Up until now the public could only use the Library of Congress’ reading and listening rooms to hear some of America’s earliest recordings. The National Jukebox, an online project the Library announced Tuesday, is going to try to change all that.
“We are putting back on the sonic landscape recordings that haven’t been heard in a generation or two,” said Gene DeAnna, the head of the Library’s Recorded Sound Section.
The initial selections included 10,000 historic recordings from the Victor catalog, recorded between 1901 and 1925. They have been given an electronic update by the University of California, Santa Barbara in a project called “The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Records.” The university is a partner along with Sony Music Entertainment.
The library has three million sound recordings.
The first selections on National Jukebox range from opera, early jazz, popular music and speeches. The voices and players include Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Enrico Caruso, Theodore Roosevelt and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. There’s the Paul Whiteman orchestra playing “Rhapsody in Blue” with George Gershwin on piano. And Miss Fannie Brice of the Ziegfeld Follies singing “My Man.”
To prove the songs have lasting quality, Harry Connick, Jr. appeared at a Tuesday morning press conference and performed “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” written by the legendary Eubie Blake. The song is part of the National Jukebox. Connick’s rendition followed a rare screening of a short film of a 9-year-old Connick performing with Blake, who lived from ragtime through rock to grunge.
DeAnna says the partners have 3,000 more records from Victor to add in the future and then will work on the equally abundant and rich Columbia Records collection. Those, among other labels, are part of the Sony pre-1925 catalog.
The public can add Blake to its own playlist, use the ones created by the Library or search the site for artists, song titles and even dates.
Here’s Eubie late in his career but in great form.