Janet Jackson’s call for action and healing in “Rhythm Nation 1814” now joins other groundbreaking sounds of history and culture among the latest titles inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Other notables include Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” and Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection.”
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden last month named 25 recordings as audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance to the nation’s recorded sound heritage.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The recordings most recently selected for the National Recording Registry bring the number of titles on the registry to 575, representing a small portion of the national library’s recorded sound collection of nearly 4 million items.
The Library of Congress says one song has appealed to generations of Muppets fans and many musicians who revived “The Rainbow Connection” over the decades since it was performed by Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog in 1979.
Songwriter Paul Williams, who wrote the music and lyrics with Kenneth Ascher, said the song is about “the immense power of faith.”
“We don’t know how it works, but we believe that it does,” Williams said. “Sometimes the questions are more beautiful than the answers.”
The latest selections named to the registry, spanning from 1878 to 2008, range from pop, hip-hop and country to Latin, Hawaiian, jazz, blues, gospel, classical and children’s music.
Additionally Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” released in 1989 is touted by the library as resonating with social messages today.
Written and recorded in the Minneapolis studios of James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis, the songwriters said the record was about Jackson finding her voice using it to address racism, police brutality and social injustices of the day.
“We wanted ‘Rhythm Nation’ to really communicate empowerment,” Harris said. “It was making an observation, but it was also a call to action. Janet’s purpose was to lead people and do it through music, which I think is the ultimate uniter of people.”
Some albums inducted this year demonstrate the power to influence entire genres of music.
The library says when Nas released his 1994 hip-hop album “Illmatic,” it was celebrated for its rhythmic originality and complexity, and its technique has been widely copied since.
The selections also include groundbreaking recordings in jazz, the blues and gospel — reaching deeper into music history.
Louis Armstrong and his orchestra’s 1938 recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” for example, was the first jazz recording of this famous hymn and broke barriers between church and dance hall by mixing a sacred song with jazz.
Musician Branford Marsalis credits Armstrong’s recording for making a previously regional song an international one. He recalled playing “The Saints” with his brother Wynton Marsalis while growing up in New Orleans.
“As kids in the late 1960s, Wynton and I learned it when I was still playing clarinet; Wynton playing the melody, and me playing the bass notes. … It’s the first song we played together,” Branford Marsalis said. “I can’t imagine New Orleans’ culture without this song. It is an indelible part of our history.”