Massive Archive of 78RPM Records Now Digitized & Put Online: Stream 78,000 Early 20th Century Records from Around the World

Last sum­mer we checked in with the Inter­net Archive’s Great 78 Project, a vol­un­teer effort to dig­i­tize thou­sands of 78rpm records—the old­est mass-pro­duced record­ing medi­um. Draw­ing on the exper­tise and vast hold­ings of preser­va­tion com­pa­ny George Blood, L.P., the ARChive of Con­tem­po­rary Music, and over 20 more insti­tu­tions from around the world, the project aims to save the record­ed sounds of the past, and not only those that have come down to us through the efforts of high­ly selec­tive cura­tors. What we think of as the sound of the ear­ly 20th century—the blues, jazz, coun­try, clas­si­cal, rag­time, gospel, blue­grass, etc.—only rep­re­sents a pop­u­lar sam­ple.

Inter­net Archive founder Brew­ster Kahle wants to widen our son­ic appre­ci­a­tion of the peri­od, and include every­thing, “Mid­west, dif­fer­ent coun­tries, dif­fer­ent social class­es, dif­fer­ent immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties and their loves and fears.”

This mas­sive archive will even­tu­al­ly num­ber in the mil­lions, up to 3 mil­lion record­ings, to be exact, and con­tin­ues apace at the rate of about 5,000 new uploads per month.

Last August, the record­ings in the archive num­bered over 25,000. Now, the Great 78 Project con­tains more than 78,000 and count­ing dig­i­tal trans­fers of frag­ile 78rpm records—everything from Prokofiev to the Carter Fam­i­ly (fur­ther up) to Mis­sis­sip­pi John Hurt from 1928 (above) to inter­na­tion­al folk dances to field record­ings of ani­mal sounds.

The col­lect­ed works of Al Jol­son, span­ning the years 1911 to 1926, appear (above), as does a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion from Argenti­na, brought to the U.S. by Tina Argume­do, who began col­lect­ing 78s in the 30s and con­tin­ued to do so for anoth­er 20 years before mov­ing to the States. Her dig­i­tized col­lec­tion of almost 700 records “com­pris­es pri­mar­i­ly tan­go music, with boleros, sam­bas, mam­bo, and oth­er dance music,” like the Argen­tine swing of Dajos Bela y su Orques­tra from 1932 below.

As we not­ed in our pre­vi­ous post, the utmost care has gone into pre­serv­ing the orig­i­nal sound of these records, with a vari­ety of dig­i­tal trans­fers made with dif­fer­ent vin­tage sty­lus­es to rep­re­sent the dif­fer­ences in play­back sys­tems. The process also pre­serves all the orig­i­nal records’ crack­le and hiss—sometimes the music seems to swim below the sur­face noise, which only enhances the effect of hear­ing, trans­port­ed through time, music from 80, 90, and 100 years ago and more.

Enter the 78 archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

25,000+ 78RPM Records Now Pro­fes­sion­al­ly Dig­i­tized & Stream­ing Online: A Trea­sure Trove of Ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry Music

The Boston Pub­lic Library Will Dig­i­tize & Put Online 200,000+ Vin­tage Records

Stream 8,000 Vin­tage Afropop Record­ings Dig­i­tized & Made Avail­able by The British Library

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Harry Bergeron says:

    Can­not agree about sur­face noise:

    The intent of a record­ing was sup­posed to
    be to emu­late the live per­for­mance, not the
    preser­va­tion of accu­mu­lat­ed dam­age.

  • Melissa says:

    I have some 78’s that are in excel­lent con­di­tion. Is there a way to con­tribute them to this effort? I gave a full six record set of Bessie Smith record­ings I would be will­ing to loan the effort. And a num­ber of oth­ers that are pop­u­lar and clas­si­cal.

  • Liz Hollander says:

    The Inter­net Archive is a great thing — but its con­tent meta­da­ta leave much to be desired — sort­ing the record­ings by date of pub­li­ca­tion — an essen­tial datum for any­one doing research — yields glar­ing­ly inac­cu­rate results (many from the future) It seems only fair to note this ongo­ing prob­lem with a resource oth­er­wise so impor­tant.

  • Slobodan says:

    I have a col­lec­tion about 200 LP disk for gramophon. I’m inter­est­ed is it pos­si­ble to trans­fer sound from LP disks on PC. Is it nec­es­sary to have espe­cialy gramophon or , maybe, exsist some hard­ware to do this ?


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