December 23, 2006

Free Historic MP3s

Fill your iPod at unbeatable prices.

The amazing Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara includes 6,000 digitized wax-cylinder recordings dating back to 1895. The collection includes Tin Pan Alley music, vaudeville performances and advertisements.

As the official press release says: "The primary goal of the project was to make the collection available to researchers and the public." Since this is a public university and not a commercial enterprise, access is completely free. You can even download a copy for your own personal use at no charge.

Search tips. To search for the title of a particular song, type it into the Keyword Search bar. I typed in the title of a song my dad used to sing to me. He learned in the army decades after this recording was made. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they still sing it.

If there is a digital copy available, your results page will include this crucial bit:

If you just want to hear it and don't necessarily want to keep a copy on your computer, click the triangle in the grey bar. That will stream the music to your computer.

If you'd like to download a copy for your own private use, you are welcome to click on the "MP3 file" link. For more information about copyright restrictions and what to do if you can't hear any music, visit the project website FAQ.

Much to my delight, the collection includes two versions of the army classic "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."One sung by Arthur Fields and one by Irving Kaufman. So far, only the Fields version is available digitally, and therefore it's the version currently on my iPod.

Browsing. If you don't have a research agenda, I recommend one of the radio streams.

Disclaimer. I'm including this disclaimer because I believe it's the only ethical way for archivists to provide access to racist materials. We need to preserve them because if they all disappeared I'm absolutely certain it wouldn't be long before everyone convinced themselves that it was just an exaggeration because, c'mon -- they couldn't possibly have been all that bad.

From the project website:

Disclaimer About "Dialect Recordings"

"Coon songs," "rube sketches," "Irish character songs," and other dialect recordings that were popular in vaudeville routines and genres of songs during the late 19th and early 20th century often contain negative stereotypes and portrayals of blacks and other ethnic groups. These recordings reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. Many individuals will find the content offensive. Some of these songs and recitations were written or performed by members of the ethnic group in question, while others were not, such as the tradition of blackface minstrelsy of whites performing caricatured portrayals of blacks. To exclude these cylinders from the digital collection would deprive scholars and the public the opportunity to learn about the past and would present a distorted picture of popular culture and music making during this time period. The mission of the UCSB Libraries is to make its resources available to the faculty, staff, and students of the University community and to the general public. The UCSB Libraries presents these documents as part of the record of the past and does not endorse the views expressed in these collections.

Dedication. This post is dedicated to my library school pal, Mr. David Seubert. I found out about this amazing project via a copy of the New York Times discarded in an airport lounge. An absurdly random occurrence. I literally whooped when I read David's name in the article. Right now while I type this, David is (possibly) driving a rental car to Colorado because his flight into Denver was cancelled. Six foot snow drifts will do that, I've read.

Photo Credits: UC Santa Barbara,


1. Something located at a time when it could not have existed or occurred.
2. An artifact that belongs to another time.
3. A person who seems to be displaced in time; who belongs to another age.

Definition from WordNet® 2.1, © 2005 Princeton University, via

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