A full list of all Registry-named recordings with descriptions noting their aesthetic, historic or cultural significance. For many recordings, nationally-known scholars have kindly contributed short essays describing further the work's importance, and are available as indicated.
Note: This is a national list and many of the items listed are housed in collections across the country. The Library of Congress does not currently hold copies of all the recordings listed.
Recordings are listed in chronological order:
Phonautograms. Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. (c. 1853-1861)
In late 1853 or early 1854, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville captured the first recorded sounds by etching onto blackened glass plates the movements of a boar's-bristle stylus, vibrating in sympathy with a guitar and a human voice. Later, Scott made recordings on paper wrapped around a drum. The resulting "phonautograms" proved crucial to the development of recorded sound. Scott was interested solely in the visible tracings of sound waves in order to study acoustics and did not record with the intention of playing back or listening to his recordings. Nevertheless, in 2008, researchers from the First Sounds group, using contemporary audio technology (developed with the support of several institutions, including the Library of Congress and the National Recording Preservation Board) were able to play back Scott's recordings for the very first time. Selected for the 2010 registry.
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Edison Talking doll cylinder. (1888)
Few, if any, sound recordings can lay claim to as many "firsts" as the small, mangled artifact of a failed business venture discovered in 1967 in the desk of an assistant to Thomas Edison. This cylinder recording, only 5/8-inches wide, represents the foundations of many aspects of recording history. It was created in 1888 by a short-lived Edison company established to make talking dolls for children, and it is the only surviving example from the experimental stage of the Edison dolls production when the cylinders were made of tin. As such, this recording of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," as sung by an anonymous Edison employee, is the earliest known commercial sound recording in existence. It is also the first children's recording and, quite possibly, the first recording to be made by someone who was paid to perform for a sound recording. Due to its poor condition, the recording was considered unplayable until 2011 when its surface was scanned in three dimensions using digital mapping tools created at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and developed in collaboration with the Library of Congress. Selected for the 2011 registry.
The 1888 London cylinder recordings of Col. George Gouraud. (1888)
Thomas Edison debuted his "perfected" wax-cylinder phonograph in the summer of 1888, rendering obsolete his 1877 tinfoil model and preventing a coup against his "favorite invention" by Bell and Tainter's insurgent Graphophone. The first phonograph to leave Edison's factory was sent to his friend and agent, Civil War hero Col. George Gouraud, an American living in London, who had a knack for promoting and marketing new technologies. In the second half of 1888, Gouraud marketed the machine by hosting recording demonstrations with celebrity guests and, perhaps accidentally, preserved for posterity the voices of prominent poets, scientists, musicians and politicians, including future Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan. The first of these recordings was the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace. Hugh DeCoursey Hamilton, who worked for Gouraud and Edison, captured a 4,000-voice chorus performing "Israel in Egypt" from the press balcony 100 yards away. Gouraud also recorded his friends, family and business partners. Selected for the 2016 registry.
Edison exhibition recordings (group of three cylinders): "Around the World on the Phonograph"; "The Pattison Waltz"; and "Fifth Regiment March." (1888-1889)
A trio of cylinders selected by Edison contemporaries to represent the birth of commercial sound recording--as an industry, as a practical technology, and as a means to preserve music and spoken word. Selected for the 2002 registry.
Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians. (1890)
Fewkes' cylinder recordings, 30 in total and made in Calais, Maine, are considered to be the first ethnographic recordings made produced "in the field," as well as the first recordings of Native American music. The cylinders are held by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"The Lord's Prayer" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Emile Berliner recordings. (c. 1890)
Emile Berliner, the inventor of the microphone and founder of the first disc record company, lived and worked in Washington, D.C. A contemporary of Thomas Edison, Berliner believed that the wax cylinder developed by Edison and his partners was too soft and fragile for making a permanent recording. Hence, he developed the first process for mass-production of disc recordings. These are two of his early recordings. Selected for the 2003 registry.
Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings at UC Santa Barbara Library (c. 1890-1920)
Offering a rare and revealing glimpse into the lives of regular people, the Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings consists of 600 homemade cylinder recordings made primarily during the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s. The core of the collection is based on several decades of purposeful acquisition by anthropologist Donald R. Hill and sound historian David Giovannoni. From its commercial introduction in the 1890s through its demise in the 1920s, the cylinder phonograph allowed its owners to make sound recordings at home. These UCSB audio "snapshots" of everyday life are perhaps the most authentic audio documents of the period: songs sung by children, instrumentals, jokes, and ad-libbed narratives. The vast majority of vernacular wax recordings remain in private hands or uncatalogued in institutions. UCSB's extensive collection serves as a beacon for the recognition and assertive preservation of these highly endangered audio treasures. Selected for the 2014 registry.
The Benjamin Ives Gilman Collection Recorded at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago (1893)
Benjamin Ives Gilman, Harvard psychologist, and, later, curator for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, made 101 wax cylinder recordings at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. These recordings contain Fijian, Samoan, Uvean, Javanese, Turkish, Kwakiutl or Vancouver Island Indian songs and ceremonies along with recordings of other Middle Eastern, South Seas and Native American musicians and singers who performed in specially constructed "villages" along the midway. In addition to being the first recordings ever made at any World's Fair, these are also the earliest known recordings of many non-western musical styles, such as the Javanese Gamelan. Selected for the 2014 registry.
"The Laughing Song." George Washington Johnson. (c. 1896)
George W. Johnson was the first African American to make commercial records; he began in 1890. Born near Wheatland, Virginia, Johnson made his living as a street singer during the 1870s, busking in New York City. "The Laughing Song" was Johnson's most famous and long-lived number. This familiar sounding and uncomplicated tune was sung by Johnson in a down-home, gruff baritone and completed with his infectious laughter, all remarkably free of the caricature and forced dialect that marked most African American-themed material of the period. "Laughing Song" was tremendously successful, with versions released in the US and Europe. With its ragtime-imbued accompaniment, its stature is inestimable: here is perhaps the most popular recording of the 1890s, and probably the first "hit" sung by an African American. Selected for the 2013 registry.
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"Stars and Stripes Forever." Military Band. (1897)
The first recording of America's favorite march. "The Stars and Stripes Forever," John Philip Sousa's most famous composition, was recorded by the company of the inventor of the 78-rpm gramophone disc, Emile Berliner, for his company Berliner Gramophone. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"Gypsy Love Song." Eugene Cowles. (1898)
Victor Herbert's 1898 operetta, "The Fortune Teller," was the composer's first popular success for the stage. The Berliner Gramophone Company captured bass Eugene Cowles' performance of one of the operetta's hits, "Gypsy Love Song," on what was one of the very first "original cast recordings." Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Honolulu Cake Walk." Vess Ossman. (c. 1900)
During the era of ragtime music's greatest popularity -- the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- the syncopated music was typically recorded by bands, orchestras, or small ensembles, or accordion, xylophone, or banjo soloists. Vess Ossman, called "The Banjo King," was the one of the most prolific recording artists of that time. His "Honolulu Cake Walk" is a prime example of recorded ragtime banjo. Selected for the 2003 registry.
Ragtime compositions on piano rolls. Scott Joplin. (1900s)
Scott Joplin is today regarded as the pre-eminent composer of ragtime compositions. Joplin himself performed some of these "rags" for piano roll sales. These rolls represent the way these compositions were originally listened to and enjoyed--on home player pianos. They are outstanding examples of a less-familiar, now nearly-obsolete sound recording format. This selection consists of the titles "Maple Leaf Rag," "Magnetic Rag," "Weeping Willow Rag," "Something Doing," "Pleasant Moments," and "Ole Miss Rag." Selected for the 2002 registry.
Lionel Mapleson cylinder recordings of the Metropolitan Opera. (1900-1903)
In the early 1900s, Lionel Mapleson set up a phonograph in the New York City Metropolitan Opera House to record excerpts of live performances there. These cylinders preserve a special window on the spontaneous artistry of this era and are the only known extant recordings of some performers, including Jean de Reszke. Selected for the 2002 registry.
Bert Williams and George Walker. Victor Releases. (1901)
This vaudeville and musical theater duo, among America's first African-American recording artists, recorded many sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. But as effective as the comic duo were on record, George Walker disliked recording and made only one other disc. Bert Williams, however, had a very successful recording career, which included two versions of his signature song, "Nobody," before his death in 1922. The Victor discs are quite rare. Two of them, "The Fortune Telling Man " (Victor 1083) and "The Ghost of a Coon" (Victor 998), are missing from any known collection. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"Canzone del Porter" from "Martha." Edouard de Reszke. (1903)
Representative of the Columbia Grand Opera Series. Columbia Records' 1903 "celebrity" series of discs featured seven Metropolitan Opera stars who were considered some of the most significant singers of the period. Perhaps of greatest historical significance within the Series are the three recordings made by bass Edouard de Reszke. They are his only known published recordings, made when he was approaching the end of his performing career. Other performers included in the Series are Giuseppe Campanari, baritone; Marcella Sembrich, soprano; Suzanne Adams, soprano; Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto; Antonio Scotti, baritone; and Charles Gilbert, baritone. Selected for the 2005 registry.
"Uncle Josh and the Insurance Company." Cal Stewart. (1904)
Cal Stewart was among the most prolific and popular recording artists of the first 20 years of commercial recording. His "Uncle Josh" monologues offer humorous commentary on American life at the turn of the 20th century. His "rural comedy" describes life in the imaginary New England village of Pumpkin Center, painting humorous pictures of Uncle Josh's encounters with new technologies as well as pointing out the comic contrasts between agrarian and urban life in America. Stewart's influence can be heard in the comedy of Will Rogers, in Fred Allen's character, Titus Moody, and in Garrison Keillor's stories about Lake Wobegon. "Uncle Josh and the Insurance Company" is especially notable as the first recording of the humorous folk tale and urban legend "Barrel of Bricks." Selected for the 2006 registry.
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"Casey at the Bat." DeWolf Hopper. (1906)
This extraordinarily popular comic baseball recitation (poem) is read by the vaudevillian, DeWolf Hopper. Hopper reportedly recited this poem over 10,000 times in performance. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"You're a Grand Old Rag [Flag]." Billy Murray. (1906)
Billy Murray was one of the most popular recording artists in the U.S. in the acoustic recording era. His distinct tenor voice was featured on hundreds of records issued by Victor, Columbia, Edison, and other labels. Some of Murray's best-loved and most popular recordings were of George M. Cohan's songs. "You're a Grand Old Rag" was the original title of this recording and Cohan's song "You're a Grand Old Flag." Despite the song's clear patriotic message, "rag" was considered by many to be an undignified and inappropriate way to refer to the American flag. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"Vesti la giubba." Enrico Caruso. (1907)
Tenor Enrico Caruso was probably the most popular recording artist of his time. His recording of this signature aria from Pagliacci by Leoncavallo was a bestseller. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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Frances Densmore Chippewa/Ojibwe Cylinder Collection. (1907-1910)
Frances Densmore's Chippewa recordings, a three-hundred cylinder sub-set of the ethnomusicologist's thirty-year collecting effort, are some of the earliest recordings she made. Her collections, housed at the Library of Congress, document Native American traditions and performances, many of which have since been lost even within their native communities. Selected for the 2003 registry.
Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech. (1906 recreation)
In 1906, Booker T. Washington recreated his controversial 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech in which he promotes inter-racial cooperation as well as African-American self-reliance. This address drew criticism from other black leaders who interpreted it as giving in to segregation. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"No News, or What Killed the Dog." Nat M. Wills. (1908)
This recording captured a gifted monologist at his best and became one of the most popular performances on early records. The "No News" monologue, with its roots in oral tradition, was one of vaudeville's most famous and often-copied routines. The monologue unfolds as a piecemeal report by a servant to his master who recently returned from a trip, assuring him that there is nothing new to report from home, except that his dog has died. Nat M. Wills displays masterful comic timing as he slowly reveals, in a escalating hierarchy of domestic disasters, the events that led up to the dog's demise. Selected for the 2008 registry.
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"Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Edward Meeker. (1908)
This popular song has become an unofficial national anthem of America's national pastime. It was composed in 1908 and was recorded by all three of the major U.S. record companies, Victor, Columbia and Edison. Few copies of these recordings are now extant, which may indicate that initially the song was not as popular as it was to become later. Comic vocalist Edward Meeker, whose duties for Edison included announcing the titles and artists on hundreds of cylinders, sings on this Edison recording. Meeker delivers the song in his stentorian, but good-natured baritone, including both verses, which remind us that the song is about a baseball-loving woman. Selected for the 2010 registry.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." The Fisk Jubilee Singers. (1909)
The Fisk Jubilee Singers helped establish the black spiritual in the history of American music. They were also the first to introduce these songs to white audiences through concert tours and recordings. "Swing Low" is their first commercial recording. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"Some of These Days." Sophie Tucker. (1911)
Vaudeville singer and comedienne Sophie Tucker first recorded her signature song for the Edison company on cylinder. It was the beginning of a recording career that extended nearly 50 years. This Sheldon Brooks song was an ideal vehicle for the earthy star known as "the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas." Selected for the 2004 registry.
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Columbia Quartette (The Peerless Quartet). (1911)
The Columbia Quartette was, in reality, the Peerless Quartet, led by tenor Henry Burr. Burr's distinctive forward-sounding, nasal voice gave the Peerless a unique and easily identifiable tone. The blend and balance of the harmonized quartet is rich and satisfying, providing us with an authentic taste of the music of the 1910s. "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," a product of Tin Pan Alley, composed and written by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson, has an uncomplicated rhyming scheme and predictable melodic contour, making it a song that has endured for more than a century with its unabashed, expression of love. Selected for the 2015 registry.
Cylinder recordings of Ishi. (1911-1914)
Recorded on 148 wax cylinders between September 1911 and April 1914, this is the largest collection of the extinct Yahi language. Ishi, the last surviving member of the Northern California Yahi tribe and the last speaker of its language, sings traditional Yahi songs and tells stories, including the story of "Wood Duck" recorded on 51 cylinders. The complete recordings, totaling 5 hours and 41 minutes, were made by anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman during Ishi's five-year residency at the University of California Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco (now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley). The cylinders are held at the Hearst Museum in Berkeley. Selected for the 2010 registry.
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"Come Down Ma Evenin' Star." Lillian Russell. (1912)
"Come Down Ma Evenin' Star" is the only surviving recording of Lillian Russell, one of the greatest stars the American musical stage has ever known, a versatile performer at home in operetta, burlesque and vaudeville whose personal life often generated as much publicity as her performances. Born in 1861, she was a star before movies and recordings, which in their early days could not do justice to her famous beauty, voice, style and stage presence. "Come Down" was her signature song. She introduced it in the 1902 burlesque review "Twirly-Wirly," parodying the nouveau-riche society figure she had become, but investing it with a poignancy that reflected its troubled history. The song was written by her former music director John Stromberg, who committed suicide over the pain of chronic, untreatable rheumatism hours after finishing it. Russell recorded it in 1912, but it was not released. In 1943, rare record dealer Jack L. Caidin found a lone test pressing of it, inscribed by Russell herself, and released it on his own specialty label, providing us with a brief echo of the Lillian Russell phenomenon, and a fleeting glimpse into nineteenth century American theater. Selected for the 2011 registry.
Lovey's Trinidad String Band. (1912)
These Trinidadian instrumental musicians were recorded for Columbia Records in New York City during a tour in 1912. Lovey's String Band exemplifies a pre-jazz "hot" style common in the Caribbean at the time. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"Fon der Choope (From the Wedding)." Abe Elenkrig's Yidishe Orchestra. (April 4, 1913)
Barber and trumpeter Abraham Elenkrig recorded this lively number for Columbia Records in the spring of 1913 and the ten songs were among the first klezmer recordings made in America. While chiefly colored by Romanian musical influences, the cornet and trombone on "Fon der Choope" lend it a brassy sound typical of John Phillip Sousa, Arthur Pryor and other popular military bands of the time. It was a sound characteristic of early klezmer recordings in the United States. Selected for the 2009 registry.
"The Castles in Europe One-Step (Castle House Rag)." Europe's Society Orchestra. (1914)
James Reese Europe was the first black bandleader to record in the United States and was the personal conductor for the immensely popular 1910s dance team, Irene and Vernon Castle. Europe's recordings were important stepping stones in the development of jazz. They exhibit a frenetic quality with more looseness and greater syncopation than is heard in any other dance bands of the era. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"They Didn't Believe Me." Harry Macdonough and Alice Green. (1915)
Elegant, charming and unexpected, Jerome Kern's "They Didn't Believe Me" was a late arrival—or interpolation—into the musical "The Girl from Utah." Its appearance marked a turning point in American theater music and popular song. Its melody has been described as "natural as walking," free from the formal-sounding, stilted phrases and form that typified most show music of the period. The song quickly became an enormous hit and greatly accelerated Kern's career. This recording by Macdonough and Green (nee Olive Kline) is the first known recording of the song and represents well its forward-looking informality. Although the song" is in standard eight-measure phrases, the melody and words (by Herbert Reynolds) fall into delightful anacrusis, and the singers create a relaxed, free-flowing effect. Selected for the 2013 registry.
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"Il mio tesoro" from "Don Giovanni." John McCormack; orchestra conducted by Walter Rogers. (1916)
Tenor John McCormack's recording of "Il mio tesoro" from "Don Giovanni" is considered a model of Mozart performance. His rich voice, seamless phrasing and superb technical skill contribute to making this reading the standard by which other performances of this aria have been measured. Selected for the 2006 registry.
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The Bubble Book (the first Bubble Book). (1917)
The Bubble Books, published by Harper Columbia between 1917 and 1922, were the first series of books and records published together especially for children. Authors were Ralph Mayhew and Burges Johnson, while Rhoda Chase provided the beautiful, full-color line drawings. Each book contained three 5 1/2-inch discs to accompany the three nursery rhymes printed in the books. The singer is not listed on the discs but is thought to be Henry Burr. Millions of the books were sold to delighted children in the U.S. and abroad. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"Listen to the Lambs." The Hampton Quartette. (1917)
Representative of the Hampton Quartet Collection at Hampton University. Natalie Burlin, a pioneer in the study of American minority cultures, was one of the leading collectors and transcribers of indigenous music of Africa and the United States. Beginning around 1903, she worked to document and preserve Native American culture and, in 1910, extended her work to studies of African-American and African culture. Burlin published four volumes of transcriptions taken from performances by students at Virginia's Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1918-1919. Recordings by the Hampton Quartette made on wax cylinders during the 1880s, including this recording of "Listen to the Lambs," were probably the basis of some of her published transcriptions. Selected for the 2005 registry.
"Over There." Nora Bayes. (1917)
Inextricably associated in popular imagination with World War I, Nora Bayes' recording introduced George M. Cohan's song and became an international hit. Cohan had specifically requested that Bayes be the first singer to record his composition. A former member of the Ziegfeld Follies and an extremely popular vaudevillian and a Broadway star, she recorded a number of other songs to boost morale during the war and performed extensively for the troops. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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Acoustic Recordings for Victor Records. Jascha Heifetz. (1917-1924)
Sixteen-year-old Jascha Heifetz made his debut at Carnegie Hall in October 1917. He was immediately hailed as one of the greatest violinists of the time, praised for his immaculate technique and exceptional tonal beauty. Soon after his debut, Heifetz started recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company. He would maintain a relationship with Victor, and later RCA Victor, over the course of his career. These acoustic recordings, made between 1917 and 1924, were mostly light recital pieces with piano accompaniment. The Victor Records brochure promoting his first four recordings touted "his phenomenal technique, complete mastery of bow and control of finger" and proclaimed his performances "as Mozart might have played." Selected for the 2008 registry.
"After You've Gone." Marion Harris. (1918)
In one of the first recorded versions of this American standard, cabaret star Marion Harris, in a profound departure from then-current singing styles, sang in a relaxed, loose-limbed, near swinging style. Her performance matched perfectly the lyric of this unsentimental love song by Turner Layton and Harry Creamer, and also its sleek, blues-inflected melody and harmony. Layton and Creamer were part of a small group of African American songwriters to write for Broadway revues during the 1910s. This recording of "After You've Gone" led the transition in American popular singing from a full-throated, relatively stilted style, to a manner more relaxed, subtle and evocative. Selected for the 2012 registry.
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"Tiger Rag." The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. (1918)
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first jazz band to make a commercial recording. This all-white New Orleans-style group from Chicago featured cornetist Nick LaRocca. While not the best ensemble of its day, the first recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band initiated a craze for a new art form--jazz. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"Crazy Blues." Mamie Smith. (1920)
With her recording of "Crazy Blues," Mamie Smith became the first black vocalist to make a commercial vaudeville blues record. The recording was a surprise hit, reputedly selling more than 250,000 copies. It revealed to record companies a previously neglected market for records--African-Americans. Subsequently, thousands of recordings were made of black jazz and blues artists, invigorating the record business and enabling the documentation and preservation of one of the richest eras of musical creativity in the United States. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Swanee." Al Jolson. (1920)
George Gershwin and Irving Caesar's song "Swanee" was interpolated into the show "Sinbad" for Al Jolson. The song became Gershwin's first hit and remained associated with Jolson throughout his career. This recording captures the energy of Gershwin's work and Jolson's unique ability to "put over" a song with exuberance. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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Guy B. Johnson cylinder recordings of African-American music. (1920s)
These cylinders comprise some of the earliest field recordings of African-American music. They were recorded on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, in the 1920s. They are held primarily at the Southern Folklife Collection of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with smaller numbers in the collections of the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture and the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"Cross of Gold." Speech by William Jennings Bryan. (1921)
William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech is one of the best-known political addresses in American history. The speech was originally delivered at the 1896 Democratic convention. In it, the "Great Commoner," as the populist candidate was called, advocated the replacement of the gold standard by silver. The speech is said to have won Bryan the Democratic nomination for President. Bryan recorded excerpts of the speech for Gennett Records twenty-five years after the 1896 convention. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"My Man" and "Second Hand Rose." Fanny Brice. (1921)
Performed by Fanny Brice in the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1921," "My Man" and "Second Hand Rose" were recorded by her for Victor Records the same year and issued together on a double-faced 78-rpm disc. Known for her comedic songs in Yiddish and other dialects, Brice was in the midst of marital woes when she recorded "My Man." Audiences, connecting strongly with her passionate performance, concluded she was singing about herself. "Second Hand Rose" was a follow-up to a previous hit song, "Rose of Washington Square," and was a rare instance of the sequel exceding its predecessor. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Arkansaw Traveler" and "Sallie Gooden." Eck Robertson. (1922)
Eck Robertson, master old-time fiddler, is recognized as the first performer to make country music recordings. This Victor disc features Robertson as a soloist on "Sallie Gooden" and, in a duet with fiddler Henry Gilliland, performing "Arkansaw Traveler" on the flip side. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"The Boys of the Lough/The Humours of Ennistymon" (single). Michael Coleman (1922)
Irish fiddler Michael Coleman (1891-1945) left his native county of Sligo for New York City in 1914, never to return home. Though there was a large Irish and Irish-American audience there, a somewhat homogenized version of Irish music incorporating various influences had taken hold, and even a rural, traditional fiddler of Coleman's singular caliber must have seemed well behind the times. Nevertheless, Coleman achieved unprecedented commercial success and a long-lasting impact on both sides of the Atlantic. He remains a vital figure in Irish music to this day. His brisk, highly ornamented playing set new standards and brought traditional music a level of respect it had never had even in Ireland. This coupling of two older tunes that he made distinctively his own was not his first commercial disc, but proved to be his breakthrough. Selected for the 2014 registry.
"OKeh Laughing Record." (1922)
This odd OKeh record label recording of a bad cornet solo interspersed by a laughing woman and man was one of the most popular discs of the 1920s. The laughing was infectious to listeners, so much so that the disc was re-recorded several times and inspired imitations by other record companies. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"Ory's Creole Trombone." Kid Ory. (June 1922)
This ensemble of trombonist Kid Ory, originally called "Spikes' Seven Pods of Pepper," was the first recording ever issued of a black jazz band from New Orleans. It was recorded by Andrae Nordskog for his Santa Monica, California-based Nordskog record label. Later under confusing circumstances, the record was issued on the Sunshine label belonging to Los Angeles music promoters the Spikes Brothers. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Down Hearted Blues." Bessie Smith. (1923)
"Down Hearted Blues" is the best-selling and most enduring first release by the "Empress of the Blues." Bessie Smith first recorded in 1923, launching a blues career that would have no parallel during the classic blues era. She recorded more than 150 songs over her 14-year recording career. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"Lift Every Voice and Sing." Manhattan Harmony Four. (1923); Melba Moore and Friends. (1990)
With text written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" has served as the "Black National Anthem" since its adoption by the NAACP in 1919. As with "The Star-Spangled Banner," no single recording captures the hymn's essence or its overall meaning to Americans. Therefore, the registry recognizes two recordings: the 1923 version by the Manhattan Harmony Four, one of the last discs issued by the short-lived Black Swan Company—a pioneering African-American-owned record label based in Harlem—and a modernized 1990 version headed by Melba Moore. Moore sought to restore the standing of the song among young African-Americans. Among the many participants in her latter, all-star recording were Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dionne Warwick and Bobby Brown. The resulting single, which benefited charity, made headlines at the time and helped to raise public awareness of the Johnsons' anthem. Selected for the 2016 registry.
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"Wild Cat Blues." Clarence Williams' Blue Five. (1923)
Clarence Williams' "Wild Cat Blues" is among the earliest jazz recordings to have a widespread influence on other musicians. Pianist, composer, vocalist and entrepreneur Clarence Williams led hundreds of recording sessions during the 1920s, featuring some of New York's finest black talent. He was a primary figure in Okeh Records's "race series," the first label to target the African-American audience. "Wild Cat Blues," composed by "Fats" Waller, was one of the first jazz recordings to feature a virtuoso instrumentalist, in this case Sidney Bechet, who demonstrates an instrumental command combined with a compelling jazz feel on his saxophone. Selected for the 2015 registry.
"See See Rider Blues." Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. (1924)
"Ma" Rainey, called by some "the Mother of the Blues," was a pioneering blues artist whose career began in tent shows and vaudeville. She is credited with influencing many blues singers, most notably Bessie Smith. Although others recorded blues songs before Rainey and had begun to refine the genre, her recordings retain the powerful directness and poignancy that made her famous. Rainey made numerous recordings for the Paramount label; this recording is from a session she recorded with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Canal Street Blues." King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. (April 5, 1923)
This recording of April 5, 1923, is the second title recorded by Oliver's ensemble. Of the group, "Early Jazz" author Gunther Schuller wrote, "The glory of the Creole Jazz Band is that it sums up…all that went into the New Orleans way of making music: its joy, its warmth of expression, its Old World pre-war charm, its polyphonic complexity, its easy relaxed swing...." Oliver's 1923 band included Oliver on first trumpet; Louis Armstrong, second trumpet; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Honore Dutrey, trombone; and Baby Dodds, drums; and others. Selected for the 2009 registry.
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Armistice Day broadcast. Woodrow Wilson. (November 10, 1923)
This recording of former President Woodrow Wilson made by phonograph technician Frank L. Capps is the earliest surviving sound recording of a regular radio broadcast. It is also believed to be the earliest known example of a recording made by electrical, rather than acoustic, means. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Rhapsody in Blue." George Gershwin, piano; Paul Whiteman Orchestra. (1924)
The first recording made of this classic American composition featured the composer at the piano and Paul Whiteman conducting. The recording was made several months after the 1924 Aeolian Hall premiere of the work. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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National Defense Test (USA). (September 12, 1924)
In the 1920s, before national radio networks existed, a group of radio stations from across the country cooperated in a test to determine how radio stations might respond in a national emergency. This is the recording of that experiment. It is notable as one of only a handful of extant recorded radio broadcasts from this era. Furthermore, it is technologically significant as an experiment of real-time switching between stations in 14 different cities. Featured on the recording are conversations between General John J. Pershing and other generals stationed throughout the country. Selected for the 2006 registry.
"Adeste Fideles." The Associated Glee Clubs of America. (1925)
In 1925, Columbia Records chose to promote its new electrical recording process by recording a chorus of several thousand voices at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Fifteen glee clubs participated in the March 31, 1925 concert. In the finale, concert performers and audience combined forces to record "Adeste Fideles." By recording electrically with a microphone rather than an acoustic recording horn, the sound produced was indeed more faithful to the actual performance, and louder, than any recording made by the other older method. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"Charleston." The Golden Gate Orchestra. (1925)
The musicians on this Edison disc recording included such notable musicians as Red Nichols, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, and Adrian Rollini. This selection represents the Edison Disc Record Master Mold Collection at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey. The Edison Phonograph Works used these metal molds to mass-produce disc records from 1910 to 1929 and, as such, are the generation closest to original wax masters. They are the best-sounding sources for Edison disc recordings, as well as the most archivally stable. Selected for the 2004 registry.
Inauguration of Calvin Coolidge. (March 4, 1925)
Calvin Coolidge's inauguration in 1925 was the first presidential inauguration to be broadcast. Using the latest technology, RCA and Bell Telephone aired the ceremonies over a makeshift network of radio stations. "The New York Times" estimated that more than 25 million Americans would be able to hear the President's address, thus making it a national event in a manner not previously possible. Twenty-one radio stations, linked in a circuit throughout the country, broadcast the president's 47-minute inaugural address from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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The first transatlantic radio broadcast. (March 14, 1925)
Representing a technological breakthrough, this early orchestral broadcast originated in London, traveled by land line to station 5XX in Chelmsford, England crossed the Atlantic where it was picked up by an RCA transmitter in Maine, and then relayed to stations WJZ in New York and WRC in Washington, D.C. Although the fidelity is low, the recording is significant as documentation of a technical achievement and is a rare instance of an extant example of a complete radio broadcast of the 1920s. Selected for the 2007 registry.
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Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. Louis Armstrong. (1925-1928)
Louis Armstrong was jazz's first great soloist and is among American music's most important and influential figures. These sessions, his solos in particular, set a standard musicians still strive to equal in their beauty and innovation. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"Black Bottom Stomp." Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. (1926)
"Black Bottom Stomp" is a masterly example of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton's creative talents as a composer, arranger and pianist. Moreover, it is an authentic representation of the New Orleans jazz tradition, which relied strongly on an ensemble polyphony where the frontline instruments of trumpet, clarinet and trombone played simultaneous but complementary themes. "Black Bottom Stomp" has more than one theme, or "strain," a carryover from ragtime. Arranged with harmonized passages, breaks and solos, and a changing balance between the instrumentalists, Morton fashioned a unique, continuous whole. Selected for the 2006 registry.
"Fascinating Rhythm." Fred and Adele Astaire; George Gershwin, piano. (1926)
"Lady, Be Good," George and Ira Gershwin's debut Broadway score, produced such standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good!" The show starred siblings Fred and Adele Astaire. Several songs from the score were recorded in 1926 when the musical was touring in London. The recordings offer an opportunity to appreciate the innocent appeal of Adele, who retired from show business in 1932, and the piano accompaniments of composer George Gershwin. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Tanec Pid Werbamy/Dance Under the Willows." Pawlo Humeniuk. (1926)
Pawlo Humeniuk was a renowned violin player in Ukrainian communities before beginning his recording career with Columbia, for which he made this dance number. After learning the violin in western Ukraine at the age of 6, he enjoyed a busy career playing concerts, dances and vaudeville theaters. This song is an excellent example of the ethnic releases that record labels began to produce in the 1920s for sale to immigrant communities in the United States. Selected for the 2005 registry.
"Blue Yodel (T for Texas)." Jimmie Rodgers. (1927)
The "blue yodels" of Jimmie Rodgers, the "Father of Country Music," helped to define country music. Rodgers' compositions and recorded performances combined black and white musical forms and popularized American rural music traditions. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." Blind Willie Johnson. (1927)
Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945), a blind African-American guitar-evangelist from Beaumont, Texas, recorded 30 titles between 1927 and 1930. Although most of them were classics, none were quite like "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." To create this singular work, Johnson drew on an 18th-century hymn of English origin known as "Gethsemane," which begins with the lines "Dark was the night, cold was the ground/On which my Lord was laid." Instead of singing the lyrics, however, he evoked the sorrowful intensity of the hymn's subject matter by humming and moaning wordlessly in the manner of a church congregation, reinforcing and ornamenting his voice with sliding notes on his guitar. Johnson has distilled the essence of the text and the tradition into an unforgettably intense evocation of Christ on the eve of the Crucifixion as relived in the music of the churches he knew in his youth. Selected for the 2010 registry.
"Singin' the Blues." Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke. (1927)
Saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke created some of the most significant jazz recordings of the 1920s, works still noted for their beauty and influence on fellow musicians. Trumbauer and Beiderbecke later worked together in the orchestras of Jean Goldkette, Adrian Rollini and Paul Whiteman. Together with guitarist Eddie Lang and other members of the ensemble, Trumbauer and Beiderbecke recorded "Singin' the Blues," which contains one of Beiderbecke's greatest solos. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Stardust." Hoagy Carmichael. (1927)
"Stardust" was songwriter Hoagy Carmichael's first great success. It was performed at a rapid tempo when it was first recorded in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael on piano and His Pals. In later, slower interpretations, "Stardust" became one of the most recorded ballads in jazz and popular repertories. Lyrics were added to the song in 1931. Selected for the 2004 registry.
Victor Talking Machine Company sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman, and others. (1927)
Victor Records, searching for performers of "hillbilly" music, recorded performances by 19 local musicians in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1927. The amazing display of talent yielded such future country music recording stars as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Stoneman. The sessions are considered a watershed moment in the history of country music. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"El Manisero" ("The Peanut Vendor") (Rita Montaner, vocal with orchestra); "El Manisero" (Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra). (1927; 1930)
Popular Cuban singer and radio artist Rita Montaner recorded the first version of the traditional song "El Manisero" in Havana in 1927. The Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra version of "El Manisero," adapted from Montaner's recording, was made in New York City three years later. It is the first American recording of an authentic Latin dance style composition. This later recording launched a decade of "rumbamania," introducing U.S. listeners to Cuban percussion instruments and Cuban rhythms. Selected for the 2005 registry.
First official transatlantic telephone conversation. (January 7, 1927)
Upon the opening of the transatlantic telephone circuit for commercial service, W.S. Gifford, president of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., called Sir Evelyn P. Murray, secretary of the General Post Office of Great Britain, offering felicitations. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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Charles A. Lindbergh's arrival and reception in Washington, D.C., NBC radio broadcast coverage. (June 11, 1927)
NBC radio's June 11, 1927 coverage of the arrival of Charles A. Lindbergh in Washington D.C. was a landmark technical as well as journalistic achievement for the fledgling network. Radio reporters were stationed at the three locations in Washington to provide successive, live descriptions of the pilot's arrival: the Washington Navy Yard; the procession along Pennsylvania Avenue; and his reception at the foot of the Washington Monument by President Calvin Coolidge. Selected for the 2004 registry.
"Allons a Lafayette." Joseph Falcon. (1928)
"Allons a Lafayette," a lively two-step, was the first commercial recording of traditional Cajun music. Accordionist Joe Falcon and guitarist Cleoma Breaux, his future wife, recorded this song for Columbia Records in a New Orleans field session on April 17, 1928. Falcon began playing the accordion as a child and soon became a well-known and sought-after dance hall musician, performing throughout Louisiana and other states. His recording career ended soon after Cleoma's death, but he continued to play and perform live with his second wife, Theresa, until his death in 1965. Selected for the 2007 registry.
"Black Snake Moan" / "Match Box Blues." Blind Lemon Jefferson (1927)
By the time of this recording in 1928, Blind Lemon Jefferson, an African-American street singer from a small country town outside of Dallas, Texas, had reshaped and expanded the blues genre on record. With only his guitar for accompaniment, and a high wailing tenor of a voice, Jefferson recorded a series of powerfully individualistic performances on record from 1925 to 1929, the year of his death. Though he used what were already traditional frameworks for many of his songs, Jefferson personalized them with the interplay between his voice and guitar, extending vocal phrases with long intricate lines of notes, adding or omitting measures in the song as it suited him. This 1928 coupling issued by the Okeh label, and holds two of Jefferson's best performances—"Matchbox Blues," later recorded by Carl Perkins, the Beatles, and many others, and the eerie, lascivious "Black Snake Moan." Selected for the 2014 registry.
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"Wildwood Flower." The Carter Family. (1928)
The legendary Carter Family's most famous recording, "Wildwood Flower," showcases Mother Maybelle Carter's legendary "Carter Scratch," her trademark guitar technique in which she plays melody on the bass strings with her thumb while strumming the rhythm on the treble strings. The Carter Family's close harmony singing, unique picking style and popularization of folk tunes, as well as other song genres, formed the foundation of modern country music and continues to significantly influence musicians today. Selected for the 2006 registry.
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"Statesboro Blues." Blind Willie McTell. (1928)
This haunting blues recording exhibits an unforgettable intensity. McTell's unusual voice is compelling, bearing a confidential quality, as though he is telling a secret. He is a captivating storyteller. McTell's voice is accompanied brilliantly by his 12-string guitar as the latter darts and dodges among the vocal phrases, creating many layers of rhythm. The guitar is also somewhat out-of-tune which combines with a reverberant room to lend the record an eerie effect. McTell is also very free with meter, in the manner of old-time country performers, adding and subtracting the standard number of measures. His performance never appears self-conscious, but rather, flows like a river. His confidence and quiet bravado make this a performance for the ages. Selected for the 2015 registry.
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"Casta Diva" from Bellini's "Norma." Rosa Ponselle; accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Giulio Setti. (December 31, 1928 and January 30, 1929.)
The gifted American soprano Rosa Ponselle was known for her brilliant portrayal of Norma, Bellini's Druid priestess who sacrifices herself on the funeral pyre of her Roman lover. A native of Connecticut, Ponselle made her Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 21, playing Leonora opposite Enrico Caruso in "La Forza del Destino." Previously, she and her sister Carmela appeared in vaudeville and in New York film theaters. The range, warmth and beauty of Ponselle's art represented vocal perfection to many listeners and earned her a long and successful operatic and recording career. Selected for the 2007 registry.
"Ain't Misbehavin'." Thomas "Fats" Waller. (1929)
"Fats" Waller's solo piano recording of his now-classic composition "Ain't Misbehavin'" preserves the composer's inventive talents as one of jazz's greatest pianists. In this recording Waller took the "stride" piano tradition to a new level of musical expression. Selected for the 2004 registry.
Cajun-Creole Columbia releases. Amadé Ardoin and Dennis McGee. (1929)
Amadé Ardoin was an African-American accordionist whose passionate singing and syncopated playing left an influential legacy to both Cajun and Zydeco music. He first recorded in 1929 with fellow sharecropper Dennis McGee, a Cajun violinist. The popularity of their music, exhibiting a fine synthesis of Cajun and Creole styles, transcended racial barriers. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"Gregorio Cortez." Trovadores Regionales. (1929)
This vocal duet with guitar, by Pedro Rocha and Lupe Martinez, is an outstanding example of the "corridos" style of ballad. Reflecting the cultural conflicts between Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans in the American Southwest, it describes the heroics of a vaquero falsely accused of murder. The Vocalion label recording of "Gregorio Cortez" is representative of the significant recordings being preserved in the Arhoolie Foundation's Strachwitz Frontera Collection of commercially-produced Mexican and Mexican-American recordings at the University of California, Los Angeles. Selected for the 2004 registry.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano; Leopold Stokowski, conductor; Philadelphia Orchestra. (1929)
Sergei Rachmaninoff's piano performances of his own compositions are considered by many to be unparalleled. Rachmaninoff first recorded the complete 2nd piano concerto in 1929. Two of its three movements were released on acoustically recorded discs in 1924. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Pony Blues." Charley Patton. (1929)
This is the signature recording of Charley Patton, one of the first and finest blues musicians to ever come out of the Mississippi Delta region. "Pony Blues" showcases Patton's characteristic trademarks: powerful vocals, heavily accented guitar rhythms and unusual vocal phrasing. Patton was an enormous influence on his contemporaries and future blues performers, notably Howlin' Wolf, Bukka White and Big Joe Williams. Selected for the 2006 registry.
"Puttin' on the Ritz." Harry Richman. (1929)
Irving Berlin's timeless "Puttin' on the Ritz" has been an enduring hit since its introduction in the film of the same title. This is remarkable given the rhythmic complexities of the first four measures. Musicologist and author Alec Wilder wrote in "American Popular Song," "It is the most complex and provocative I have ever come upon." The song was introduced in the film by Harry Richman (1895-1972), a song-and-dance man and star of radio, movies and nightclubs. Although Richman is little remembered today, his top-hatted presence, with cane and tails, set the tone and stage for this swanky tune. His enduring features—a slight lisp and a tendency to over-pronounce the syllable "oo"—have been parodied in animated cartoons and by musician/comedian Spike Jones. On this recording, Richman is accompanied by Earl Burtnett and his Los Angeles Hotel Biltmore Orchestra, who supply sophisticated accompaniment. Since its debut, the song has become a favorite on television and in movies, most memorably in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein." International artist Taco also turned it into a Top 10 "Billboard" hit for the MTV generation. Selected for the 2016 registry.
"Light's Golden Jubilee." (October 21, 1929)
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of incandescent light, inventor Thomas Edison was honored at a dinner held on October 21, 1929. Portions of the celebration were broadcast over the NBC radio network. Hosted by announcer Graham McNamee, the radio program included speeches by President Herbert Hoover, Marie Curie, Henry Ford and, speaking over shortwave from Berlin, Albert Einstein. Messages from the Prince of Wales, President Von Hindenberg and Commander Richard Byrd from the South Pole were also read during the broadcast. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Op. 84. Modesto High School Band. (1930)
This 1930 recording of the Modesto, California High School Band is the only known recording made by a high school band participating in the National High School Band contests held between 1926 and 1934. Under the direction of Frank Mancini, Modesto High School placed third in the 1927 and 1928 contests and second in 1929. An important educator and conductor who directed band programs in California area schools, Mancini was a former member of the bands of John Philip Sousa and Patrick Conway. Limited edition high school band recordings were once common, produced as fundraising tools for school bands and treasured as souvenirs by band members. However, few high school bands were recorded before the advent of tape recording and long-playing discs in the late 1940s. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Night Life." Mary Lou Williams. (1930)
When a record producer asked for an impromptu solo piano performance, 20-year-old Mary Lou Williams created an original three-minute collage of stride, ragtime, blues and pop styles that summarized the art of jazz piano up to that time while pointing to the future of that genre and her own career in it. At the time, she was a pianist, composer and arranger for Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, one of the great jazz bands of the Midwest. She later said that thoughts about the nightlife of Kansas City had driven this composition. Selected for the 2008 registry.
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"Ten Cents a Dance." Ruth Etting. (1930)
Singer Ruth Etting was one of the first great singers of the electrical era of recording, the period after the mid-1920's when the microphone replaced the acoustic recording horn. As with the best of the male crooners of the period, Etting's vocal delivery was artfully understated and personal. In the words of popular music writers Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Etting, "[b]y turns peppy, fragile, and gallant...evinced the contradictory spirits of America in the Depression: sometimes beaten down, sometimes bearing up, whenever possible blithe." All these characteristics are evident in her recording of Rodgers and Hart's "Ten Cents a Dance," recorded only two weeks after Etting introduced the song on stage in the musical "Simple Simon." Selected for the 2011 registry.
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"The Suncook Town Tragedy." Mabel Wilson Tatro of Springfield, Vermont. (July 1930)
This ballad about a New Hampshire tragedy is one of the earliest recordings recorded by Helen Hartness Flanders. She recorded many similar vernacular story-songs in her extensive documentation of the vernacular music of Vermont. Copies of the recording are held by Middlebury College and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Selected for the 2004 registry.
Highlander Center Field Recording Collection. Zilphia Horton, others. (1930s-1980s)
The Highlander Center has played an important role in many political movements. These discs document Zilphia Horton, who introduced "We Will Overcome" to the Southern Labor Movement, and later, to Pete Seeger. The Collection also includes recordings of activists Myles Horton, Rosa Parks, Esau Jenkins, and Septima Clark. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"It's the Girl." The Boswell Sisters with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. (1931)
The Boswell Sisters—Connie, Martha and Vet—produced vocal harmonies that were magical. While polished, their creamy blend revealed their New Orleans roots with its relentless swing and deep feeling for the blues. "It's the Girl," a popular song of 1931, is given a classic Boswell treatment: rhythmic variations on the original song, perfect diction projected with relaxed ease and a fast tempo—with sudden tempo and mood changes—and a sprint to the end. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra accompaniment, like the Boswell Sisters' performance, pairs the brisk, loose ease of New Orleans jazz within a tight knit ensemble. Selected for the 2010 registry.
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"Bacon, Beans and Limousines." Will Rogers. (October 18, 1931)
Will Rogers had starred on the stage and screen and even made records, but when he entered radio broadcasting, it proved to be a natural medium for his folksy but pointed ruminations on topical matters. At one of the lowest points of the Great Depression, he took part in a national broadcast with President Herbert Hoover to kick off a nationwide unemployment relief campaign. Rogers praised Hoover's integrity and intentions, but also decried the tragedy of such hard times in a land of plenty: "We'll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile," he observed. "The potter's fields are lined with granaries full of grain. Now if there ain't something wrong in an arrangement like that, then this microphone here in front of me is—well, it's a cuspidor, that's all." The broadcast demonstrates the status Rogers had gained as a spokesperson for the "common man," who used popular culture to satirize financial and political corruption, especially as the country went from the extravagant twenties into economic depression. Although Rogers is sardonic, the talk also conveys his fundamental optimism and faith in the good-heartedness of the American people. Selected for the 2012 registry.
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Bell Laboratories experimental stereo recordings. Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor. (1931-1932)
Experimental recordings made by the Bell Laboratories in early 1930s resulted in the first high-fidelity, stereo recordings. Among them were recordings which feature this great American orchestra under its renowned, and controversial, conductor Leopold Stokowski. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"Brother, Can You Spare A Dime." Bing Crosby; Rudy Vallee. (both 1932)
Composed by Jay Gorney and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" was the show-stopping number of the 1932, Depression-era musical "American Revue." The minor-key melody, according to Gorney, was inspired by a Yiddish lullaby. The song's lyrics underscored the irony of Depression-era American working class who had once built railroads and fought wars only to now find themselves waiting in bread lines. With its bittersweet melody and bold, unsentimental lyrics, this arresting anthem to America's "forgotten man" became a major hit. Recordings by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee—both issued the same year—were best sellers and emphasized the song's strengths in different ways. Crosby's nuanced baritone played to the song's drama; his use of rubato during the verse being especially effective. On the other hand, Vallee's light tenor is more emotionally removed and allows the song to stand more on its own merits. Selected for the 2013 registry.
Rosina Cohen oral narrative from the Lorenzo D. Turner Collection. (1932)
African-American linguist Lorenzo D. Turner recorded numerous Gullah dialect stories, songs, sermons, and accounts of slavery during the summers of 1932 and 1933. In this oral narrative, Rosina Cohen recounts her memories of slaves being freed by Yankees on Edisto Island. The recording is significant as a permanent record of a vanishing American regional dialect and as a document of African-American cultural history. Selected for the 2004 registry.
"Show Boat" (album). Victor Young, conductor; Louis Alter, piano. (1932)
Original cast recordings of hit musicals were not made at the time of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's landmark 1927 show, "Show Boat." In 1932, however, Brunswick Records recorded 10 sides of selections from the musical and issued them as an album set. The most notable performances on the set are those of Helen Morgan, the original "Julie," and Paul Robeson, who played "Joe" in the London cast. The set also includes discs of the musical's overture and finale, making it as close to an original cast album as one may encounter from this period. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"Voices from the Days of Slavery." Various Speakers. (1932-1975)
In 2002, the American Folklife Center created the online presentation"Voices from the Days of Slavery,"gathering together 24 interviews with former African-American slaves conducted mostly between 1932 and 1941 and across nine Southern states as part of various field recording projects. During this period, thousands of slave narratives were also collected on paper from by WPA workers, but these are the only known audio recordings of former slaves. As historian C. Vann Woodward said of the WPA narratives, these recordings "represent the voices of the normally voiceless," but with all the nuances of expression that written transcriptions cannot reproduce. They recall aspects of slave life and culture, including family relations, work routines, songs, dances, and tales, as well as their relationship with masters, punishments, auctions, and escapes. They recount experiences of the Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction. One interviewee worked for Confederate President Jefferson Davis, as did his father and grandfather. These are fragments of history, and reflect the technical and social limitations of the recording sessions, but the voices of these ex-slaves provide invaluable insight into their lives, communities, and the world of slavery they left behind. Selected for the 2011 registry.
Voices from the Days of Slavery
"Goodnight, Irene." Lead Belly. (1933)
Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly or Leadbelly, sang spirituals, popular songs, field and prison hollers, cowboy and children's songs, dance tunes and folk ballads, as well as his own compositions throughout his career. Lead Belly was first recorded in 1933 by John and Alan Lomax when the singer was serving time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. "Goodnight, Irene," Lead Belly's best-known song, became a bestseller for the Weavers in 1950, just months after Lead Belly's death. This is the first recording of "Irene," which includes some lyrics that were later changed. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"Stormy Weather." Ethel Waters. (1933)
Ethel Waters began her career as a blues singer but became a pioneer jazz singer, adapting her voice to a conversational style in which the meaning of the song lyrics are conveyed with subtle theatricality. Waters' rendition of "Stormy Weather" became a bestseller, bringing her tremendous exposure and respect as a jazz singer and incomparable interpreter of the American Songbook. "Stormy Weather" composers Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler originally intended their 1933 song to be sung by Cab Calloway in a revue to take place at Harlem's Cotton Club. However, it quickly made its way to Waters instead who then made it her own. Selected for the 2004 registry.
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"Fireside Chats." President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio addresses. (1933-1944)
The Fireside Chats were an influential series of radio broadcasts in which Roosevelt utilized the media to present his programs and ideas directly to the public and thereby redefined the relationship between the President and the American people. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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Harvard Vocarium record series. T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, others. (1933-1956)
From the 1930s to the 1950s The Harvard University Poetry Room produced the Harvard Vocarium record label which featured prominent authors reading their own works. Among the writers recorded were T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Tennessee Williams. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." Thomas A. Dorsey. (1934)
The acknowledged father of modern gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey made only a handful of gospel recordings himself. Recording first as "Georgia Tom" and "Barrelhouse Tom," Dorsey was a noted blues artist and composer during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1932, he dedicated the remainder of his life exclusively to gospel music. In four sessions in 1932 and 1934, Dorsey recorded several songs for Vocalion, including his popular composition "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again," which were released under his own name. His voice, although well-suited to his earlier blues and jazz recordings, was said to have lacked the qualities needed for gospel music and he made no further recordings, concentrating instead on songwriting and publishing. (Thomas Dorsey is not related to big-band leader Tommy Dorsey.) Selected for the 2007 registry.
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"Mal Hombre." Lydia Mendoza. (1934)
Singer Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007) once said, "It doesn't matter if it's a corrido, a waltz, a bolero, a polka or whatever. When I sing that song, I live that song." Mendoza had been performing and recording with her family's band since the late 1920s, and was only 16 when she recorded "Mal Hombre," investing the song's bitter lyrics with an artistic maturity that belied her age: "Cold-hearted man, your soul is so vile it has no name." "Mal Hombre" launched her solo career, her stark voice and graceful 12-string guitar lines resounding strongly with the Spanish-speaking audience of Texas. The Houston-born singer was soon known as "La Alondra de la Frontera," The Lark of the Border. Selected for the 2010 registry.
"Tumbling Tumbleweeds." The Sons of the Pioneers. (1934)
The cowboy vocal group The Sons of the Pioneers was formed in 1933 by Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan. The group became America's premier western singing group and remained so for decades. They still perform today with different singers. The Sons of the Pioneers are widely admired for their smooth and adventurous harmonies. Their songs serve as the foundation of non-traditional, popular cowboy music. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was one of the songs cut at the Sons' first recording session, and it became the group's theme song, beautifully evoking the cowboy's love of the land. Selected for the 2010 registry.
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"You're the Top." Cole Porter. (1934)
"You're the Top" is a work by composer/lyricist Cole Porter at the top of his form. Seamlessly, the words and music of this quintessential "list song" convey wit, exuberance, and charmingly high- and low-cultural references. This solo performance, by Porter, invites the listener to become part of Porter's universe and imagine the composer performing, much as he might have for friends on a luxury cruise or in his own Waldorf Astoria suite. Selected for the 2006 registry.
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"New Music Quarterly" recordings. (1934-1949)
This series of 30 discs was published by Henry Cowell as part of his ground-breaking efforts to promote avant-garde music in the United States. The discs were issued in conjunction with his scholarly journal, "New Music," and include works by Walter Piston, Otto Luening, Edgard Varese, Cowell, and Charles Ives. Selected for the 2002 registry.
"Every Man a King." Speech by Huey P. Long. (February 23, 1934)
Huey Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930 but did not take his Senate seat until 1932, after he had handpicked a successor for the governorship. A radical populist, he proposed a "Share the Wealth" plan with the motto "Every Man a King." The wealth was to be shared by increases in inheritance taxes which would "guarantee a family wealth of around $5,000; enough for a home and automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences." In this 1934 radio speech, the Senator outlines his plan and explains why he no longer supports President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Selected for the 2003 registry.
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"I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." Patsy Montana. (1935)
Singer Patsy Montana's signature song, "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," was written at a time in 1934 when she was feeling lonely and missing her boyfriend. Montana recorded the song a year later when Art Satherly, of ARC Records, needed one more song for a recording session with the Prairie Ramblers. Her song's lively, quick polka tempo and yodeling refrain, and Montana's exuberant delivery, resulted in it being requested at every performance; it became one of the first hits by a female country and western singer. A popular performer on the WLS radio program "National Barn Dance," Montana was the soloist with the Prairie Ramblers, a group that successfully melded jazz and string band music. Montana's film appearance in a Gene Autry film, "Colorado Sunset" in 1939 introduced her to a wider audience, and her independent air, high-spirited personality, and singing style quickly secured her popularity as a singing cowgirl. Patsy Montana was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Selected for the 2011 registry.
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Sounds of the ivory-billed woodpecker. (1935)
In 1935, on their expedition to document rare North American birds, Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg of Cornell University recorded a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers in an old-growth Louisiana swamp forest known as the Singer Tract. These recordings of the birds' calls and foraging taps are presently the last confirmed aural evidence of what was once the largest woodpecker species in the United States. The last universally accepted sighting of an ivory-bill occurred in 1944. However, since that time, many scientists believe there have been credible sightings of the species, suggesting the bird might not be extinct. These 1935 recordings have been vital to recent searches and have been used to train searchers on what to listen for. They have also been used to develop pattern-recognition software, enlisting computers to analyze new field recordings identifying similar sounds. Selected for the 2008 registry.
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"Tristan und Isolde." Metropolitan Opera, featuring Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, NBC broadcast. (March 9, 1935)
This recording captures Wagnerian singing at its dramatic best by two of the greatest voices of the twentieth century and prime interpreters of the lead roles. The beauty and purity of Flagstad's singing, captured at the beginning of her worldwide fame, combined with Melchior's heroic scale and nobility creates an unsurpassed performance in this profoundly influential opera. This recording is an early example of the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday matinee broadcasts, which have brought live performances of complete operas into homes throughout the world for more than 75 years. Selected for the 2009 registry.
"Gang Busters." (July 20, 1935)
The radio crime drama series "Gang Busters" was the creation of Phillips H. Lord, producer of the successful "Seth Parker" radio series. Capitalizing on the public's fascination with gangsters, Lord based his new show on true crime stories, going so far as to obtain the cooperation of the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. "G-Men," as the series was known initially, premiered on July 20, 1935, but the FBI's enthusiasm waned quickly and its cooperation diminished. Revised as "Gang Busters," the show remained on the air until the late 1950s. The program's spectacular opening, which included sirens, police whistles, gunshots and tires screeching, inspired the slang expression, "come on like gangbusters!" Selected for the 2008 registry.
"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Marian Anderson. (1936)
The vocal art of contralto Marian Anderson showed equal mastery of both the classical and spiritual repertory. In 1929, she gave her first recital at Carnegie Hall which served to launch her career in the U.S. and abroad. She is remembered for her performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where, in 1955, she its first African-American performer, and for her landmark 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The spiritual, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," was one of Anderson's favorites, often performed at the conclusion of her recitals. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"Wabash Cannonball." Roy Acuff. (1936)
Fiddler and vocalist Roy Acuff's "Wabash Cannonball" was first recorded in 1936 and featured the vocals of Sam "Dynamite" Hatcher of Acuff's band, the Crazy Tennesseans. Acuff later changed the band's name to the Smoky Mountain Boys while continuing to make himself well known through motion picture appearances, recordings and personal tours. He first appeared as a regular on the "Grand Ole Opry" in 1938 and was its top star by 1942. "Wabash Cannonball" was recorded again by Acuff, this time with his own vocals, in 1947. In 1962, Acuff became the first living artist to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)
The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. Selected for the 2003 registry.
"One O'Clock Jump." Count Basie and His Orchestra. (1937)
This landmark of the big band Swing Era first came together as a "head arrangement." Head arrangements, worked out in rehearsal and committed to memory rather than written down, gave much freedom to soloists and allowed the musicians to concentrate on the rhythmic drive for which Kansas City jazz and the Basie orchestra is noted. The Basie orchestra, like most Kansas City-style bands, was organized around its rhythm section. The interplay of brass and reeds on the "One O'Clock Jump" serves as a backdrop for the unfolding solos of the band's extraordinary players, including Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Buck Clayton. Selected for the 2005 registry.
"Bonaparte's Retreat." W.H. Stepp. (1937)
"Bonaparte's Retreat" is representative of the 1937 recordings of Library of Congress folk historians Alan and Elizabeth Lomax during their musicological tour of the state of Kentucky. In the 1930s, "Bonaparte's" was a common dance tune, but the musician they recorded that day, William Hamilton Stepp, played it very differently from other renditions. Stepp's rollicking reel became the basis for one of the most famous pieces of American classical music ever composed, the "Hoe-Down" section of Agnes De Mille's "Rodeo," as written by Aaron Copland. Since then, "Hoe-Down" has been performed by symphonies such as Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (1943). Rock fans might know the 1972 version of "Hoedown" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which reached number five on the charts. It was even used in a series of commercials for beef in the 1990s. Selected for the 2015 registry.
"Fall of the City" ("The Columbia Workshop"). (April 11, 1937)
As broadcast on "The Columbia Workshop," Earle McGill's production of Archibald MacLeish's chilling vision of a not-so-future war featured Orson Welles as narrator. This program brought experimental radio, as pioneered by "The Columbia Workshop," to maturity and profoundly influenced a generation of creative radio producers and directors. Also featured were Burgess Meredith and Paul Stewart. Selected for the 2005 registry.
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Crash of the Hindenburg. Herbert Morrison, reporting. (May 6, 1937)
An emotional, never-to-be-forgotten moment of news broadcasting in which a tragedy is witnessed and spontaneously reported. This actuality was the first exception to network radio's ban on the airing of recordings. Selected for the 2002 registry.
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"Vic and Sade." Episode: "Decoration Day Parade." (May 28, 1937)
Created by Paul Rhymer, "Vic and Sade" was a long-running daytime serial devoid of the usual formula of melodrama. First broadcast in 1932 as a 15-minute weekday show on NBC, "Vic and Sade" did not follow the usual structure of a serial drama. Instead, each episode was complete in itself. This representative broadcast—in which Vic laments the decline in Decoration Day recognition—is one of the earliest surviving examples of this highly-praised, still beloved program. Although it is estimated that Rhymer wrote more than 3,500 scripts for the show only a few hundred original recordings have survived to present day. Selected for the 2015 registry.
"The Lone Ranger." Episode: "The Osage Bank Robbery." (December 17, 1937)
Some classic questions from previous years…
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020
What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018
The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
–Inspired by Tess Moran, AB'16
How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
–Inspired by Florence Chan, AB'15
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)
"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.
Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07
Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16
So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006
How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel
"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves
University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric
"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)
Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube