25,000+ Songs From the Early 20th Century Music Now Streaming Online for Free

Gramophone Record

Gramophone playing a record. (Photo: R. Halfpaap)

As technology continues to advance, there are many forms of music playback that we will never experience. If you’re of a certain age, for instance, you probably haven't touched a CD. Going back even further, there’s one device that even fewer people alive today would’ve listened to—the gramophone. This invention was the preferred way to play tunes in the early 20th century; through 78rpm records, people of this era enjoyed listening to genres like bluegrass, swing, gospel, and ragtime. But just because the technology is obsolete doesn't mean it's gone forever. Through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, you can now listen to the same music for free.

The Wayback Machine calls their endeavor The Great 78 Project, and it features a staggering collection of more than 25,000 digitized 78rpm recordings. They prove a great way to experience history. With every click, crackle, or hiss—the fragile discs were made of shellac—you can picture yourself listening to it hundreds of years ago on a large gramophone player.

Preserving our analog history in a digital format is of great importance to the Wayback Machine. Though they're known for cataloging websites of yesteryear, the site is also a non profit digital library. “We’re trying to make sure the physical object is saved, as well as the digital, because we don’t know which will last longer,” explained sound collections curator B. George. “When information disappears digitally, it’s gone forever.”

The Great 78 Project makes it easy to peruse their collection. Use filters like style, year of recording, and language to get you started listening to a song you'll love.

The Great 78 Project is making it possible for us to listen to vintage gramophone recordings.

Gramophone Records

Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone machine, with its premiere model (taken between 1910 and 1929). (Photo: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-USZ62-124124)

Many of them first existed in the early 20th century, giving us an ear to history.

Gramophone Record

Originally issued in 1928, this is a 78 of “In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand, Madame.” (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Now, more than 25,000 tunes have been digitized and are searchable online.

Gramophone Recordings

Screenshot of The Great 78 Project.

Here's the classic song La Vie En Rose—notice how the recording crackles and hisses.

The Great 78 Project: Website
h/t: [Open Culture]

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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