Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today named 25 recordings as audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The recordings most recently selected for the National Recording Registry bring the number of titles on the registry to 575, representing a small portion of the national library’s vast recorded sound collection of nearly 3 million items.
The latest selections named to the registry, spanning from 1878 to 2008, range from pop, hip-hop and country to Latin, Hawaiian, jazz, blues, gospel, classical and children’s music. In addition to the musical selections, the new class showcases one of the earliest recordings of an American voice by Thomas Edison, as well as sports history, voices of world leaders during World War II, a soap opera’s roots in radio, and even the first podcast to join the registry, with “This American Life” following its success in radio.
Other music gives voice to changes in society and culture. In 1972, Marlo Thomas was dismayed when she could only find old-fashioned books for her young niece, in which little girls dreamed of growing up to marry a prince. So she set out to make a song-filled record for children, in which kids could picture their lives in new ways, regardless of rigid gender roles or boundaries.
“We said, ‘You know what, let’s just change the world one 5-year-old at a time,’” Thomas said.
The result was “Free to Be…You and Me,” which featured songs by Hollywood stars, including the title track by the New Seekers, “William’s Doll” by Alan Alda and Thomas, “When We Grow Up” by Diana Ross and “It’s All Right To Cry” by Rosey Grier, an imposing pro football player. The album went platinum, which led to a No. 1 bestselling book, then an ABC television special and an enduring place in American pop culture.
“We thought we were talking to the children in the ’70s,” Thomas said. “We didn’t realize we were talking to children in 2020.”
Some albums inducted this year into the recording registry demonstrated the power to influence entire genres of music. When Nas released his 1994 hip-hop album “Illmatic,” it was celebrated for its rhythmic originality and complexity, and its technique has been widely copied since.
About the National Recording Registry
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Recording Preservation Board, selects 25 titles each year that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are at least 10 years old. More information on the National Recording Registry can be found at loc.gov/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/about-this-program/. The public may nominate recordings for the Registry here.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
“Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
The 1972 album “Free to Be…You and Me” is remarkable both as a snapshot of social change with regard to gender roles and expectations in the early 1970s and for the wide array of talent it assembled. Marlo Thomas explained in a 2003 interview that the inspiration for the project came from her niece and a desire for children’s educational materials that did not impose rigid and arbitrary gender roles and expectations. Thomas expected modest sales at best, but the album quickly sold hundreds of thousands of copies, ultimately achieving gold, platinum and diamond status. Those sales were likely due in part to Thomas’ own celebrity status but also because the album’s message resonated with a large segment of American society, young and old, male and female. Appearances by talents as varied as Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Dick Cavett and pro football player Rosey Grier (in “It’s All Right to Cry”) further ensured appeal to a wide audience. The album and follow-up book led to an ABC television special, and the project was reprised in the 1988 TV special ”Free to Be…A Family.”
“Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones — “Nas” — released his groundbreaking studio debut in 1994. Critics quickly extoled it for its rhythmic originality and its realistic yet fresh take on life in the Queensbridge projects. Characterized by the masterful use of multi-syllabic and internal rhyme, surprising line breaks and rhythmic complexity, the album’s technique has been widely copied and proven broadly influential. The album featured (along with Nas’ father Olu Dara) the sample-soaked production of a set of deeply talented and experienced producers including Q-Tip, Large Professor, Pete Rock, L.E.S. and DJ Premier. The sound they forged features gritty drums, hazy vinyl samples and snatches of jazz and ‘70s R&B. It has been described as the sound of a kid in Queensbridge ransacking his parents’ record collection. While the album pulls no punches about the danger, struggle and grit of Queensbridge, Nas recalls it as a musically rich environment that produced many significant rappers, and that he “felt proud being from Queensbridge…. [W]e were dressed fly in Ballys and the whole building was like a family.”
National Recording Registry Selections for 2020
- Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)
- “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)
- “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)
- “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)
- Christmas Eve Broadcast–Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)
- “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945
- “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)
- “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)
- Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)
- “Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)
- “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)
- “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)
- “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
- “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)
- “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)
- “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)
- “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)
- “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)
- “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)
- “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)
- “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)
- “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)
- “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)
- “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)
- “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)