Library of Congress adds to list of sounds that shaped America

It's the Library of Congress' tribute to significant sound recordings. Each year, 25 pieces of audio are selected to be inducted into the National Recording Registry. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden walks us through this year’s selections, from a 1888 wax cylinder recording to 1990s rap.

Read the Full Transcript


    Finally tonight, you will want to listen closely. We explore the sounds that shaped the cultural history of America.

    Each year, the Library of Congress selects 25 examples of audio it considers significant for the National Recording Registry. It's a wide-ranging list, from Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" to stand-up comedy by Richard Pryor.

    Our guide is the librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

    CARLA HAYDEN, Librarian of Congress: The registry is the Library of Congress' tribute to significant sound recordings, not only music, but actually sound of significant events.

    The recordings that are selected this year and also the over 400 recordings that have been selected for the registry over the years are all preserved and made available at the Library of Congress' Culpeper facility, the Packard Center.

    The facility curates and also preserves over four million items, and more are coming. There's a combination of comedy. You have Richard Pryor. You have jazz, Wes Montgomery.

    You have a cylinder that goes back to 1888 that really captures what sound recording was at that time, really demonstrating we have to preserve what we hear.

    Baseball is one of those universal American experiences. And so many people share time and space and stadiums. And they also shared it, as my grandfather did, listening on the radio. And what the selection is meant to represent each year is the variety of sound recording and the differences in different genres.

    "Straight Outta Compton" was performed by a seminal rap group, NWA. It was heralded as a song and a group that made a difference in terms of that genre being taken seriously.

    Judy Garland, "Over the Rainbow," I was surprised that it hadn't been selected already. And I don't think there are many people that haven't looked at either the film or listened to that song and thought about Judy Garland singing it.

    David Bowie really exemplified evolution in performance. And a song that united so many people, and it's talked about and used so many times, "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge.

    When Judy Collins recorded "Amazing Grace" in 1970, it was a symbol of forgiveness, of striving, and just emotional and spiritual depth.

    Renee Fleming, in terms of opera, of course, is someone who has made such a difference.

    Music, in particular, can unite so many people, and that we are all joined by the sound of life.


    Makes you want to listen to every single one of them.

    And that's the NewsHour for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff.

    For all of us at the PBS NewsHour, thank you, and we will see you soon.

Listen to this Segment