Tag Archives: BBC

How Cooke heard America singing

A great mystery surrounded I Hear America Singing, the 13-part series that Alistair Cooke produced in 1938: How had the BBC managed to borrow recordings from the Library of Congress when no other broadcaster was allowed access to them?

The circumstances were extraordinary. First, Cooke wrote an eloquent and charming letter to Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress. “When I first became interested in American folk songs,” he wrote, “I had no idea so little had been done in recording, and how desperately hard it is for an amateur to get within earshot of the music he is interested in and excited about….I found that the Library, and only the Library, has recorded a score or more of the songs which can make my series possible.”

Moved by Cooke’s letter and the goal of the series, Putnam agreed to grant one-time rights with notable restrictions: the BBC would send the Library any copies that were made when it returned the recordings; the series would be broadcast live, and only once; and no recordings of the series itself would be preserved. As a result of this arrangement, many recordings were broadcast that had never before been heard by anyone outside the Library.

This according to “Alistair Cooke: A radio and TV icon in the Archive of folk culture” by Stephen D. Winick (Folklife Center news XXVII/1–2 [winter/spring 2005] pp. 6–8). Above, Cooke interviews an unknown singer for the series in 1938. Below, Vera Hall (1902–64) sings Trouble so hard, recorded by John Lomax for the Library of Congress in the 1930s.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Mass media, North America, World music

Pavarotti sings for soccer

The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”

This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the ‘Nessun dorma’ aria from Turandot.”

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Filed under Curiosities, Mass media, Opera, Popular music, Reception, Sports and games