Just a few of the SHOF inductees honored in the 2020 class (left to right): Paul Williams, James "JT" Taylor, George Brown, Robert "Kool" Bell, Ronald Bell (p/k/a Kool & The Gang) and Jackson Browne
Works by Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees and honorees once again led the elite list of recordings selected by the Library of Congress for what has been called “America’s Playlist,” an exclusive catalog of recordings destined for special preservation and scholarship attention due to their "cultural, historic and aesthetic significance to American society and the nation's audio heritage." Known formally as the National Recording Registry, the new selections for the list were announced this week by Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden.
Heading this year’s list are “The Rainbow Connection,” the international children’s anthem co-written by long-serving SHOF Board member Paul Williams and performed by Kermit the Frog (Muppet originator Jim Henson); “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814,” the eloquent album that raised global consciousness about racism, police brutality and social injustice, written and recorded by James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis; Jackson Browne’s breakout 1974 album “Late for the Sky”; Labelle’s international smash “Lady Marmalade,” and the seminal 1938 Louis Armstrong recording of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which was honored as the SHOF “Towering Song” in 2006.
Eight albums and singles featuring the work of 16 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees and honorees were included in this years’ list of recordings. In chronological order they are:
“When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single) SHOF Towering Song 2006
“Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single) written by 2018 SHOF inductee Bill Anderson. One of Nashville’s most successful singers and songwriters, Anderson heard Smith at a talent contest and wrote and produced the song for her first session, at RCA’s historic Studio B.
“Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album) Recorded in Memphis with backing from 2005 SHOF inductee Steve Cropper, Booker T. and the MG’s and the Memphis Horns. The song became a blues standard, recorded by Eric Clapton among many others.
“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single) Written by 1995 SHOF inductee Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and produced by 2011 SHOF inductee Allan Toussaint, the track was recorded by 2003 SHOF Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Patti Labelle and colleagues Nona Hendrix and Sarah Dash, and became a worldwide megahit whose raunchy French refrain has stood the test of time, spawning cover recordings by chart-topping artists over the years.
“Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album) The album that brought 2007 SHOF inductee Jackson Browne’s signature vocal talent to the world, all the while earning him recognition as a surpassing songwriter, a powerhouse of maturity and depth that moved Bruce Springsteen to call the album Browne’s “masterpiece.”
“The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single) Written by 2001 SHOF inductee and long-serving SHOF Board member Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, and produced by Williams and Jim Henson, who voiced Kermit the Frog. The track from “The Muppet Movie” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song has been covered dozens of times, from Judy Collins in 1980 to Kacey Musgraves in 2019, but the Kermit/Henson recording remains the iconic version of the work. Williams has said the song is about "the immense power of faith. We don't know how it works, but we believe that it does. Sometimes the questions are more beautiful than the answers."
“Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single) Written and performed by 2018 SHOF inductees Robert “Kool” Bell and Ronald Bell, George Brown, and James “JT” Taylor with contributions from other members of the band, the track was the biggest and most enduring hit for Kool & the Gang, and quickly became a feature of national celebrations like the World Series, and the Super Bowl.
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — (1989) (album) Written and produced by Jackson and 2017 SHOF inductees James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. Their catchy beats made it possible even for songs with a serious call for racial healing and political unity like “Rhythm Nation” to prove that dance music and a social message are not mutually exclusive.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/ "What A Wonderful World” — Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single) “Over the Rainbow” Written by 1971 SHOF inductee Harold Arlen, 1972 inductee E.Y. Harburg and 1984 inductee George David Weiss, and “What a Wonderful World,” written by 1987 inductee Sam Cooke were blended by Hawaiian vocalist and ukulele phenomenon “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole into a medley that became a surprise international hit
SHOF President and CEO Linda Moran said: "This year's National Recording Registry class honors Songwriters Hall of Fame songwriters and honorees whose work became standards loved by audiences worldwide for more than four generations. It is a stunning confirmation of the enduring power of song, from jazz, to country, pop, dance music, and R&B to one of the most beloved film songs of all time. Once again this year we note the extraordinary synchronicity in the lists of works and writers honored by both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress, a powerful demonstration of the diversity and power of American music.”
Moran serves as a member of the federally-chartered National Recording Preservation Board, which assists the Librarian in selecting the recordings each year. SHOF President's Advisory Council member Robbin Ahrold has chaired the National Recording Preservation Board for the past three years. The current SHOF Chairman Nile Rodgers has been twice honored as his works "We Are Family" recorded by Sister Sledge, was inducted into the National Recording Registry in 2016, and Chic's inescapable disco hit "Le Freak," inducted in 2017.
Librarian of Congress Dr. Hayden added, “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 for the past 143 years.”
The Registry was established in 2002. The recordings selected for the newly announced “Class of 2020” bring the total number of titles on the registry to over 575, a small part of the Library's vast recorded-sound collection of nearly 3 million items. Each year, the National Recording Preservation Board recommends works to be added to the collection, and the Librarian of Congress makes a final selection of about 25 works annually. The Board also advises on significant strategies in preservation of rare and endangered recordings, in collaboration with the nation's leading academic institutions.
You can listen to many of the recordings on your favorite streaming service. The Digital Media Association, a member of the National Recording Preservation Board, has posted a list of streaming services with National Recording Registry playlists at https://dima.org/nrr-2020-inductee-playlists
The full list of this year's Registry selections is available in the official Library of Congress media release at https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-21-015