The Library of Congress’s “National Jukebox”

Last month, the Library of Congress made available, free of charge, its catalog of historic recordings of early music, dating from 1901 to 1925. The new “National Jukebox” contains some 10,000  recordings which have been digitized for the first time and were made available to the LOC by Sony Music Entertainment. Sony owns the rights to the records and is allowing the LOC to stream the digitized music free of charge.

Anyone doing research in music history (or is just a fan of early American recordings) now has unprecedented access to works very few people have heard before.

For example, acoustical recordings captured before the invention of microphones have now been transformed. How was music recorded before microphones? The LOC explains that  “(m)usic and speech was funneled through recording horns, which in turn vibrated an attached diaphragm and stylus, thus etching the sound waves onto a rotating wax disc.”

Want to know what it was really like to hear the cacophony of New York’s Tin Pan Alley at the turn of the twentieth century? Now you can! (Tin Pan Alley, by the way, got its name from the relentless pounding of musicians on their pianos, which some claimed sounded like banging on tin pans.)

Perhaps you are researching or enjoy early opera. LOC has you covered. Pictured here is the 1919 Victrola Book of the Opera which

describes more than 110 operas, and is reproduced here as an interactive digital facsimile. It includes plot synopses and lists of recordings the Victor Talking Machine Company offered in 1919. In addition to reading the original text, you can listen to nearly every recording listed in the book and even compare different interpretations of the most popular arias of the period.

You can also search and listen to national treasures such as Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, and George M. Cohan, and many others.

Ethnomusicologists will appreciate the hundreds of recordings available in dozens of languages, from Armenian to Welsh and everything in between.

In addition to thousands of music recordings from dozens of genres, the National Jukebox has hundreds of spoken word recordings,  including comedy routines, courtroom recordings, and educational materials.

The LOC plans to continuously add to its already vast collection. Each month it uploads new recordings and soon will include titles not just from Sony, but also from Columbia and Okeh, as well as “selected master recordings from the Library of Congress Universal Music Group Collection.”