The Library of Congress Gets a Big Gift from Hollywood

Louis Armstrong. Photo courtesy DeccaThe Library of Congress is having a late white Christmas today thanks to a huge donation of sound recordings from the Universal Music Group. Included in 200,000 gifted historic master recordings--that's more than 5,000 linear feet--is Bing Crosby's 1947 version of "White Christmas," Louis Armstrong singing "Ain't Misbehavin'" and the Mercury recordings of Machito and his Afro-Cuban All Stars.

"A surprisingly high percentage of America's recording heritage since the early part of the 20th century has been lost due to neglect and deterioration," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "The donation of the UMG archive to the Library of Congress is a major gift to the nation that will help maintain the inter-generational connection that is essential to keeping alive, in our collective national memory, the music and sound recordings meaningful to past generations."

However, in an age when just about everything can be digitized and shared over the internet, much of the collection will likely be consumed at the physical archive only. That's because of all copyright laws, ones that deal with recorded sound can be the most restrictive. Even today, many record companies still completely own recordings from over one hundred years ago.

"That's one of the big reasons why this is such an important initiative," said Gene DeAnna, who heads the Library of Congress' Recorded Sound Section. He said some of the collection will eventually be available online and hopes the Library's digitization effort will spur interest in unheard recordings. "I think it's a good thing for American people to have access. This material has been locked away in a vault for a half of a century."

The collection dates back to 1923 and has thousands of released and unreleased metal and lacquer discs and master mono tapes from artists such as Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, the Andrews Sisters, Connee Boswell, Jimmy Dorsey, the Mills Brothers, Guy Lombardo, Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Waring, Judy Garland, and Dinah Washington, among others.

The Library's Recorded Sound Section already has more than 3 million sound recordings in its collections.

About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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