Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wax cylinder recordings

A new CD we're playing at W X D U starting this week is Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette (Tompkins Square Records). Mr. Miller was born in 1844 in Virginia, and learned music by hanging around slave quarters on a plantation. He was a racial integrationist well ahead of the times, as he made music publicly for years with a quartet of black men. Half of songs on the CD were recorded in 1909, a few years before Miller died. This was before the time of 78rpm records, even... music in 1909 was recorded onto wax cylinders!

Listening to Polk & the Quartette led me to do some reading about wax cylinder recordings. I found a most amazing website dedicated to preserving, in digital form, recordings originally made on those old cylinders. Big shout out to UC Santa Barbara for this great resource! There about songs, vaudeville sketches, and spoken word pieces. The huge archive, containing about 6,000 recordings, is well-indexed and searchable by instrument, country of origin, year, artist name, etc. Most recordings can be streamed online or downloaded. You owe it to your self to check out this incredible musical history! Several of the Polk Miller cylinders are there.

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