United States' greatest hits


Recordings: The Library of Congress has compiled a list of the 50 all-time greatest sounds, ranging from a 19th-century waltz to 1980s rap.

February 10, 2003

The Library of Congress has put together 50 of its all-time great sounds, starting with an 1888 waltz and ending with a 1982 rap from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

The recordings of songs, speeches and radio broadcasts form the beginning of a collection the library is building, called the National Recording Registry, of the most significant recordings in American history.

Following is the list of the recordings, as described by the Library of Congress. (Nominations for future additions can be made and fuller descriptions of the list can be found at www. loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/):

1. Edison Exhibition Recordings: "Around the World on the Phonograph;" "The Pattison Waltz;" "Fifth Regiment March" (1888-1889). The three cylinders represent the birth of commercial sound recording.

2. The Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians (1890). The cylinder recordings, made in Calais, Maine, are the first ethnographic recordings made "in the field" and the first recordings of Native American music.

3. "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1897). Military Band, Berliner Gramophone disc recording. The first recording of John Philip Sousa's most famous march.

4. Lionel Mapleson cylinder recordings of the Metropolitan Opera (1900-1903).

5. Scott Joplin ragtime compositions on piano rolls (early 1900s). Scott Joplin, piano.

6. Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech (1906 re-creation), promoting interracial cooperation.

7. "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci (1907). Enrico Caruso. The tenor was the most popular recording artist of his time.

8. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (1909). Fisk Jubilee Singers. They established the black spiritual in American music.

9. Lovey's Trinidad String Band recordings for Columbia Records (1912). A pre-jazz "hot" style common in the Caribbean then.

10. "Casey at the Bat" (1915). DeWolf Hopper. A recitation of the comic baseball poem, which Hopper reportedly recited over 10,000 times in performance.

11. "Tiger Rag" (1918). Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Their recordings touched off the craze for jazz.

12. "Arkansas Traveler" and "Sallie Gooden" (1922). Eck Robertson, fiddle. He was the first performer to make country music recordings.

13. "Down-Hearted Blues" (1923). Bessie Smith, the "Empress of the Blues."

14. Rhapsody in Blue (1924). George Gershwin, piano; Paul Whiteman Orchestra. The first recording of this classic.

15. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-1928). Jazz's first great soloist.

16. Victor Talking Machine Company sessions in Bristol, Tenn. (1927). Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman and others. The sessions are considered a watershed moment in the history of country music.

17. Harvard Vocarium record series (1930-1940s). T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and others, reciting. The Harvard University Poetry Room produced a series that featured authors reading their own works.

18. Highlander Center Field Recording Collection (1930s-1980s). Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, others. These discs document Zilphia Horton, who introduced "We Will Overcome" to the Southern Labor Movement, and later, to Pete Seeger.

19. Bell Laboratories experimental stereo recordings (1931-1932). Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, conductor. These resulted in the first high-fidelity, stereo recordings.

20. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio "Fireside Chats" (1933-1944). Roosevelt presented his programs directly to the public, redefining the relationship between the president and the American people.

21. New Music Recordings series (1934-1949). Henry Cowell, producer. An effort to promote avant-garde music in the United States, including works by Walter Piston, Otto Luening, Edgar Varese, Henry Cowell and Charles Ives.

22. Description of the crash of the Hindenburg (1937). Herbert Morrison reporting. An emotional broadcast of a disaster witnessed and spontaneously reported.

23. "Who's on First" (1938). Abbott and Costello's first radio broadcast version. From radio's Kate Smith Hour.

24. War of the Worlds (1938). Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater. This radio drama about Martian invaders is one of the best-written works in its genre. Its realistic format caused considerable alarm to many listeners across the United States.

25. "God Bless America" (1938). Kate Smith. Radio broadcast premiere. Original version of Irving Berlin's classic.

26. The Cradle Will Rock (1938). Marc Blitzstein and the original Broadway cast. This musical about labor unions was the first complete recording of a Broadway show.

27. The John and Ruby Lomax Southern States Recording Trip (1939). Performances of ballads, blues, cowboy songs, field hollers, spirituals and work songs considered among the most important in this genre.

28. Grand Ole Opry (1939). First network radio broadcast. Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and others.

29. "Strange Fruit" (1939). Billie Holiday. This searing song brought the topic of lynching to the commercial record-buying public.

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