Friday, July 19, 2024

NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Modesto High School Band (1930)


NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Op. 84

Modesto High School Band

1930

This is one I don’t have a lot of information on, and only a small excerpt to listen to online. I refer you to the excellent, comprehensive essay by Steven Pecsek. Between 1926 and 1934, there was a National High School Band contest. This recording was made in 1930. There was a small trade in commemorative albums of the high school bands’ performances, used sometimes for fundraising purposes as well. The Modesto High School Band ranked highly in these competitions.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Night Life.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

NRR Project: 'Sittin' on Top of the World' (1930)


NRR Project: ‘Sitting on Top of the World’

The Mississippi Sheiks

1930

3:12

It’s interesting that a song I thought of as an upbeat bluegrass tune started off as a slowly paced blues song. Once again, the National Recording Registry holds an excellent explanatory essay on it by Edward Komara, which you can read here.

The Mississippi Sheiks were a duo that consisted of Walter Vinson on violin and Lonnie Chatmon on guitar. They played in central Mississippi, and probably would have been forgotten if not for the success of this unique song. It was recorded when Polk Brockman of Okeh Records caught them at a remote recording session in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1930. The song was a hit, and sustained the duo through their career together.

The lyrics are counterintuitive. Instead of lamenting the loss of a lover, the singer declares, “Now she’s gone, and I don’t worry/For I’m sittin’ on top of the world.” This defiant, proud statement overcomes the sorrow that the singer is feeling. (The title may have come from the 1925 pop song, “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” made popular by Al Jolson.)

Almost immediately, others began to cover the tune, in all kinds of styles. Among those artists were Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, bluegrass creator Bill Monroe, Howlin’ Wolf, Cream, and the Grateful Dead. Each brought their unique perspective to the song, bending it into many shapes, generally with a faster tempo, until the song became a rollicking, happy one.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: the Modesto High School Band plays Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.


Monday, July 15, 2024

NRR Project: 'Lamento Borincano'


‘Lamento Borincano’

Canario y Su Grupo

1930

3:04

I could not do better than Mario C. Cancel-Bigay’s explanatory essay on this selection. To read it at the National Recording Registry, go here.

For the sake of completeness, however, I will do my best to summarize. “Borincano” derives from the native slang for Puerto Rico. The song is a lament from the person of a peasant bringing his wares to town, only to find it deserted. The song becomes larger in scope, as the singer contemplates the sorry state of his homeland, before pledging his loyalty to it.

“The entire morning goes by

Without anyone wanting

To buy his load, oh to buy his load

Everything, everything is deserted

And the town is full of need

Oh, of need

The mourning is heard everywhere

In my unhappy Bonrinquen, yeah

 

And sad, the peasant goes

Thinking, saying

Crying like this on the way:

‘What will happen to Bonriquen, my dear God

What will happen to my children and mt home?’ Oh!

 

Bonriquen, the land of Eden

The one that when sung by the great Gautier

He called out the pearl of the Seas

‘Now that you lay dying from your sorrows

Let me sing to you also

Bonriquen of my love’, and no one will take that away


I’m a child of Bonriquen and no one will change that

I’m a child of Bonriquen and no one will change that

And on the day that I die, I want to rest in you

I love you, Puerto Rico, and no one will take that away,

Yeah!”

The song was an immense hit, and made the careers of its writer, Rafael Hernandez; of its original bandleader, “Canario”, and its singer “Davilita.” It has since been recorded innumerable times, serving as an informal anthem.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Sitting on Top of the World.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

NRR Project: 'Gregorio Cortez'

 


‘Gregorio Cortez’

Performed by Trovadores Regionales – Pedro Rocha, Lupe Martinez

October 1929

2:31

The corrido is a Mexican ballad, often in three-quarter time, that relates a narrative or describes an historical event. It is a genre that inflates mundane realities into legends, and makes heroes of common men. So it is with Gregorio Cortez.

He was born in 1875 in Mexico. When he was 14, his family moved to Texas, and Cortez began working as a cowboy and a farmhand. On June 14, 1901, Sheriff W.T. Morris and his deputy, who served as interpreter, came to interview Cortez and his brother regarding the theft of a horse. Due to mistranslation, the sheriff determined that the Cortezes were lying and declared his intent to arrest them.

Cortez’s brother ran at the sheriff and was shot several times. Cortez responded by shooting the sheriff dead. After taking his brother for medical attention, Cortez began his escape. For ten days, he traveled hundreds of miles by horse and on foot, evading over 300 lawmen deputized to bring him in. Finally captured, he was tried and sentenced for murder, but his sentence was commuted after a relatively short period of time.

This exploit made him a hero among Mexican-Americans, who saw him as a symbol of the fight against prejudice and malfeasance against them by the Anglo community. No fewer than eleven versions of “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” developed, each of them giving a slightly different perspective on his story. One common thread in these songs is the bemoaning of the unequal justice meted out to Mexican Americans.

The version preserved here is performed by a duo with guitar, singing simple harmonies. “Gregorio Cortez said, with his gun in his hand, ’I’m not sorry I killed him,’” they sing. “’I was only thinking of my brother.’”

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Lamento Borincano.

 

 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

The NRR Project: 'Pony Blues'

 


‘Pony Blues’

Written and performed by Charley Patton

June 1929

2:58

Charley Patton is “the father of Mississippi Delta blues”. What does this mean?

Blues issued forth initially from two regions – the city and the country. Country blues are finger-picked, acoustic performances. Mississippi delta blues are those that originated in the region of east Arkansas and Louisiana, and western Mississippi, adjacent to the Mississippi River. Primary proponents of this style were Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Lead Belly.

Patton, born perhaps in 1891, quickly proved himself adept at the guitar and began performing throughout the region. He started performing around 1908. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he played higher-class locations consistently. He also served as a mentor to many bluesmen, including Robert Johnson.

“Pony Blues” is a typical blues tune – revolving around sexual metaphors and the idea of hooking up with someone. Patton’s growly intonation, syncopated rhythms, and percussive intensity make him a distinct voice in the blues pantheon.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Trovadores Regionales.

 

 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The NRR Project: Rachmaninoff and Stokowski


Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor

Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Performed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano

Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, conductor

April 1929

31:47

The first complete recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 took place 28 years after its composition. The piece, written after a four-year creative drought (he dedicated it to his therapist), is one of the composer’s best-loved numbers. This recording features Rachmaninoff himself on piano, with the venerable Leopold Stokowski on the podium leading the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.

Rachmaninoff was born to relatively well-off parents in Czarist Russia in 1873, and received an excellent schooling in music. His compositional efforts were at first rebuffed; later, they would be seen as a culmination of Romanticism in the vein of Tchaikovsky. An incredible pianist, Rachmaninoff would turn to a life of primarily performing after his and his family’s escape from the newly formed Soviet Union in 1918.

Stokowski was already earning a reputation as an impressive conductor who specialized in 19th and 20th century music. He was known for conducting without a bat0on, one of the first to do so. He led the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1941.

Some critics have called this performance perfunctory, but it is still as close as we will get to hearing a Rachmaninoff composition as he intended it to be heard. With its lyric, flowing style, it is one of the last compositions in the Romantic manner.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Pony Blues.

 

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

NRR Project: “Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration”

 


“Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration”

NBC Radio

Oct. 21, 1929

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in Menlo Park, New Jersey, changing human history and cementing his legendary status as the ingenious American inventor par excellence.

Fifty years later, the General Electric Company and Westinghouse, always on the look-out for good publicity, decided to observe the anniversary of the discovery by honoring the still-living Edison to an extraordinary degree. The lengthy broadcast from NBC that captured the events of the celebration was preserved, and documents the immense, worshipful attention paid to the event and the character at its center.

The 82-year-old was feted in an elaborate production hosted by his long-time admirer and friend, fellow inventor Henry Ford. Ford eventually wrested control of the event from General Electric, and soon whipped up a spectacle at his newly established Edison Institute of Technology (later to be the Henry Ford Museum) in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford’s headquarters. Ford hired Edward L. Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, to orchestrate a commemorative campaign that would extend throughout the year of 1929 and climax at the ceremony.

The evening began with a celebratory banquet, attended by 500 prominent guests, among them President Herbert Hoover, Walter Chrysler, Marie Curie, Will Rogers, and Orville Wright. Afterwards came the painstaking recreation of the moment of Edison’s invention.

Listeners across the country were urged to turn out all their lights and leave them off until the reenactment was complete. Edison was transported to a reconstruction of his Menlo Park lab, along with Ford, Hoover, and his long-time assistant Francis Jehl (the only other surviving participant in the lightbulb’s invention), where he then connected the wires that caused the electric bulb to light up, live on air, “a moment broadcast over the airwaves on as many as 140 stations.” (Extensive movie footage of the events has survived as well.)

The attention then shifted to adulatory speeches. Speakers included a live message over the wireless from Germany – Albert Einstein chiming in with praise. A national event of this kind had never been broadcast before, and it presaged the ability of the media to unite and influence vast numbers of people.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Rachmaninoff plays his Piano Concerto #2.

 

 

NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Modesto High School Band (1930)

NRR Project: Egmont Overture, Op. 84 Modesto High School Band 1930 This is one I don’t have a lot of information on, and only a small ...