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Recorded Sound Research at the Library of Congress

Recorded Sound Collections

William B. Northrup, photographer. Making Record of the Human Voice. 1902. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The Library of Congress holds the nation's largest public collection of sound recordings (music and spoken word) and radio broadcasts, some 3 million recordings in all. Recordings represent over 110 years of sound recording history in nearly every sound recording format and cover a wide range of subjects and genres in considerable depth and breadth.

The sound recording archive began in the 1920s when phonorecord companies gave the Library samples of their records. About the same time, the Library's Archive of American Folksong started assembling a rich collection of original field recordings of American music and folklore.

A grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1940 started the Library's Recording Laboratory. Later, technological advances in the post-war years--the LP in 1948, and later the tape recorder-- boosted the sound recordings collections by generating commercial and personal materials. The Library's audio collections are now the largest in the United States and among the most comprehensive in the world.

NBC Radio's broadcast discs, 1935 to 1970, brought to the Library radio coverage of the Depression, World War II, post-war recovery, and a rich mine of radio drama and comedy. Armed Forces Radio, the WOR-AM collection, United Nations recordings, and the Library's own concerts and literary recordings further broaden the collections. Now, the recorded sound archive reflects the entire history of sound technology, from the first wax cylinders through LPs, tape, and CDs, to digital files.

The collection overviews presented below are representative of the breadth of our holdings but are by no means an exhaustive list of all of the recordings we have. Please get in touch to learn more about our collections and all they have to offer!

Physical Recorded Sound Collections

Three collections comprise the most significant sets of recordings from the earliest days of audio and the disc recording industry.

[Thomas Edison, full-length portrait, seated, facing front, with phonograph]. [ca. 1878]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.
  • Emile Berliner Collection
    A selection of recordings representing the Berliner Gramophone Company and the work of Emile Berliner, who invented the Gramophone disc and the microphone, and founded the disc recording industry. The collection includes manuscripts, scrapbooks, and photographs relating to the career of Berliner, contributed by his descendants.

  • Edison Recordings
    The Recorded Sound Section also holds early Edison Diamond Disc recordings, a number of which are featured in the online collection Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies (see below).

  • John Secrist Collection
    The Secrist Collection consists of early commercial classical and operatic recordings dating from 1902 to 1925. See the Classical tab for more information on this collection of early recordings.

Underwood & Underwood, "Circus broadcast by radio for first time," Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, loc.gov/item/2012649422/.

Our collection contains more radio broadcasts (over .5 million) than any other library or archive in the United States. Prominent collections include:

  • NBC Collection: 150,000 sixteen-inch lacquer discs from the 1930s-1980s, including news, cultural programming, and tens of thousands of World War II-related broadcasts
    • Meet the Press Collection: Recordings of the radio program and audio from the longest-running television program in history, which features interviews with political leaders and other significant figures from the US and around the world. The collection spans the period from 1945 to 1984.
  • Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS): 300,000 twelve- and sixteen-inch discs from 1942-1998
  • Office of War Information (OWI): over 50,000 instantaneous lacquer discs from 1942-1945
  • National Public Radio (NPR): The cultural programming portions of NPR broadcasts, 27,000 tapes from 1971-1992
  • Voice of America (VOA): Over 50,000 discs and tapes of musical event broadcasts dating from 1946-1988
  • WOR-AM Collection: Flagship station of the Mutual Broadcasting Network located in New York City. Collection includes several thousand 16-inch instantaneous transcription discs, the paper archives of WOR, as well as an outstanding group of materials relating to the radio career of Phillips H. Lord
  • Lowry/McBride Collection: Recordings and written material covering Mary Margaret McBride's entire broadcasting career, 1937-1956.
  • WWOZ Collection: live performances, radio shows, studio air checks, interviews, and DJ shows from WWOZ in New Orleans (see the "Jazz" tab for more information)

Bernard Gotfryd, "[Kurt Vonnegut, half-length portrait, seated outdoors in Concord, N.H.]," Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, loc.gov/item/2006689911.   Listen to Vonnegut's 1971 lecture in the Coolidge Auditorium for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature here.

Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature: Several thousand recordings of notable authors reading their own works in the recording studios and Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress make up the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Many of the recordings are now available online (see the Online Collections below).

Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape: The Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape was begun in 1943 by the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress to record poets and prose writers from Spain, Portugal, Latin America, the Caribbean and from the Hispanic Community in the United States reading from their works. To date, close to 750 authors have been recorded. A number of these recordings are available in a digital collection on the Library's website. Contact the Hispanic Division for more information.

National Press Club Collection: The National Press Club has hosted luncheons and speaking engagements with important political and cultural figures since the 1930s. This collection consists of noteworthy luncheon speeches and other events by newsmakers from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Marine Corps Combat Recordings: Field recordings made by World War II combat correspondents in the South Pacific make up this fascinating collection, including briefings before invasions, interviews, battle sounds, and personal messages from servicemen.

Nation's Forum Collection: Through the work of Guy Golterman, an attorney and arts promoter in St. Louis, the Nation's Forum record label recorded and sold recordings of prominent American political figures from 1918 to 1920. Topics covered include WWI and the 1920 election. Many of these recordings have been digitized and made available in the American Leaders Speak digital collection (see the Online Collections below).

Office of War Information, "[Four members of a string quartet, performing in the Coolidge Auditorium, from a film on the Library of Congress, produced by the U.S. Office of War Information]," Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, loc.gov/item/2005689601/.

The Library has collected classical music since the early days of the recording industry. Many commercial classical recordings can be found by searching the Online Catalog and SONIC, the Recorded Sound Section's catalog. The Division also holds special collections that feature classical music in live performances, radio broadcasts, and rare recordings.

Music Division Coolidge Auditorium Concert Series: This collection consists of chamber music recordings from the renowned Library of Congress concert series, beginning in 1937 and highlighted by the Library's resident ensembles: The Budapest String Quartet, The Juilliard String Quartet, and The Beaux Arts Trio.

John Secrist Collection: 2,800 commercial classical music releases, primarily operatic, from 1902 to 1925 make up this collection, which includes nearly complete sets of commercial releases of Enrico Caruso and Rosa Ponselle, as well as acoustic recordings of Suzanne Adams, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and Giovanni Zenatello.

Joel Berger Collection: This collection is comprised of rare recordings of over forty Imperial Russian Opera singers.

Special collections in Recorded Sound Section include the personal sound recording collections of such musical greats as Serge Rachmaninoff, Rosa Ponselle, Aaron Copland, Geraldine Farrar, Sigmund Romberg, Leonard Bernstein, and André Kostelanetz.

William P. Gottlieb, "[Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. 1946]," Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, loc.gov/item/gottlieb.11471/.

The Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division holds one of the world's foremost collections of jazz recordings, often with associated scores, manuscripts, and photographs. Represented artists include:

  • Pearl Bailey
  • Charlie Barnet
  • Louie Bellson
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Carmen McRae
  • Charles Mingus
  • Billy Taylor
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Duke Ellington
  • Gerry Mulligan
  • Miles Davis
  • Max Roach
  • Dexter Gordon

Notable jazz collections include:

Robert Altshuler and Frederick Klinger Collections: Two of the largest private collections of recordings received by the Library to date, these collections consist of some 260,000 recordings (1917-1985) of most classic blues and jazz artists recorded during the 78 and LP eras.

WWOZ Collection: WWOZ is the premier jazz and heritage radio station of New Orleans, a city known as the birthplace of jazz and the prominent center of many musical styles. Since the early 1990s WWOZ has been broadcasting live and recording performances at musical festivals, concert venues, and night clubs throughout New Orleans, amassing thousands of hours of recordings that document an incredible range of jazz, blues, gospel, rock and roll, Cajun and zydeco music. The WWOZ Collection encompasses live musical performances, WWOZ radio shows, studio air checks, interviews, DJ shows, and performances by by many well-known jazz musicians. See the Online Collections below to learn more and hear some of the station's recordings.

Just Jazz with Ed Beach: This is a collection of radio broadcasts from the influential jazz show hosted by Ed Beach in the 1960's and 70's.

Wally Heider Collection: Several thousand unpublished remote recordings of live jazz and big band performances make up this collection.

Armed Forces Radio and Television Service Collection: This collection includes several hundred thousand recordings made for American troops during World War II and after and contains such important jazz series as “One Night Stand,” “Jubilee,” and “Bandstand, U.S.A.”

Voice of America Music Library Collection: The Library's Voice of America holdings consist mainly of musical programs, including jazz programs and Newport Jazz Festivals hosted by Willis Conover, a long-time VOA radio host. Conover had a small audience in the US but maintained a large following in Europe, where his jazz programs that featured interviews as well as music were aired during the Cold War.

Marion S. Trikosko, "The Beatles arriving and press conference (British rock & rollers)," U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, loc.gov/item/2016646493/.

As with classical music, the Library has collected popular music since the early days of the recording industry. Gifts from Victor, Columbia, and Decca in the first half of the 20th century established the collection. After new laws in the early 1970s allowing the copyright registration of sound recordings, the Library has received published popular music recordings through copyright deposits. Prior to the 1970s, the Library relied on gifts and agreements with major record labels to send new releases to the Library for cataloging. Advances in recording technology in the 1940s and 50s greatly increased the number of records the Library received from record companies, and the acquisition of several significant special collections helped fill in gaps in the Library's pre-1972 commercial holdings.

Popular music has arrived at the Library on many formats throughout the years: 78 rpm disc, 45 rpm disc, long-playing disc (LP), tape, and CD. Popular music genres include blues, country, traditional and folk, musical theater, big band/swing, pop, rock, and hip hop/rap.

Many commercial recordings of popular music can be found in the Online Catalog.

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