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Queen Latifah and Super Mario Bros. make history in National Recording Registry debut

Queen Latifah sings the National Anthem at the opening ceremony of the 2002 US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Flushing, New York.
Gary M. Prior
Getty Images
Queen Latifah sings the National Anthem at the opening ceremony of the 2002 US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Flushing, New York.

It's a year of notable firsts for the National Recording Registry.

One of the nation's most august collecting institutions, the Library of Congress, includes nearly four million sound recordings. Since 2000, the LOC has promoted its preservation work through the National Recording Registry.

"The National Recording Registry preserves our history through recorded sound and reflects our nation's diverse culture," said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in a statement naming 25 recordings to be preserved for posterity this year.

The annual list usually includes a mix of popular songs, radio broadcasts, significant speeches and more, all intended to define the sound of the country's history and culture. But, for the first time, it will include the music of a female rapper and the soundtrack of a video game.

Queen Latifah recorded her breakthrough 1989 album All Hail The Queen when she was just a teenager. "Her album showed rap could cross genres including reggae, hip-hop, house and jazz — while also opening opportunities for other female rappers," the LOC statement said.

The original 1986 theme for the game Super Mario Bros. has also been selected, in what's hard not to see as a clever cross-promotional move, right when a movie version is storming theaters.

Composer Koji Kondo got the job as a college senior in Osaka, Japan. He responded to an ad on a university bulletin board. Now 61, Kondo said there wasn't much usable data for making music and sound effects at the time.

"So I really had to be very innovative and make full use of the musical and programming ingenuity that we had at the time," Kondo told the Library of Congress through an interpreter. "I used all sorts of genres that matched what was happening on screen. We had jingles to encourage players to try again after getting a 'game over,' fanfares to congratulate them for reaching goals, and pieces that sped up when the time remaining grew short."

The oldest additions to the Registry this year date back to 1908 and 1909– they are the earliest surviving recordings of mariachi music, recorded in Mexico City in a performance for the country's president shortly before the Mexican Revolution. And the newest is a contemporary classical piece by composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to earn a doctorate in composition from the Juilliard School and the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize.

In between is a riotous mix of reggaetón, '80s pop, funk-infused jazz, gospel, political analysis and a reading of an influential 1994 book by Carl Sagan. The Librarian of Congress will discuss the National Recording Registry in the series "The Sounds of America" from NPR's 1A, which focuses on this year's selections.

Those selections follow, in chronological order:

1. "The Very First Mariachi Recordings" — Cuarteto Coculense (1908-1909)
2. "St. Louis Blues" — Handy's Memphis Blues Band (1922)
3. "Sugar Foot Stomp" — Fletcher Henderson (1926)
4. Dorothy Thompson: Commentary and Analysis of the European Situation for NBC Radio
(Aug. 23-Sept. 6, 1939)
5. "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around" — The Fairfield Four (1947)
6. "What the World Needs Now is Love" — Jackie DeShannon (1965)
7. "Wang Dang Doodle" — Koko Taylor (1966)
8. "Sherry" — The Four Seasons (1962)
9. "Ode to Billie Joe" — Bobbie Gentry (1967)
10. "Déjà Vu" — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970)
11. "Imagine" — John Lennon (1971)
12. "Stairway to Heaven" — Led Zeppelin (1971)
13. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" — John Denver (1971)
14. "Margaritaville" — Jimmy Buffett (1977)
15. "Flashdance...What a Feeling" — Irene Cara (1983)
16. "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" — Eurythmics (1983)
17. "Synchronicity" — The Police (1983)
18. "Black Codes (From the Underground)" — Wynton Marsalis (1985)
19. Super Mario Bros. theme — Koji Kondo, composer (1986)
20. "Like a Virgin" — Madonna (1984)
21. "All Hail the Queen" — Queen Latifah (1989)
22. "All I Want for Christmas is You" — Mariah Carey (1994)
23. "Pale Blue Dot" — Carl Sagan (1994)
24. "Gasolina" — Daddy Yankee (2004)
25. "Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra— Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer (2012)

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

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