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Welcoming Recorded Music to the Public Domain

Every January the Internet Archive features works that are entering the public domain. And this year the big story is in recorded music.

Recorded Music from 1922 and earlier

Approximately 400,000 sound recordings made before 1923 will join the public domain in the U.S. for the first time due to the Music Modernization Act (read more at copyright.gov). You can peruse about 38,000 of them in our collection of digitized 78rpm records.

By 1922 we were solidly in the Jazz Age – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age was published in 1922, and the term was already in popular usage. Jazz migrated from Black American communities in New Orleans into the rest of the United States, having evolved from its roots in rag time, blues and Creole music.  In fact, 1922 was the year Louis Armstrong left New Orleans to join King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago.


Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1911) written by Irving Berlin and performed by Collins and Harlan

Peruse the collection to hear early jazz classics like Don’t Care Blues by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds, Ory’s Creole Trombone by Kid Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, and Jazzin’ Babies Blues by Ethel Waters.

Early recordings by Bert Williams (the first Black American on Broadway and the first Black man to star in a film), Fanny Brice (the real-life ‘Funny Girl’), Enrico Caruso (the legendary Italian operatic tenor), and so many others give life and flavor to our imaginings of the early 20th century.

Here are some of the top songs from 1922, to give you a taste:

But personally when I “flip through” these records I’m always drawn to the novelty songs.

There’s a whole genre of sound imitations, like Violin Mimicry where a violin is used to imitate people talking, Jingles from the Marsh Birds with a man imitating birds imitating popular songs (just as confusing as it sounds), and A Cat-astrophe with people imitating rather catastrophic cats to music.

You can also skip the jokes and go straight to laughing just for the sake of it with these gems:  Laughs You Have Met, Gennett Laughing Record, and The Okeh Laughing Record, or choose to have a little music with laughing choruses like Ticklish Reuben, She Gives Them All the Ha-Ha-Ha, Stop Your Tickling, Jock! or And Then I Laughed.

And perhaps my favorite of the bunch is Fido is a Hot Dog Now which seems to be about a dog who is definitely going to hell.


Fido is a Hot Dog Now (1914) by Billy Murray

Other Media from 1926

As usual, we are also welcoming some new books, movies, journals, and sheet music – this time from 1926! (Read about 1925, 1924, and 1923 in previous posts.)

Some popular first edition books from 1926:


The Clothes We Wear (1926) by Frank and Frances Carpenter

Other interesting books from 1926 that you might want to explore include Show Boat by Edna Ferber which was made into the musical Show Boat in 1927 with music by Jerome Kern, The Clothes We Wear by Frank and Frances Carpenter which is a child friendly exploration of how clothes are made all the way from the field through weaving and into sewing, or The Art of Kissing by Clement Wood which is pretty self explanatory.

We invite you to explore some of the other items dated 1926 in our collections to find your own fun items that may now be in the public domain.