Using a donation of 10,000 recordings from Sony Music Entertainment, the Library of Congress — with help from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a couple of private record collectors — has started the “National Jukebox.”
Sony’s gift consisted of thousands of pre-1925 recordings from labels such as Victor, Columbia and OKeh, all of which Sony now owns. The LOC has digitized the recordings and created a website that allows the general public to access the recordings for free.
The site also has voluminous data on each and every tune, courtesy of a database developed by UCSB, along with an actual label photo from the record.
The contents are close to being the full catalogs of the labels so the material varies wildly — from great opera singers such as Caruso to popular recordings such as numerous “foxtrots” to ethnic music with detours into spoken word recordings and oddities such as cats meowing. The era of the records is also pre-microphone so the recordings (essentially unprocessed) may sound “tinny.”
Sony Music Entertainment Commercial Music Group President Richard Story stated: “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.”
According to Story and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, the National Jukebox will continue to grow with additional labels brought in along with more aid from musically-oriented institutions across the country.