Rediscovering Vinyl Records at the BPL

The Great 78 Project

78 rpm record label
“Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys

As a music librarian I am always pleased to share ways people can find and explore music, especially at their local library. So imagine my excitement last October when it was announced the Boston Public Library would be putting 200,000 vinyl records online. To listen to. For free.

What are these records you ask? Well, they are a type of vinyl record called a 78, an ancestor to the vinyl record that hipsters and music fans all know and love today. And what is cool about 78s is that until the 1950s, they were the main way music was sold around the world. This means that there is all kinds of great music to be rediscovered on these types of records. If you like Jazz, Folk, Country, Classical, Blues, Gospel or any other genre of music available before the ‘50s, 78s are for you. In fact, even if you are new to these genres, you never know what music you’ll fall in love with, so you should get excited about this project too.

The project is called The Great 78 Project, and its goal is to create a giant online library of records that are free to listen to. The Great 78 is run by The Internet Archive, a website that holds all sorts of stuff from books to music. They work with libraries like the BPL that have old records and put these records on The Great 78 Project webpage. So far there are already thousands of records uploaded on the site, and their record collection is always growing.

In my own searching I have found fantastic music from Edith Piaf, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Ink Spots, and countless unknown performers. Digging through these records has really proven to be a blast. I highly recommend spending some time with the records BPL has added to the collection. It will soon be expanding, so look out for new content!

For those of you that are still not sold on this awesome musical treasure trove, below you can listen to some of my favorite songs I have found on The Great 78. Included is the BPL’s own “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys, as well as other music of all sorts. Get listening, and happy exploring.

Get Listening

"Please Pass The Biscuits, Pappy" by W. Lee O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys (1938):

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" by Tuskegee Institute Singers (1919):

"Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall" by Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald (1944):

"Wailana Waltz (Drowsy Waters)" by Pale K. Lua and David Kaili (1915):

"Dipper Mouth Blues" by Joe Oliver (1923):

"Yǒng dù chūnxiāo" by Yun Yun (~1940): 

"Take The Name Of Jesus With You" by Harrison and Anthony (1900):

"My Man And I" by Sister Rosetta Sharp (1938):

"Gin For Christmas" by Lionel Hampton and Orchestra (1939):

"Ungdoms Mynder (Childhood Memories)" by Slim Jim and the Vagabond Kid (1950):

"I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man" by The Basin Street Boys (1948):