Library of Congress Adds Music From Gloria Estefan, Run-DMC To National Recording Registry

By Sameer Rao Mar 21, 2018

The Library of Congress (LOC) selected both hit and obscure recordings of artists of color for preservation in the National Recording Registry today (March 21). 

Per a LOC announcement, 25 newly honored audio works bring the total number of recordings in the registry to 500. The recordings from this class span 85 years and include a mix of commercially released music, field recordings and radio broadcasts. The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 authorized the creation of the registry, which the LOC has built with annual selections of archival recordings since 2002.

“This annual celebration of recorded sound reminds us of our varied and remarkable American experience,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in the statement. “The unique trinity of historic, cultural and aesthetic significance reflected in the National Recording Registry each year is an opportunity for reflection on landmark moments, diverse cultures and shared memories—all reflected in our recorded soundscape.”

To that end, the new class of inductees range from smash hip hop and Latinx pop records to rare recordings of Indigenous tribal songs. Here, a list of the newly added recordings by or featuring people of color, with information from the LOC:

Standing Rock Preservation Recordings, George Herzog and Members of the Yanktoni Tribe (1928)
Nearly a century before Indigenous activists stood against the Dakota Access pipeline, anthropologist George Herzog captured the resilience of Native Americans on the Standing Rock Reservation. The LOC notes that Herzog recorded Yanktoni-Dakota peoples as they sang songs that originated prior to the forced relocation of their tribes to Standing Rock, as well as new songs that formed a bridge to their past.

Lamento Borincano” (single), Canario y Su Grupo (1930)
Puerto Rican guitarist and composer Manuel "Canario" Jiménez created this Spanish-language standard with bandmates Rafael "El Jibarito" Hernández and Pedro "Davilita" Ortiz Dávila. The title roughly translates to "The Lament of the Borinquen"–a word derived from the Taíno name for the island of Puerto Rico. The song’s lyrics address the suffering of Puerto Rican farmers during the Great Depression, and follow an agrarian man who cannot sell his wares in increasingly depleted urban areas. The song has since been covered by many artists, including Marc Anthony and Placido Domingo

"Sitting on Top of the World" (single), Mississippi Sheiks (1930)
The LOC describes this early blues/folk recording as “part of the Southern and Southwestern musical vernacular." This song by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon, the latter of whom came from a regionally famous family of Black Mississippi musicians, recorded the archived version of "Sitting on Top of the World" with the OKeh Records field recording team in Shreveport, Louisiana. The song, whose morose lyrics about a departed lover contrast with its sunny titular refrain, became part of the blues and folk canon. Artists like Ray Charles and Howlin’ Wolf brought their versions of the song to future generations of music fans.

If I Didn’t Care” (single), The Ink Spots (1939)
Groups like The Ink Spots set a commercial standard for Black multi-part vocal ensembles that followed them. The LOC writes that this ballad became one of the best-performing singles of all time, with 19 million copies sold worldwide.

How I Got Over” (single), Clara Ward and the Ward Singers (1950)
Willa Ward-Royster wrote in her 1997 memoir, "How I Got Over," that her sister and singing partner Clara wrote this uplifting gospel hit after enduring racist verbal abuse from White men during a tour in the South. The song helped the Ward sisters bring gospel out of the church and into mainstream music. "How I Got Over" received a significant nod 13 years after this recording, when Mahalia Jackson sang it during the March on Washington.

Calypso” (album), Harry Belafonte (1956)
According to the LOC, West Indian singer and activist Harry Belafonte recorded this album after performing several of its songs on television and realizing that the music of his community could succeed in the United States. Songs like "Day-O" and "Jamaican Farewell" elevated the profile of calypso and other Afro-Caribbean music traditions abroad.

“King Biscuit Time” (radio), Sonny Boy Williamson II and others (1965)
The LOC notes that harominica virtuoso Rice Miller adopted the moniker of "Sonny Boy Williamson," which he shared with another blues artist, through successive performances on "King Biscuit Time," a popular radio program. This recording from the long-running radio show took place in the same year that Miller died. 

My Girl” (single), The Temptations (1964)
Motown Records scored one of its most enduring hits with "My Girl" which Smokey Robinson and Ronald White co-wrote for The Temptations. “I’m totally overwhelmed by ‘My Girl’ receiving such an honor,” Robinson told the LOC. “As a songwriter, it has become my international anthem. People in countries where English is not the primary language know and sing ‘My Girl’ when I perform it.”

Le Freak” (single), Chic (1978)
Nile Rodgers and his bandmates in Chic captured the disco genre’s spirit of good times and personal liberation with this infectious track. The band’s sound lives on as Rogers lends his trademark guitar style to tracks by Daft Punk and other contemporary artists.

Raising Hell” (album), Run-DMC (1986)
Hip hop crept further toward the pop mainstream thanks to this album by Run-DMC, who introduced rap to rock audiences with tracks like "Walk This Way." “The thing that I remember most about ‘Raising Hell’ is that it was so much great energy that it was made very easily,” Joseph "Reverend Run" Simmons told the LOC. “To think that something that just came out of my mouth and out of my creativity is being put on this level of honor just blows my mind.”

Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” (single)Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine (1987)
This funky track broke ground for Latinx artists to bring their culture into pop music. "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and established Estefan’s singing bonafides with a broader audience. “When we wrote ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,’ we set out to create a fusion of rhythms that reflected the musical cultures of our native Cuba and our adopted country, the United States,” Estefan told the LOC. “So it is an accolade of particular significance to us, that it be honored as an important part of the creative legacy of this great country, with its induction into the National Recording Registry.”

“Yo-Yo Ma Premieres: Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra” (album), Various (1996)
The most recent recording inducted in this class comes from Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who performed concertos by a mix of U.S.-born composers with the Philadelphia Orchestra for this project.