National Registry Adds 25 Records: Janet Jackson, Nas, Kermit the Frog, Marlo Thomas, Jackson Browne, FDR and More
The veteran rapper Nas is having a very good March. He finally won his first Grammy less than two weeks ago, for best rap album for his latest release. But he’s the relative new kid on the block when it comes to the Library of Congress, which has selected his 27-year-old debut album, “Illmatic,” as one of the freshest additions to the National Recording Registry.
Janet Jackson’s 1989 “Rhythm Nation 1814” album is also one of the newer items on the list of 25 new inductees into the Recording Registry, described as “audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.”
Jackson and Nas join a list that has, as its very oldest entry, an 1878 tin-foil recording by Thomas Edison that the Registry calls “a survivor — the earliest extant document that captures a musical performance.” The only item being added that is newer than the Nas album, and the only inclusion from this century, is a 2008 episode of the NPR series “This American Life.”
Love for different genres is well spread across the new entries. Rock is represented by Jackson Browne’s 1974 album “Late for the Sky”; country by Connie Smith’s classic 1964 single “Once a Day”; blues by the 1967 Albert King album “Born Under a Bad Sign”; soul and R&B by Labelle’s saucy 1974 hit “Lady Marmalade” and Kool & the Gang’s eternal wedding party song of 1980, “Celebration”; and children’s music by the Marlo Thomas-fronted album “Free to Be… You & Me” from 1972 and Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” from 1980.
Reggae is represented by Jimmy Cliff’s 1972 album “The Harder They Come”; folk by “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” from 1957; opera by Leontyne Price in the cast of “Aida” in 1962; vintage jazz by Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In” in 1938; gospel by Albertina Walker & the Caravans’ 1959 single “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day”; classical by Jessye Norman’s album of “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs,” from 1983: and Tex-Mex by another relative newcomer, Flaco Jiménez’s 1992 “Partners.”
Besides Ira Glass’ inclusion, spoken-word additions to the Registry include Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s wartime Christmas Eve broadcast of 1945; an episode of the decades-running radio serial “The Guiding Light” from the first Thanksgiving to follow the end of World War II in 1945; and a play-by-play rendering of Roger Maris hitting his 61st home run in 1961, when he broke Babe Ruth’s record for career homers.
With these additions, the ranks of musical or spoken-word recordings in the National Recording Registry swell to 575 selected for the honor. The Library of Congress counts more than 3 million recordings in its archives.
James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III gave thanks for the “Rhythm Nation” honor in a statement. “We wanted ‘Rhythm Nation’ to really communicate empowerment,” the producer/writer said. “It was making an observation, but it was also a call to action. Janet’s purpose was to lead people and do it through music, which I think is the ultimate uniter of people. Where we’re at in society today, the lyrics of ‘Rhythm Nation’ and ‘State of the World’ — some of those resonate just as powerfully, if not more so, as a narrative of what’s happening in society. There’s no expiration date on great music.”
Marlo Thomas reflected on the legacy of “Free to Be… You and Me” in accepting the accolade. “We said, ‘You know what, let’s just change the world one 5-year-old at a time.’ … We thought we were talking to the children in the ’70s. We didn’t realize we were talking to children in 2020.”
Said the Library of Congress’ Carla Hayden, “The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years. We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The complete 2020 National Recording Registry entries, in chronological order: