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A chance to hear history

10,000 historic sound recordings online at the National Jukebox

Created date

June 21st, 2011

Before iTunes and MP3 players, there was the jukebox. Insert a coin, make a selection, and hear your favorite song. Beautiful to look at and fun to listen to, at one time the place to hear the newest pop songs was the jukebox in the neighborhood diner or soda shop. The 1940s were the heyday of jukeboxes, and back then, three-quarters of the records produced in the U.S. went into jukeboxes. Now a website called the National Jukebox ( is the place to go to hear not the newest songs, but the oldest for free! Introduced by the Library of Congress, over 10,000 rare historic sound recordings produced in the U.S. between 1901 and 1925 are available to the public for the first time digitally.

George M. Cohan, Alberta Hunter, Sergei Rachmaninoff...

This collection includes popular music, dance music, opera, early jazz, famous speeches, poetry, and humor. It is what our grandparents and great-grandparents listened to, danced to, sang along with, says James H. Billington, librarian of Congress. This brings online one of the most explosively creative periods in American culture and music and one of the finest additions to the library s American memory materials. The content on the National Jukebox comes from Sony Music, which is making its entire pre-1925 catalogue available through the National Jukebox website. As the steward of much of the output from the American recording industry prior to 1934, Sony Music is excited to preserve and share online these important cultural treasures from its archives with students, historians, and music lovers alike, and create new audiences for and appreciators of the many extraordinary works from the pre-1925 era, says Richard Story, president, Commercial Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment. The Sony catalogue includes such pioneering labels as Columbia Records, OKeh, and Victor Talking Machine Co., among others. Works by Fletcher Henderson, Al Jolson, George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Alberta Hunter, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, and opera stars Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, and Geraldine Farrar are all covered, as are such original recordings as the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra s Rhapsody in Blue with George Gershwin on piano, and Nora Bayes Over There.

Ever wonder what Teddy Roosevelt sounded like?

In addition to music selections, the National Jukebox gives listeners an opportunity to hear other audio gems. There are readings of popular poems like Casey at Bat and sound-effects records of snores and sneezes. On the more serious side, there are speeches by Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, and William Howard Taft. As Billington says, This amazing collection is a chance to hear history. All of the recordings featured on the National Jukebox predate the use of microphones. The recordings were made through what is known as the acoustical process. Speakers spoke into, or singers sang into, cones which vibrated an attached diaphragm and stylus, etching sound waves onto a rotating wax disc. These original discs were then converted into masters and used to mold records sold for home use. In addition to all of the audio, the National Jukebox is packed with annotations and information about works in the collection. Audiophiles can view thousands of label images, record-catalog illustrations, and artist and performer bios.

Interactive features

There are also special interactive features like a digital facsimile of the 1919 edition of the famous opera guideVictrola Book of the Opera. It describes more than 110 operas and includes illustrations, plot synopses, and lists of recordings offered in that year. Features include the book s original text, a comparison of the different interpretations of the most popular arias of the period, and streamed recordings of nearly every opera referenced in the book. Unlike music that you pay for on the Internet, you cannot download anything from the National Jukebox. Listeners will be able to play selections on a streaming-only basis. However, you can create your own playlist and save that playlist for future use. The site includes simple instructions on how to create your own playlist and details on how you can email it to yourself or someone else for future use. One word of warning, however it is easy to lose track of time as you browse through classics from the likes of Fanny Brice or the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Whether you are an avowed music lover or just someone who wants to learn more about the songs and sounds of yesteryear, the National Jukebox has something for you.