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By Alex Johnson
Entries as diverse as Jay-Z’s hip-hop milestone “The Blueprint,” Ritchie Valens’ Mexican-American anthem “La Bamba” and Cyndi Lauper’s feminist pop landmark “She’s So Unusual” joined the Library of Congress’ registry of historic recordings on Wednesday in what could be seen as a conscious message of inclusiveness.
The library preserves 25 recordings in its National Recording Registry every year. This year’s additions bring the registry, which traditionally is heavy on classical, jazz and blues recordings, to 525 documents marked for special recognition and handling from the library’s recorded sound collection of almost 3 million items.
The new entries span exactly a century, stretching from the earliest known recordings of Yiddish songs, undertaken beginning in 1901, to Jay-Z’s masterpiece, which was released on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“The Blueprint,” one of only eight rap or hip-hop recordings on the registry, marked a turning point in the career of Jay-Z, coming as he was facing trial on gun and assault charges and as he was broadly perceived to be losing relevance.
The deeply personal album was a breakthrough in the marriage of hip-hop, rock, soul and rhythm and blues, featuring samples from artists as diverse as The Doors, Al Green and David Bowie. It also helped introduce wider audiences to Kanye West and Just Blaze, the album’s main producers.
The library singled out “La Bamba,” Valens’ 1958 adaptation of a Mexican folk song, as a special example of “the diverse sounds of the nation’s audio heritage.”
The song hit the charts a second time in 1987 in a cover by Los Lobos. In a statement Wednesday, the band’s lead guitarist, Louie Pérez, noted that “La Bamba” was initially seen as a novelty — a Spanish-language pop song that charted in the United States — but that history had proven it to be “a hallmark in American music and an influence on all Latino music that followed.”
Lauper’s 1983 debut solo album, “She’s So Unusual,” featured the monster hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Lauper transformed from a New Wave throwaway written and first performed by a man, Robert Hazard, into a resistance-is-futile pop earworm that reinterpreted the lyrics as a proclamation of female empowerment.
“I was really determined to make a cohesive collection of songs and really determined to make sure all types of women were represented” in the iconic video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper said in a statement Wednesday.
The registry also preserves spoken-word recordings. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s solemn extemporaneous speech in Indianapolis hours after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, was added, reflecting its assessment by communications scholars as one of the 100 greatest political speeches of the 20th century.
The short speech — in which Kennedy urged Americans to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world” — is widely credited with having spared Indianapolis the riots that met the news of King’s assassination in many other cities.
The library highlighted another landmark of the civil rights era, Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” which was released in 1964. The song, a response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing deaths of four girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama, was immediately banned in several Southern states.
In a 1986 TV interview, Simone said the song was difficult for her to perform because of the damage she said it did to her career.
“The industry decided to punish me for [it] and they put a boycott on my records,” she said.
Also included is the original 1968 Broadway cast recording of the musical “Hair.” The sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll show got a mixed reception from theater critics, but “such criticisms are less pertinent to a cast album and they ignore the fact that the songs from ‘Hair’ are extremely catchy,” the Library of Congress said Wednesday.
Sheer craft and popularity earned several recordings places on this year’s list, as well — among them Neil Diamond’s stadium anthem “Sweet Caroline,” the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man,” Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack album for the 1972 film “Superfly” and the 1996 box set from the ABC children’s series “Schoolhouse Rock!”
Here’s the full list:
- Yiddish Cylinders from the Standard Phonograph Company of New York and the Thomas Lambert Company (c. 1901-1905)
- “Memphis Blues” (single), Victor Military Band (1914)
- Melville Jacobs Collection of Native Americans of the American Northwest (1929-1939)
- “Minnie the Moocher” (single), Cab Calloway (1931)
- “Bach Six Cello Suites” (album), Pablo Casals (c. 1939)
- “They Look Like Men of War” (single), Deep River Boys (1941)
- “Gunsmoke” — Episode: “The Cabin” (Dec. 27, 1952)
- Ruth Draper: Complete recorded monologues, Ruth Draper (1954-1956)
- “La Bamba” (single), Ritchie Valens (1958)
- “Long Black Veil” (single), Lefty Frizzell (1959)
- “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years” (album), Stan Freberg (1961)
- “GO” (album), Dexter Gordon (1962)
- “War Requiem” (album), Benjamin Britten (1963)
- “Mississippi Goddam” (single), Nina Simone (1964)
- “Soul Man” (single), Sam & Dave (1967)
- “Hair” (original Broadway cast recording) (1968)
- Speech on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy (April 4, 1968)
- “Sweet Caroline” (single), Neil Diamond (1969)
- “Superfly” (album), Curtis Mayfield (1972)
- “Ola Belle Reed” (album), Ola Belle Reed (1973)
- “September” (single), Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
- “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” (single), Sylvester (1978)
- “She’s So Unusual” (album), Cyndi Lauper (1983)
- “Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set” (1996)
- “The Blueprint” (album), Jay-Z (2001)