#Writing #MusicMonday: Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 by various artists

vocpYou know, this year, I was all set for Christmas, as I noted previously. I not only had all my November Music Monday posts picked out ahead of time, I had three out of the four weeks leading up to Christmas all accounted for, and in the mood of the season.

But I suddenly got all indecisive about what to post the week of Christmas. Should I go traditional, or ultramodern? Free Culture or anything goes? Instrumental, or vocal? A collection of various artists that already has been selected, or put together my own selections? (That last one tempted me, sorely.)

Finally, after listening and exploring quite a bit, I narrowed in on two collections I first found at the Free Music Archive. One was a collection of electronic instrumentals meant as new, replacement Christmas music, since the curator felt too many of our seasonal songs are too old. 1 The other was this, a collection of public domain 2 recordings from the early 20th Century.

What tipped the balance was finding the website of the organization that was the source of the collection, which pointed me to their uploads to the Internet Archive, and finding that you could download the lossless FLAC files, as well as MP3s and Ogg Vorbis. The fact that you can get the lossless files and make a CD from them without any (further) degradation of sound quality did it for me.

In 1998, vintage recording website Dawn of Sound released a compact disc collection of public domain early recording artifacts called Voices of Christmas Past. The recordings were cylinders and acetates from 1898 to 1922. Every year after the release, the website was inundated with requests for the CD. Once it was out of print, Dawn of Sound released it online for free.

From the original liner notes of the CD:

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording “Jingle Bells”, the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this record survive one of the earliest vocal examples of “Jingle Bells” does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, “Sleigh Ride Party”. It was made a decade later and is reissued here for the very first time in this collection. These songs and monologues from the original vintage recordings capture the essence of the Christmas spirit as it was in the opening two decades of the 20th Century.

If, like me, early 20th Century Americana just automatically gives you warm fuzzies, then this is an hour and fifteen minutes of pure joy. If you’re not like me, give it a listen, and see if it doesn’t put you in a warm, nostalgic mood anyway.

I bet it will.

Download Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 in multiple formats, including lossless FLAC, free from the Internet Archive.

You can also get it in MP3 format from the Free Music Archive.



Voices of Christmas Past by Various Artists [Dawn of Sound] is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.


  1. I do not say that I agree with him, since there are any number of 20th Century songs already considered classics, from “White Christmas” to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. 
  2. I am posting this with the CC license the organization claims, but frankly, since the recordings themselves are public domain, I fail to see how they can reasonably claim copyright on them, simply for digitizing. However, the case law (as I understand it) currently favors allowing copyright on any alteration, including simply transferring something public domain into another medium, so I’ll let it stand. The recordings themselves, however, are public domain. It’s only the files themselves that have the restrictive CC license. 
Advertisements