From Silly to Somber, New Sounds Added to America’s Audio Registry

Posted March 27th, 2015 at 2:06 pm (UTC-4)
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In one of his funk-soul hits, singer Sly Stone describes himself as “everyday people.” The Library of Congress adjudges otherwise.

This week, the library added Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 album, “Stand!” – along with 24 other audio treasures by various artists – to its National Recording Registry.

The new additions range from 1890s wax-cylinder recordings to radio coverage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1945 funeral to jazz, Baptist hymns and Ben E. King’s classic “Stand by Me.”

All were chosen for “their cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy,” the library said in a news release Wednesday.

Congress, in its National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, authorized the head librarian and a board to select 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” sound recordings each year for inclusion in the registry. The entries also must be at least 10 years old.

“By preserving these recordings, we safeguard the words, sounds and music that embody who we are as a people and nation,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in the release.

“Sesame Street: Platinum All-Time Favorites,” a 1995 collection of silly, smart and sweet songs from the popular educational children’s show, also made the cut. Christopher Cerf, the album’s co-producer and a composer of some of its songs, was surprised and delighted to learn of its registry selection.

Composer and producer Christopher Cerf poses for a picture at the piano he wrote songs for the children's TV show "Sesame Street" in New York, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Composer and producer Christopher Cerf poses for a picture at the piano he wrote songs for the children’s TV show “Sesame Street” in New York, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“It’s an honor,” he said in a phone interview Thursday, praising colleagues such as “Rubber Ducky” composer Joe Raposo. Cerf, with Norman Stiles, composed “Put Down the Ducky” and “Monster in the Mirror,” among other contributions for the album.

Cerf, a co-founder of National Lampoon humor magazine and son of famed publisher and children’s author Bennett Cerf, said he relished creating songs that contain educational lessons – and a few laughs for all ages and places.

For instance, Cerf parodied the Beatles’ “Let It Be” with a “Sesame Street” spoof, the Beetles’ “Letter B.”

“Sesame Street” airs in more than 150 countries, and many of its music lyrics get translated into other tongues. “To hear ‘Rubber Ducky’ in German is pretty funny,” Cerf said. “But it’s thrilling to hear these songs as performed in other countries.”

“I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this,” Cerf said, speaking of “Sesame Street” and the album’s inclusion in the registry.

The registry’s latest additions bring the total number to 425, among the library’s nearly 3 million sound holdings. Best examples of each recording are stored at the library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, a facility in Culpeper, Virginia.

Among the latest group’s highlights are:

  • “Vernacular” wax cylinder recordings from the University of California, Santa Barbara Library. Recorded from the 1890s through the 1910s, the collection of 600-plus cylinders capture sounds of entertainment and everyday life: people singing, playing instruments or telling jokes, babies crying. The audio is recorded in shallow grooves in wax that erodes with time, making the sounds especially vulnerable.
  • The Benjamin Ives Gilman Collection, recorded at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago. Gilman, a Harvard psychologist who became curator of the Boston Fine Arts Museum, recorded the fair’s performers from around the world. They included Native American, Turkish, Samoan, Javanese and
  • Broadcaster Arthur Godfrey emotionally describes President Roosevelt’s  funeral procession, with its “caisson and flag-draped coffin … the horses with black blankets under their saddles, the horses on the right side, unmounted. … And, most generally, folks having as tough a time as I am trying to see it.”


Learn more about each of the new inductees here. You can listen to samples from some of the recordings below.

Carol Guensburg
Carol Guensburg is a Washington-based VOA writer and editor. Contact her at

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