Library of Congress preserving recordings of Tribal ancestors

03.20.2019 Dean Rhodes History, Federal government
Melville Jacobs records Annie Miner Peterson, from the Coos Native American Tribe, with a portable electric phonograph, Charleston, Ore, July 1934. Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries

Recordings of Tribal ancestors joined the likes of rapper Jay-Z, singer Cyndi Lauper and jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon in being added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry on Wednesday, March 20.

Melville Jacob’s collection of Pacific Northwest Native Americans, recorded between 1929 and 1939, will now be preserved for future generations.

Jacobs was a folklorist, linguist and anthropology professor at the University Washington. For more than a decade, he conducted field research among the Native American Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, studying the music and language of the Alsea, Chinook Jargon, Clackamas Chinook, Hanis and Miluk Coos, Kalapuya, Molalla, Sahaptin, Tillamook Salish, Upper Umpqua and Galice Creek Athabaskan.

He made almost 170 recordings, on wax cylinders and acetate discs, of the Tribes’ oral traditions, in many cases documenting what were the last speakers of those languages. This audio preservation has been key to many Tribes’ efforts to recapture their history.

The Library of Congress named 25 audio recordings to be inducted to the Registry, a compendium of sound recordings deemed representative of America's artistic, cultural and historic treasures. The recordings in the Registry, which span all genres – from rock, pop, jazz, classical, country and gospel to Broadway and movies, radio and news broadcasts, and comedy albums – have been recognized as vital to our nation's audio legacy.

Also included among this year'’s additions: Hit songs by Sam & Dave and Earth Wind & Fire, music from the film “Super Fly,” the classic radio western series “Gunsmoke,” and a recording of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy announcing to an anguished Indianapolis crowd that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed.

“The National Recording Registry honors the music that enriches our souls, the voices that tell our stories and the sounds that mirror our lives,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “The Library of Congress and its many collaborators are working to preserve these sounds and moments in time, which reflect our past, present and future.”