Winston Churchill, Kermit and Janet Jackson recordings preserved for posterity

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
Winston Churchill, Kermit The Frog and Janet JacksonImage source, Getty Images

Spotify recently revealed that 60,000 tracks are uploaded to its servers every day - that's a new song every one and a half seconds.

The US Library of Congress is more picky: admitting just 25 recordings to its Recording Registry every year.

Those works, which are deemed to have historical and cultural significance, are then preserved for posterity.

This year's inductees have just been announced, with Janet Jackson, Winston Churchill and The Muppets on the list.

Nas' iconic debut, Illmatic, was also added to the registry, as was Labelle's Lady Marmalade and Louis Armstrong's 1938 recording of When the Saints Go Marching In.

Churchill is included for his speech at the White House on Christmas Eve 1941, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor dragged America into the Second World War.

Broadcast around the world, the speech was a plea to put the horrors of war on pause during Christmas.

"Let the children have their night of fun and laughter," said the British prime minister. "Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us."

Janet Jackson's 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814 is one of the newest records to be added to the registry this year.

Figure caption,
Warning: Third party content may contain adverts

The Library of Congress recognised how the pop star had rejected pressure to repeat the commercial success of her previous record, Control, and instead made a record that grappled with racism, homelessness, gun crime and social injustice.

"We wanted Rhythm Nation to really communicate empowerment," Jackson's producer Jimmy Jam told the Library of Congress. "It was making an observation, but it was also a call to action. Janet's purpose was to lead people and do it through music, which I think is the ultimate uniter of people."

Kermit The Frog, meanwhile, enters the registry thanks to The Rainbow Connection, the 1979 single that has become The Muppets' unofficial theme song.

Figure caption,
Warning: Third party content may contain adverts

Composer Paul Williams has called the ballad a tribute to the spirit of Muppets' creator Jim Henson.

"What [co-writer Kenny Ascher and I] tapped into for Kermit is what we tapped into for Jim Henson; his mind, heart, and gentle soul," Williams told Vanity Fair in 2019. "I think it's his song as much as Kenny's, or mine, or Kermit's."

Historic sound recording

One of the most curious and significant artefacts to be added to the registry this year is a voice recording made on tinfoil in 1878.

Thought to be the oldest playable recording of an American voice, it begins with the sound of brass instruments, followed by recitations of Mary Had a Little Lamb and Old Mother Hubbard.

The nursery rhymes are interrupted intermittently with laughter as the narrator forgets the words. "Look at me; I don't know the song," says the man, thought to be Thomas Mason, a journalist in Missouri.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Thomas Edison with his phonograph in 1906

Mason was among the first people to buy one of Thomas Edison's phonograph machines, which he invented in 1877; but died of sunstroke three weeks after making his historic recording.

The foil survived - but it was thought to be unplayable for years, until scientists managed to extract the sound digitally in 2013.

The most recent recording added to the registry is a 2008 episode of the US radio show This American Life, which tells the story of the subprime mortgage crisis that led to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. It is also the first podcast to become part of the collection.

The full list of recordings selected for the registry is as follows:

  1. Edison's St. Louis tinfoil recording (1878)
  2. Nikolina — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)
  3. Smyrneikos Balos — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)
  4. When the Saints Go Marching In — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)
  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast — Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (24 December, 1941)
  6. The Guiding Light (22 November, 1945)
  7. Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues — Odetta (1957) (album)
  8. Lord, Keep Me Day by Day — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)
  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (1 October, 1961)
  10. Aida — Leontyne Price, (1962) (album)
  11. Once a Day — Connie Smith (1964) (single)
  12. Born Under a Bad Sign — Albert King (1967) (album)
  13. Free to Be…You & Me — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
  14. The Harder They Come — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)
  15. Lady Marmalade — Labelle (1974) (single)
  16. Late for the Sky — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)
  17. Bright Size Life — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)
  18. The Rainbow Connection — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)
  19. Celebration — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)
  20. Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)
  21. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)
  22. Partners — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)
  23. Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World — Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (1993) (single)
  24. Illmatic — Nas (1994) (album)
  25. This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money (9 May, 2008)

Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email