Al Green, Tammy Wynette Songs Added to National Recording Registry

Al Green, left, and Tammy Wynette album art
Al Green, left, and Tammy Wynette album art
 Courtesy of The Library of Congress

1. Phonautograms, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville (ca. 1853-61)

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 first time.

2. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Edward Meeker, accompanied by the Edison Orchestra (1908)

This song has become an unofficial anthem of America's national pastime. In the year it was composed in 1908, it 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. Comic vocalist Meeker, whose duties for Edison included announcing the titles and artists on hundreds of cylinder recordings, sings on this Edison cylinder 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.  CLICK HERE TO LISTEN: Take Me Out To The Ball Game by The Hollywood Reporter

3. Cylinder Recordings of Ishi (1911–14)

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 at UC Berkeley). The cylinders are held at the Hearst Museum in Berkeley. 

4. "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," Blind Willie Johnson (1927)

Johnson (1897-1945), a blind African-American guitar-evangelist from Beaumont, Texas, recorded 30 titles between 1927-30. Although most of them were classics, none was quite like "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." 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 the Crucifixion as relived in the music of the churches he knew in his youth.

5. "It's the Girl," the Boswell Sisters with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1931)

The Boswell Sisters -- Connie, Martha and Vet -- produced 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" 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.

6. "Mal Hombre," Lydia Mendoza (1934)

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.

7. "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. They became America's premier western singing group and remained so for decades, and they still perform today. The Sons of the Pioneers are widely admired for their smooth and adventurous harmonies, and 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.

8. "Talking Union," the Almanac Singers (1941)

Proponents of progressive causes and pioneers of the American folk revival movement, the Almanac Singers in 1941 recorded spirited performances of songs that have become labor-movement anthems. The members of the Almanac Singers on this recording are vocalists Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Sam Gary, Carol White, Bess Lomax Hawes, Pete Seeger (vocals and banjo) and Josh White (vocals and guitar). First issued on the Keynote label as a 78-rpm album and expanded for long-playing disc in 1955 by Folkways (now Smithsonian Folkways), the album includes songs by Lee Hayes, Millard Lampell, Jim Garland and Woody Guthrie.

9. "Jazz at the Philharmonic" (July 2, 1944)

Jazz at the Philharmonic was the title of a series of jazz concerts, tours and recordings produced by Norman Granz between 1944-83. With these concerts, Granz took the concept of the jam session out of the club and brought it to wider audiences in concert halls. The first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert was held on July 2, 1944, in the auditorium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It featured many of the foremost jazz musicians of the time, including Illinois Jacquet, Nat "King" Cole, Les Paul, Meade Lux Lewis, Buddy Rich, J.J. Johnson, Shorty Sherock and Jack McVea. The audience that night heard a wide variety of styles, including Dixieland, Swing, early Bop and R&B. With the publication of these selections from this concert, a wide audience was able to experience and enjoy the excitement of ad-hoc ensembles and extended solos common to jam sessions, but rarely heard on published recordings.

10. "Pope Marcellus Mass" (Palestrina), the Roger Wagner Chorale (1951)

The Roger Wagner Chorale, established in 1947, initially specialized in madrigals of the 16th and 17th centuries. In this early recording by the chorale, the ensemble performs with rhythmic precision and tonal opulence, inviting listeners to experience the rich beauty of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's 1562 mass.

11. "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest," Reverend C.L. Franklin (1953)

Long before his daughter Aretha attained stardom in the 1960s, Franklin (1915-84) was a recording star in his own right, with dozens of his riveting sermons reaching an audience well beyond his New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. African-American entrepreneur Joe Von Battle, whose record shop was only a few blocks from Franklin's church, recorded "The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest" and released the sermon on three 78-rpm discs on his JVB label in 1953. In the sermon, Franklin draws his text from the Book of Deuteronomy and expounds on the parallels between "God and the eagle." He builds to a thunderously emotional climax before his enthusiastic and vocal congregation. Franklin's many and varied vocal devices inspired other preachers as well as gospel and R&B artists who appropriated many of his techniques. Franklin was a national figure in the African-American community from the 1950s on and a close friend and ally of Martin Luther King Jr.

12. "Tipitina," Professor Longhair (1953)

Pianist Henry Roeland Byrd (1918-80), aka Professor Longhair, was a pivotal figure in New Orleans R&B, although he attained little success outside the city before the 1970s. His music was a classic New Orleans fusion of blues figures, parade-band cadences and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and melodies that he worked into dense but light-fingered piano lines, and they were topped off with his merrily idiosyncratic singing, whistling and scatting. Although Byrd's 1953 recording of "Tipitina" had little impact outside of his hometown, it was a signature distillation of the musical ideas and personality that inspired and influenced such New Orleans pianists as Fats Domino, Huey "Piano" Smith, James Booker, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint.

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