the power of the songs.

Before this song, Diamond was a respected songwriter with some mild success as a singer; after this song, he was a star. Fifty years later, it's almost impossible to hear the title phrase without chiming in on the "ba ba baaa" horns that follow.

Mayfield deliberately used his soundtrack to the classic blaxploitation film to undercut the ways in which he feared the movie would glamorize gangs and violence; he didn't want the movie to be "an informercial for drugs."

Reed had been performing traditional Appalachian folk songs, and her own compositions, for nearly 40 years when she recorded this album. Her song "High on a Mountain" has become a country and bluegrass standard.

The cheerful horn interjections, the "ba-dee-ya" refrain, the (at the time) innovative multi-track recording – all of it adds up to a supremely danceable bit of funk. And why is it "the 21st night of September"? Only because that's the date that fit the rhythm and sounded the best.

With a gender-bending falsetto and novel electronic production effects, Sylvester's disco anthem is instantly recognizable as coming from the peak of the disco era, but also anticipates social and musical changes that are still unfolding.

At first glance, Lauper might have seemed like a cartoon, with her eccentric clothing, brightly colored hair, and professional wrestler sidekick. But her songs spanned an emotional range from jubilant feminism to pensive melancholy.

  • Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set (1996)

From 1973 to 1985, kids learned about history, grammar, multiplication, and science in a series of animated music videos that aired between the Saturday morning cartoons. This package of all the original songs gave parents a chance to introduce the songs to their children. We don't have this CD set in our collection, but you can hear all of the songs (and see all of the cartoons!) on the 30th anniversary DVD set.

Released at a time when Jay-Z was facing assault and weapons charges, this was his most personal album to date. The Blueprint returned Jay-Z to the top of the hip-hop world, and helped to establish Kanye West as one of the genre's most important producers.