120-Year-Old Recording of Black Vocal Group Auctioned Off

The wax-covered cylinder containing the earliest known recording of a black vocal group in the U.S. was sold at auction Saturday.

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Baylor University professor Robert Darden is head of the school's Black Gospel Music Restoration Project.

Courtesy of Baylor University/Robert Rogers

An 1893 recording of the song, “Mama’s Black Baby Boy,” by the New York-based Unique Quartet, was sold at auction Saturday, the Associated Press reports.

The earliest known recording of a black vocal group in the U.S. sold for $1,100 and was contained in a wax-covered cylinder, the AP reports. The recording, one of only two copies known to exist, was discovered in a private collection in Portland, Ore., and was sold in Maine. The other copy is located at the Library of Congress.

Cylinder recordings were played on phonographs that had the appearance of a Victrola-style player, the AP says. The music, however, was imprinted in wax on cylinders as opposed to the grooves of vinyl records.

Robert Darden, a Baylor University professor who is working to save black gospel music by digitizing existing vinyl recordings through the Black Music Restoration Project, told the AP that all pre-digital music is in jeopardy of being lost. Many cylinder recordings were melted down and recycled during World War II, he said.

Read more at the Associated Press.

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