National Jukebox at the Library of Congress

Photo: Library of Congress from the Making of slideshow The soundtrack of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation is now on the web in a large (and growing) collection called The National Jukebox, located at The first phase of the historic audio recordings range from turn of the 20th century to 1929, and range from music (Jazz, opera, vaudville, ) and spoken word of all kinds.

The collection was digitized from 78 rpm recordings of the Victor label of records. Sony owns the license to the collection, but made an arrangement with the Library of Congress for people to listen to them. (You can hear, you can share, you can make playlists, but you cannot download the music)

It’s the iTunes of Retro Music.

Crossword Puzzle Blues:  Duncan Sisters (1924)
Darn these words that crossword puzzle me
I’ll be basking [?] till they muzzle me
Some demented nut invented
this way to stay discontented.

(The Duncan Sisters also performed Um-um-da-da. Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site)


Back in the day between 1900-1929, how were recordings made? That wondrous item called a microphone did not yet exist, so recordings were made by a strictly acoustic process. It was all mechanical, and as the image below shows, a musical performance captured by a huge funnel which channeled the audio waves toward a small diaphragm, which vibrated in sympathy with the sound. Attached to the diaphragm was a stylus, which also vibrated and etched those vibrations into blank wax cylinder or flat wax disk.

This Library of Congress photo shows what an Acoustic recording session was like. The large horn captured the audio and mechanically recorded it to a disk.

Those 78 records have been hanging out in archives, and this week, the Library of Congress released their first batch of digitized recordings.

After the recording has been selected, chosen from among its identical brethren for the best physical specimen, entered into the Jukebox database, and cleaned, the record is played and digitized in the Jukebox audio studio. Photo: Library of Congress The National Jukebox site has a photo essay describing how they made the Jukebox. From selecting the best recordings, to finding the best physical specimen from among identical records, to cataloguing the recording, to cleaning the physical disk, writing up file names and then creating bar codes for each recording, to actually digitizing the audio and getting the best possible audio transfer, to scanning the phonograph label, to making compressed copies suitable for playback on the web, the workflow and processes involved is awe-inspiring.

Yeah, sure, I’ve digitized some 33 1/3 LP records, but the kind of process and workflow to digitize and catalogue so many items is staggering.

A few more samples

Humor long before LOLCats
Long before silly cat photos and LOLCats became popular on the internet, there was 1908-style cat humor. (stay with it until 1 minute 50 seconds)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site

Swing Low Sweet Chariot:Tuskeegee Institute Singers(1916)

(other songs recorded by the Tuskeegee Institute Singers)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox site

Calliope Song: The Seven Musical Magpies, 1924
(you’ve heard this song in Saturday morning cartoons. Now with yodeling!)


Can’t play the embedded song? Permalink on National Jukebox Site

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 12, 2011 in • AudioCool WebsiteHistoryMemorabiliaRestoration
1 CommentsPermalink

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Hi Susan.  We met briefly at the Ice Cream Social at Jamboree last Friday.  Your blog post on music from the Library of Congress is wonderful!  What a great resource.

Kind regards,

Cindy Harris  on 06/15  at  03:11 PM

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