Music Memory

Legendary 78 rpm record collector Frank Mare has granted Music Memory access to digitize his
collection, and the transfers are being overseen by Mike Tyson of Preservation Audio.

In many ways, the era from 1925 to 1950 represents the Golden Age of roots music. It was during these years that the rich, vibrant tradition of folk music made its way onto the new mass media of radio and records. This was the age when far-sighted collectors and ambitious commercial record companies began preserving parts of this vast, complicated heritage, and helped spread it around the world, where it stimulated many of the great genres of pop: jazz, blues, gospel, western swing, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.

These fragile 78 RPM records, produced in an age before tape, before mixing, before multiple microphones, often in makeshift studios, carried the message of this powerful music into coal camps, railroad yards, juke joints, small town barber shops, the porches of thousands of farm houses and company towns — wherever people could grab a few moments of rest from their work and relax to the sounds of a music that was uniquely theirs.

Over the years, most of these 78s were worn out, broken, thrown away, made into ashtrays, used as target practice for local carnival ball-throwing contests, plowed into landfills, or donated to scrap shellac drives during World War II. Today, not one household in a hundred even has an old-fashioned Victrola that can even play the discs.

Yet a handful of collectors and scholars sensed the importance of this culture, and sought to act before it was too late; they began collecting the old 78s, cleaning them, figuring out the best way to get the best sound from them, trading them with other collectors, learning what they could about the names on the labels. On a 78, the listener received no liner notes on recording information as he or she does today: you got a name (which might well be a pseudonym) and a song title (which might not be the one the artist gave to them). To establish a social and musical context for these records, you had to do painstaking research — not only in old company files, but actually beating the bushes in towns from which the musicians came.

Music Memory is continuing the work started by the collectors and researchers in the 1950s and ’60s. We share their passion to keep the history of our musical heritage from being forgotten and are committed to preventing that from happening. As of October 2012, we have digitized more than 10,000 records on location at the homes of several prominent record collectors. Our goal is to build a database complete with audio, discographical information, artist and composer biographies, song lyrics and notation. Our hope for this database is that it will serve as a musical Rosetta Stone for future generations by showing the links and cross-influences of the many musical styles captured on phonograph records in the first half of the 20th century.


One Response to “Music Memory”

  1. Alan Morrisroe Says:

    This is exactly what I am about in my essense and I am astounded to discover an organisation such as yours exists with exactly the required frame of mind for doing a very necessary job such as this. “Fair play to you” as we say in Ireland.
    I have a very large amount of Irish traditional music 78rpm records from 1916 to the 1950s, most of which have been recorded in New York City, and I am to a large extent doing much the same as you to the best of my ability. It is such an exciting process.
    Hope to make substantial contact with you beginning now.

    Alan, Co.Mayo and Dublin city, Ireland.

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