The Library of Congress has set up this cool National Jukebox that lets you play records from the early 1900s. It is free and easy to use and if you are into music you will get totally hooked on it.
There is this "Old Folks at Home" made in 1905. That is the year my ancient Steinway parlor grand was made! It is funny to hear this performance from back then.
A lot of songs that date from the vaudeville era, they caution you that the language might be offensive to some or inappropriate by today's standards. But that is part of history.
As a German-American I had to laugh at this song that spoofs the heinie who was right off the boat.
That is by an entertainer named Frank Wilson. "And then I will show you how we rock the baby to sleep in Germany." Then there is all this yodeling. This gem is from 1906! It is a real window into the old vaudeville culture when every immigrant group was spoofed on stage. Speaking of which there is a group that goes by The Four Sicilians. They should be something to hear! And there is also plenty of Al Jolson, always a plus.
There is a fair amount of classical music. Don't know any classical music? Sure you do. Here is the Brahms Lullaby ...
...sung by Ernestine Schumann-Heink. During World War I she had sons on both sides of the conflict. She used to talk about that on stage and the audience would cry. I read that somewhere.
It is poignant to hear this historic Marion Anderson record from 1924.
And now for the category everyone is waiting for ... polka!
The site invites you to browse. You can choose among Genre, Ethnicities, Religious, etc. I got onto polka by doing a search on "polka." I could not resist this one.
The collection of early blues is extensive and atmospheric. Here is a barrelhouse version number by a singer called Lena Wilson.
The notes are so extensive! They tell you the year, the place the recording was made, the arrangers, the pianists, the notes that appeared in the Victor ledger. For this Lena Wilson recording, it read "First Recording."
I have never heard of Lena Wilson and I looked her up on Google. She was a vaudeville performer who was married to -- great name alert -- jazz violinist Shrimp Jones. She was reported to have died of pneumonia in 1939. Here is a picture of her.
Because this was the dawn of the recording era I am guessing a lot of the blues is sung by white performers. But it will be interesting to see what else is out there. I have only had time to scratch the surface, so to speak.
Don't be shy. Get on the site! See what you turn up. If anyone finds anything on the National Jukebox you think is particularly fascinating, let us know!
But, warning: You see how this goes. You wander from one thing to another, listening and learning. It is awfully hard to quit.
Get ready to blow your whole day!
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
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