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Posts Tagged ‘Library of Congress’

GC Myers- Pacifica smEvery spring the Library of Congress selects 25 recordings that they deem to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to be added to their National Recording Registry.  There is a wide selection each year with recordings from all genres of music combined with radio broadcasts. speeches and other spoken word recordings.

For example,this year includes General Marshall‘s 1947 speech at Harvard where he laid out the basis for the Marshall Plan alongside George Carlin’s seminal Class Clown comedy album.  Plus for sports lovers, there’s the recording of the broadcast of the fourth quarter of the historic 1962 game in which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.

There are a lot of things from the list that I could use for this Sunday morning music selection.  There are two versions of Mack the Knife, one from Louis Armstrong and the other from Bobby Darin.  There’s Where Did Our Love Go? from the Supremes, Piano Man from Billy Joel, Cry Me a River from Julie London and too many others to list this early in the morning.  You can see the whole list here.

But the selection that caught my eye was the 1964 debut album, It’s My Way,  from folk singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.  If you are of a certain age, you probably remember Buffy Sainte-Marie when she was one of the stars of the folk revival of the 1960’s.  Her Cree Indian heritage and the fact she was one of the few women songwriters in the genre at the time made her stand out and she was staple of variety television shows of the era.  But her profile was less visible going into the 1970’s and she had a 16 year hiatus from recording from the mid 70’s until 1992 although she was still busy as a songwriter.  The song Up Where We Belong which she co-wrote was a huge hit for Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes as well as winning the Academy Award for Best Song in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.

This 1964 album is a pretty remarkable recording and there are a number of her songs from it which I could have chosen to play.  Universal Soldier became a standard as a 1960’s protest song and Cod’ine was covered by dozens of artists, most famously Janis Joplin.  But it is the title track that stands out for me.  It’s a song that seems timeless in its sound, not trapped in its own time like some songs from  significant eras.  It’s a powerful song that builds and builds.

Give a listen to It’s My Way and have a great Sunday.

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Louis Jordan Caldonia Lobby CardThis past week the Library of Congress announced this year’s 25 entries into its National Recording Registry, which is a preserved collection of songs (and other recordings including spoken word) that are considered culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”  It’s always interesting to read through to see what they consider significant and, for the most part, I generally agree.  There are always the obvious choices but it’s the lesser known choices that always interest me most.

Among the musical highlights from this year was the late Jeff Buckley’s luminous and haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Cathy’s Clown from the Everly Brothers, Fortunate Son from Creedence Clearwater Revival and the entire Joshua Tree album from U2 as well the Isaac Hayes album  , Shaft.

Among non-musical selections were the vast Presidential recordings of LBJ (Nearly 850 hours of them!), recorded interviews with baseball pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th century and The First Family, a hugely popular comedy album from Vaughan Meader  that spoofed President Kennedy and his family.  It was pulled from the shelves after JFK’s assasination.

There are plenty more to check out on this list but the one that caught my eye and made me smile was the song Caldonia from the great Louis Jordan.  Jordan was one of the most successful African-American artists of all time yet his name probably doesn’t mean much to many folks today.  But his swinging sound and showmanship made him a crossover hit in the late 30’s and 40’s and set the table for the coming age of rock and roll.  He was massive influence on the early rockers and many of songs  and moves were covered by them.  Jordan deserves to be well known today and its wonderful that the Library of Congress chose one of his  songs for the registry.  It’s  a move in the right direction.

Here’s a rockin’  1946 version of Caldonia to start your Sunday morning off with a bang.  Have a great day!

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Baseball  Helen West HellerI was looking for woodcuts that had baseball in them and came across a couple that were by an artist with which I was not familiar, Helen West Heller.  I liked the design and look of the pieces that I had found, more modern and stylized than the others.  Unique.  I began to look up the artist, who lived from 1872 to 1955,  but found little.  No Wikipedia page and a few scant biographies that mainly listed her exhibits and the collections in which her work – both woodcuts and paintings-  was included.

Baseball2 Helen West HellerAnd it was a pretty impressive resume.  A retrospective at the Smithsonian.  Awards from the Library of Congress. Shows at the Brooklyn Museum and other galleries around the country.  Looking at the Metropolitan Museum website, I found that she had over 170 pieces in their permanent collection.  Why wasn’t there more on her?

HellerBut then I came across a site devoted to her life and work, The Extraordinary Life and Art of Helen West Heller.  It’s a rambling website full of references and writings devoted to Heller but even as Heller’s most ardent fan and champion, Dr. Ernest Harms, wrote in 1957, just two years after her death: “Helen West Heller has lived the life of a full blooded personality striving and fighting for an artistic ideal . . . Far too little is known even among artists about this amazing woman.”

The tragedy is that when she did die, she did so alone and as a pauper in  Bellevue in NYC.  Her body remained in the morgue there for over 10 days until Artists Equity arranged for burial in NJ.  There’s a lot more on her in the rambling site devoted to her, much of it quite interesting but never completely revealing.  She lived at a time when there was still room for mystery and mythology in one’s life.  Perhaps that mystery, as well as the personality of her work,  is what makes her  so intriguing to me.

Heller-HoovesBig

 

 

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