Late last year, The Library of Congress named its 2012 list of 25 films that would join some 350 others on the National Film Registry. Making the announcement, James M. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, said: “These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.”
This week it was the turn of recorded sound. On March 21 2013 the Library announced the 2012 selections for the National Recording Registry, which marks for permanent preservation recordings deemed to be of extraordinary “cultural, artistic and historic importance to the nation’s aural legacy.”
The list includes recordings of many eras and varieties – Chubby Checker’s song-and-dance phenomenon, classical pianist Van Cliburn’s historic Cold War performance in Moscow, the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever…
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), is tasked with annually selecting 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are at least 10 years old. This year’s list is online, as is the full Registry list.
Also selected this month were recordings of Leontyne Price, Ornette Coleman, The Ramones, Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Philip Glass, Betty Carter, Junior Wells, Jimmie Davis, Frank Yankovic, The Blackwood Brothers and The Neville Brothers.As if to illustrate the Registry’s principle of making selections on the basis of cultural impact rather than artistic quality, even among particular artists’ recordings, one selection was Pink Floyd’s ninth album, Dark Side of the Moon, recorded in 1973. That selection also suggests that the registry is not reserved for recordings by Americans, or even made in the United States. Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road studios in London, in their native England. Also in the latest group was Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez’s 1957 recording, Descargas: Cuban Jam Session in Miniature. Among other selections by non-Americans was Enrico Caruso’s “Vesti la giubba,” from Leoncavallo’s opera, Pagliacci, admitted in 2002, and a Lovey’s Trinidad String Band recording from 1912 illustrating a pre-jazz “hot” style common in the Caribbean. The band recorded it in New York during an American tour.
The 2012 selection comes at the same time as the establishment of The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan, a blueprint for the daunting challenge of saving America’s recorded sound heritage for future generations. The congressionally mandated plan spells out 32 short- and long-term recommendations involving both the public and private sectors and covering infrastructure, preservation, access, education and policy strategies.