*Al Green’s soul classic “Let’s Stay Together,” a sermon from Aretha Franklin’s father and De La Soul’s 1989 album “3 Feet High and Rising” are among 25 new sound recordings selected for preservation by the Library of Congress, organizers announced today.
A recording from blues legend Blind Willie Johnson has also made it into the ninth annual National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, which ensures that these cultural, artistic and historical recordings will always be available to the American public.
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board, is tasked each year with selecting 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and at least 10 years old.
Nominations were gathered from online submissions from the public and from the NRPB, which comprises leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation. The newest selections span the years 1853-1994 — starting with what are believed to be the first recorded sounds — and bring the total number of preserved recordings to 325.
As part of its congressional mandate, the Library is identifying and preserving the best existing versions of each recording on the registry. These will be housed in the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va. The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division’s collections include nearly 3 million sound recordings.
The Library is accepting nominations for the next registry at the NRPB website.
Below, more details and audio on some of the 2011 entries:
“Let’s Stay Together,” Al Green (1971): Green’s musical career began as a member of a gospel music vocal quartet. He found great commercial success when teamed with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, crafting a singing style that incorporates an understated delivery with occasional climbs to a casual, pure falsetto. Green’s sleek delivery is complemented effectively by underlying brassy horns and funk rhythms played by the accomplished Hi Records studio band. At the height of his popularity in the mid-’70s, Green stopped performing secular music to pursue religious endeavors, singing gospel music and becoming an ordained minister. Since the mid-’80s, he has performed and recorded both secular and sacred music.
“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.
“3 Feet High and Rising,” De La Soul (1989): Bucking hip-hop’s increasing turn toward stark urban naturalism in the late 1980s, De La Soul released this upbeat and often humorous album to widespread acclaim in the U.S. and abroad. The trio — Kelvin Mercer (Posdnuos), David Jolicoeur (Trugoy) and Vincent Mason (DJ Maseo) — was ably assisted by producer Prince Paul (Paul Huston), who has reported that these were some of the most productive, creative and entertaining sessions he ever worked on. For the album, the group marshaled an astonishing range of samples that included not only soul and R&B classics by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays but also Steely Dan’s “Aja” and cuts by Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Kraftwerk, Hall & Oates and Liberace. Perhaps the most far-flung sample is a snippet of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reading the comics over the radio in 1945.
“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.
Interviews With Jazz Musicians for the Voice of America, Willis Conover (1956): From 1954 until his death, Conover (1920-96) hosted thousands of jazz programs for the Voice of America radio service, broadcasting to countries where jazz was rarely heard or even allowed. Although Conover was barely known in his own country, American jazz musicians knew and appreciated his efforts on their behalf and were frequent guests on his programs. In 1956, Conover presented a series of interviews with some of the greatest jazz artists of the era, including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and Art Tatum. The Tatum interview is the only known in-depth recorded interview with the pianist; he died that year. For many, these interviews were a first chance to hear the thoughts of great jazz artists who had come of age with the music itself as they shared their reflections, opinions and predictions with Conover.