The Sounds of Music

It was announced today that the University Music Group will be donating over 200,000 master recordings from the 1920s -1940s to the Library of Congress, who in turn will make this rare music available to the public over the Web.

This massive audio donation comes on the heels of a recently released study by the Library of Congress, titled The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age,, showing the dire state of American sound recording preservation and access. The study found that “major areas of America’s recorded sound heritage have already deteriorated or remain inaccessible to the public.” The study estimates that only 14%t of pre-1965 commercially released recordings are currently available, and 10% of music from the 1930’s are accessible.

The collection contains music representing every major genre of American popular song of that era — jazz, blues, country and the smooth pop of the pre-rock-’n’-roll period — as well as some light classical and spoken-word selections. One historic highlight is the master recording of Bing Crosby’s 1947 version of White Christmas, which according to Guinness World Records is the best-selling single of all time.

Besides music by towering figures like Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland, the collection includes songs by stars like the Mills Brothers, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo and the Andrews Sisters. There is also country music from Ernest Tubb, bluegrass from Bill Monroe and a wide variety of guitar and piano blues, gospel and jug-band music.

Under the agreement negotiated during discussions that began two years ago, the Library of Congress has been granted ownership of the physical discs and plans to preserve and digitize them. But Universal, retains both the copyright to the music recorded on the discs and the right to commercialize that music after it has been digitized.

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