*Rare audio interviews of former slaves and iconic recordings by Donna Summer, Prince, Parliament and the Sugarhill Gang are among the 25 works chosen by the Library of Congress this year as sounds of cultural significance to be preserved permanently in the National Recording Registry.
Though Summer died last week of cancer, her 1977 disco hit “I Feel Love” was selected for the sound registry weeks ago, said Matt Barton, the library’s curator of recorded sound. Summer had many hits, but “I Feel Love” rose to the top because it was a breakthrough that would change club music for years to come, according to the library’s citation.
“From the first time you heard it, it was just, ‘Wow, this is very different,’ ” Barton said. “We hadn’t heard this before. It was enormously influential.”
The registry will also include Prince’s “Purple Rain” and early sounds from hip-hop, courtesy of The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight.” The rap is credited with launching a genre and inspiring future artists. Early funk will be represented with the induction of Parliament’s 1975 classic “Mothership Connection,” and blues singer Bo Diddley is being inducted with “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man.”
Additional inductees include Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” Leonard Bernstein’s conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio from 1970, which introduced millions of people to jazz through the TV soundtrack.
There’s also a cylinder from a talking doll created by Thomas Edison in 1888 that is the earliest known commercial sound recording. It was considered unplayable until last year, after new digital mapping tools were used to reveal its sound of a woman singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
“America’s sound heritage is an important part of the nation’s history and culture, and this year’s selections reflect the diversity and creativity of the American experience,” said Librarian of Congress James Billington, in announcing his final selections Wednesday.
The Grateful Dead will be represented with the 1977 Barton Hall concert at Cornell University, which has been cited as one of their best performances ever. The recording was hailed for its sound quality. One key choice they made was to allow fans to record their concerts live, rather than hiring guards to take away recorders. That helped build an army of “Dead heads,” Hart said, because they could all take the experience they had paid for with them. And every concert was always different.