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Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 Hardcover – February 24, 2004

5.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Tim Brooks has drawn on a staggering array of primary sources to create this wonderful compendium of information. Lost Sounds makes a significant contribution to the field."
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Product Details

  • Series: Music in American Life
  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st edition (February 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252028503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252028502
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,158,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
A few pages into this book, one realizes the title is a double entendre. The recorded sounds documented here - which include popular music, ragtime, jazz, cabaret, classical, spoken word, politics, poetry, and more - are not merely "lost" in the sense that their existence has been uncelebrated. They are also in danger of being lost to us forever if immediate steps are not taken to preserve the fragile materials upon which they live.

Additionally, U.S. copyright laws have made it nearly impossible for anyone to reissue them as CDs. According to the author, there were approximately 800 recordings made by African Americans prior to 1920, the majority of which are still intact but half of which are owned by successor corporations like Sony and BMG who will neither reissue them nor allow anyone else to do so. Which explains why the majority of this material ends up being released overseas.

The book documents more than 40 artists chronologically, assessing their work and skillfully placing their biographies within the context of a complex and tumultuous era. It covers the famous (Bert Williams, Eubie Blake, Fisk Jubilee Singers) and a host of lesser-knows. The Discography provides a listing of CD reissues (if available) for each chapter, plus web sites where you'll most likely find them.

While seemingly an exhaustive tome, the author himself reminds us it's intended to stimulate preservation and future research: the final chapter "Miscellaneous Recordings" examines unissued recordings, "custom" noncommercial recordings, rumored but unconfirmed recordings, records by artists sometimes misidentified as black and more, in the hopes that future research will turn up more information.
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Format: Hardcover
What a delight this thick book is, and what a challenge to describe adequately in a few sentences.

"Lost Sounds" is a detailed look at an aspect of the American music industry that is not just forgotten; it seems never to have been fully appreciated -- the early years of recorded music, with an emphasis on the essential contribution made by African American artists. The book has been praised as a unique reference work, and it is that; but it is also a rich history of late 19th- and early 20th-century American popular culture, as well as a collection of poignant personal stories of the entertainers who created it. Along the way, the book offers a primer on recording technology. And, although these accounts of once-popular performers and their now-unfamiliar careers and music are not in the least preachy, they do constitute a carefully documented examination of a key -- and painful -- era in American race relations.

Author Tim Brooks is himself an unobtrusive character in these adventures, the modest yet sympathetic researcher who has come along a century after the fact to ferret out the information, breathe new life into it, and in many instances save it from oblivion.

All of which makes "Lost Sounds" not only an extraordinary good read, but also an exceptional good deed.
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Format: Paperback
For anyone interested in the pre-1920 recording industry--and especially in the history of the earliest recording artists of color--Lost Sounds is the archaeological dig of your dreams. Immaculately researched, beautifully written, and illustrated with photos, advertisements, and lyrics, it's a big stately volume: the growth of the popular song, the emergence of the mass media and entertailment industries, the appalling state of period race relations, the existentially twisted story of the minstrel show, and the amazing evolution of recording technology are all on readable (and sometimes haunting) display. So are the riveting stories of legendary artists George Washington Johnson (the ex-slave whose "Laughing Song" was used briefly in a recent Xerox ad), Bert Williams (featured in PBS' Broadway documentary series), Charley Case (a vaudeville comic who was rumored to be "passing"), and dozens of others. You'll be moved to comb the local antique shops for cylinders, and to try building your own record-yourself-on-tinfoil kit.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent addition to the study of African American history, So many of the facts presented are those that not even the "seniors" knew. I have used this book to include information in lectures and class settings.
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