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The National Jukebox: Family Historians Should Give It a Listen

Biff Barnes

Remember jukeboxes?

You went to your neighborhood soda fountain, pizza parlor or hamburger joint, slipped a quarter in the coin slot, pushed a few buttons and your personally selected soundtrack played in the background for the rest of your visit.

You don’t see jukeboxes much anymore, but the Library of Congress is doing something about that. The Library recently launched an online National Jukebox at . [Thanks to Leland Meitzler for the heads-up on The Genealogy Blog] Created in collaboration with Sony Music Entertainment the Jukebox contains 10,000 rare historic recordings of music and the spoken word produced between 1901 and 1925 now available to the public for the first time digitally.

“This amazing collection is a chance to hear history,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “This collection includes popular music, dance music, opera, early jazz, famous speeches, poetry and humor. It is what our grandparents and great-grandparents listened to, danced to, sang along with. This brings online one of the most explosively creative periods in American culture and music and one of the finest additions to the Library’s American Memory materials.”

Works by Fletcher Henderson, Al Jolson, George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Alberta Hunter, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, and opera stars Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba and Geraldine Farrar are all covered, as are such original recordings as the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with George Gershwin on piano, and Nora Bayes’ “Over There.”

“This represents a strong step in the Library’s efforts to return out-of-circulation recordings to public access,” said Gene DeAnna, head of the Library’s Recorded Sound Section.

Not just limited to music, users also can access political speeches by Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft, recitings of famous popular poems such as “Casey at the Bat” and “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” readings from the Bible and early sound-effects records such as a collection of snores and sneezes.

The Jukebox, besides being a lot of fun to listen to, is an exciting resource for historical and family history researchers. If you are trying to gather material through oral history interviews one of the difficult challenges you often face is to unlock the memories of older interview subjects. Music can be a great trigger.

"What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head." said Petr Janata, a cognitive neuroscientist at University of California, Davis. "It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person's face in your mind's eye."

I’m also excited about the Jukebox because I often find myself advising people trying to bring family histories to life to place their ancestors’ stories in the context of social. Movies have a soundtrack helping to heighten each scene’s mood. The Jukebox will help authors create a similar background for the events they describe by letting readers know something about what their ancestors might have been listening to.

Sound interesting? Give these recordings a listen to get an idea of what you’ll find on the national Jukebox. Post a comment to let us know what you say.

Waiting for the Robert E. Lee

Low Bridge! Everybody Down!

Enrico Caruso, Angelo castro e bel

Smiler Rag

Theodore Roosevelt, Why the trusts and bosses oppose the Progressive Party