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Listen to & Download 1000s of Century-Old Pop & Folk Songs, Vaudeville Acts, Political Speeches, Audio Theater & More at No-Cost NOW

For those who have ever wondered what music sounded like 100 years ago, what Ernest Shackleton said about his Antarctic explorations, or what Theodore Roosevelt sounded like giving a speech, there is exciting news to be heard -- literally.

Now you can listen to historical speeches, music and vaudeville acts that were once only stored on cylinders like these.

Thanks to the University of California at Santa Barbara, you can now listen to thousands of songs, speeches and other performances, many of which have been inaccessible for nearly 100 years, and all for free.

Cylinders Turned Digital

The University has digitized nearly 6,000 cylinders, which were used to record music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cylinders are about the size of a soda can and were made from tin or wax and celluloid. Audio bits were recorded onto grooves on the cylinders, which would then be inserted into a player, wound up and played back by a stylus tracking the grooves.

Real American Vaudeville

Check out this collection of acts from magicians, singers, acrobats, actors and comedians who were popular from 1880-1930. For just 25 cents, you could take in eight or 10 of these vaudeville acts in the late 19th century. Today, you can hear them for free.

Listen to American Vaudeville now!

When cylinders were first used, each one contained an original version of a song or performance, as they could not be reproduced.

"There were no microphones, there were no mixers, there were just people who -- through trial and error -- knew how to position people around a recording horn," says Sam Brylawski, a sound archivist and consultant to the Library of Congress (which has about 25,000 cylinders of their own).

Interestingly, these first sound recorders have left a mark on modern music; the cylinders could only hold three or four minutes of audio, which may be why modern songs are rarely longer than this.

If you had in your possession and wanted to play a cylinder today, it could be done, but it would cost you. A modern cylinder player, called an archeophone, costs $12,000.

Listen to Music, Speeches and Readings From a Simpler Time

Hear Authentic Cakewalks and Rags

Cakewalks originated as a dance performed by black slaves to parody their white owners. This musical form, along with the similar Rags, involved syncopated beats and march-like bass.

Want to hear this music that was hugely popular from the 1890s through World War I?

Listen to Cakewalks and Rags Now!

Because of cylinders' obscurity, the music and other audio contained in them have been virtually inaccessible until now. Those working on the project, named the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, expected some interest, but have received more enthusiasm from the public than they anticipated.

"We knew it would have popular appeal; I'm well acquainted with the collector community, and there are a lot of fanatical people interested in these things," said David Seubert, a curator who manages the project. "But I didn't think I'd be getting all these e-mails from random strangers thanking me and our team or asking questions or offering to donate records. It's just amazing."

Historical Speeches

Hear the speeches straight from the mouths of historical figures like actress Sarah Bernhard, Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. Or, take in Len Spencer's famous "Advertising Record," which was used to sell phonographs in stores.

Listen to Historical Speeches Now!

The goal of the project is not only to preserve these valuable audio recordings from the past, but also to make them easily accessible to the public. Since their Web site opened in November 2005, the pages have been viewed over 4.5 million times.

To hear some of these invaluable pieces of American history, please peruse the links below.

Listen to Music, Speeches and Performances From the Past -- at No Charge!

Browse the University of California's Cylinder Music Collection

Search the Cylinder Music Collection

View the Available Categories

Recommended Reading

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The Health Benefits of Dancing -- Including Specific Benefits of Different Dances


The Christian Science Monitor April 13, 2006

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