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The National Jukebox is spinning tunes – and you don't have to drop any coin to get it to play. Today the Library of Congress and Sony Music Entertainment announced the launch of what's being billed as "the largest collection of historical recordings ever made publicly available online."
The new website provides access to more than 10-thousand historical recordings for free on a streaming-only basis – no downloads. It covers the first quarter of the twentieth century and includes music, poetry, political speeches and other spoken word recordings. Right now, it only includes recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company, which Sony controls. The project is also a collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara – and its Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Records – which is helping to create a searchable database for every recording in the National Jukebox.
Click on "Browse All Recordings" and you can find albums by Title, Artist, Genre, Place (where the audio was recorded) or Date Range. A search of "1901" (the earliest recordings in the Jukebox) could lead you to the Haydn Quartet singing, "The Owl and the Pussycat," from September of that year.
A search of Target Audience (remember that, in those days, companies recorded music to be sold to a wide range of niche audiences – long before the Internet – when immigrants from all over the world were eager for any connections they could find to their homelands) leads to a long list that includes Croatian, Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Venezuela), or French-Canadian; Educational. Click on that last category and you can check out, "Savez-vous planter les choux?" by Eva Gauthier from June of 1918.
There is more well-known stuff: the first recording of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra's "Rhapsody in Blue," with composer George Gershwin at the piano, Parts 1 & 2, from 1924; Woodrow Wilson's speech on labor from September 24, 1912; Theodore Roosevelt's speech on the farmer and the businessman from that same month and year; and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's 1917 recording of, "Livery Stable Blues," considered to be the "first jazz recording ever released."
There is also an interactive edition of the original 1919 text to The Victrola Book of the Opera, which describes more than 110 operas.
(Over at Deceptive Cadence, NPR Music's classical blog, Anastasia Tsioulcas, who has spent some time in the Victor archives, has a look at what made it into the Jukebox and what got left out.)
In the press release announcing the launch of the National Jukebox, Gene DeAnna – the head of the Library's Recorded Sound Section, says:
"This represents a strong step in the Library's efforts to return out-of-circulation recordings to public access. Sony Music's commitment to making its recordings more accessible is unprecedented. We will seek additional donors and contributors in an effort to develop the most comprehensive website of historic sound recordings and related interpretive content."
So now it's time for other labels and donors to step up to the plate – and for Sony to broaden its contribution – to make this a true National jukebox.