Universal Music Group, largest of the "big four" music companies, has made the single largest donation of music ever to the Library of Congress. The donation consists of over 200,000 metal masters, discs and tape from the late Twenties to 1950. Highlights include the master of Louis Armstrong's version of "Ain't Misbehavin" and Les Paul's "Guitar Boogie."
Although conserving such a large and important collection of American music is important in general, what makes it really exciting are the plans to digitize it and make it available online.
"A surprisingly high percentage of America's recording heritage since the early part of the 20th century has been lost due to neglect and deterioration. The donation...will help maintain the inter-generational connection that is essential to keeping alive, in our collective national memory, the music and sound recordings meaningful to past generations."
In fact, a congressional study found only 14 percent of commercially recordings made before 1965 are available to the public and only 10 percent of music released in the U.S. in the 1930s can be accessed by the public.
The recordings will be digitized at the Library's Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia, where the masters will also be stored. The Library is preparing a dedicated website to debut in the spring on which they will stream recordings from the collection.
From Ella to Pine Top
Other highlights in the collection include the following.
- Ella Fitzgerald's and Louis Armstrong's duet "Frim Fram Sauce"
- Bing Crosby's 1947 version of "White Christmas"
- The Mills Brothers' "Paper Doll"
- Josh White singing "Jim Crow"
- Machito and his Afro-Cuban All Stars Mercury recordings
- Clarence "Pine Top" Smith's "Now I Ain't Got Nothing At All"
Additional artists represented include Billie Holiday, Tommy Dorsey, Irving Berlin, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Dinah Washington. Subsidiary labels include Decca, Mercury, Vocalion and Brunswick.
Given this is the first collection of masters donated by a major recording company, the hope is that other such companies will follow suit. One can see the wisdom of donating 5,000 linear feet of masters that are no longer being used and are taking up commercial space.
The 200,000-plus recordings provide a tangible bump to the Library's audio collection of about 3 million items.
We sent a host of technical and access questions to the Library but, despite repeated requests, never got answers to them.