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Primary Sources for Music - Digital Collections: Sound Recordings

Links to selected primary source materials for music, including manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, sheet music, and more.

Using Sound Recordings for Research:

Music is, by its very nature, ephemeral. The advent of recorded sound allowed for the preservation of performance in a fixed medium. Early sound recordings on cylinder or shellac disc allow research into performance practice and aspects of individual performance technique. In the case of ethnomusicology and anthropology, field recordings are often the only source materials available for the study of music passed along via oral traditions.

Other Online Sound Recordings:

The Digital Collection of East African Recordings (DCEAR) - A subset of the Global Music Archive, DCEAR provides access to more than 1600 individual performances of East African indigenous music. The project was founded in 2003 by Vanderbilt University professor Gregory Barz, the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library, and the Vanderbilt University Libraries, all DCEAR recordings are available free of charge to the public.

Thomas Edison National Historical Park - "We have compiled a selection of Edison recordings from the Thomas Edison National Historical Park archive in MP3 format, arranged (below) by genre. The content of the recordings is mostly music, covering many different genres popular in the United States during Edison's era. Spoken word recordings include vaudeville comedy sketches, documentary speeches, educational lessons, and motion picture soundtracks. Experimental recordings document research carried out at the Edison Laboratory to develop recorded sound technology."

Sounds Recordings from the Library of Congress:

African-American Band Music and Recordings, 1883-1923 - "The core of this presentation consists of “stock” arrangements for bands or small orchestras of popular songs written by African Americans. In addition, we offer a smaller selection of historic sound recordings illustrating these songs and many others by the same composers (the arrangements might not necessarily be the same as those on the stocks). Educational materials include short biographies of composers and performers of the time and historical essays."

The Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings - "The Alan Lomax collection of Michigan and Wisconsin recordings (AFC 1939/007) documents Irish, Italian, Finnish, Serbian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, Croatian, French Canadian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Swedish songs and stories, as well as occupational folklife among loggers and lake sailors in Michigan and Wisconsin. Lomax’s itinerary took him from Detroit through the Saginaw River valley to the northern counties of the Lower Peninsula, including Beaver Island. Crossing the Straits of Mackinac, he collected across the Upper Peninsula to the far northern Calumet area and then along the Lake Superior coast to easternmost Wisconsin." Alan Lomax was commissioned by the Library of Congress to make these recordings in 1938, and they are a rich source of primary source material for ethnomusicologists.

Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies - The highlights of this collection are the 341 motion pictures and 81 disc sound recordings issued by the Edison Companies in the early twentieth century. Future releases of this collection will include cylinder recordings.

The National Jukebox: Historical Recordings from the Library of Congress - "The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives." The core of the National Jukebox is comprised of more than 10,000 acoustic recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925.

Selected Images:

Harry Von Tilzer, "Don't Take Me Home," lyrics by Vincent Bryan, performed by Ed Morton , Victor 5545, 78 rpm, 1908, Library of Congress National Jukebox, accessed March 19, 2015.

Robert Recker, "Gladiolus Rag" (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1909), Library of Congress, African American Band Music & Recordings, 1883-1923, accessed March 19, 2015.