Some of the greatest music ever made, stuff recorded in the last century, has already been lost forever, because we suck at saving it.
In 1903, Huddie William Ledbetter was one of the strongest voices in American folk and blues. Known as Lead Belly, Ledbetter was known as the King of the Twelve String Guitar, but he also played the piano, the mandolin, the harmonica, and the violin. He wrote songs about racism and politics. His songs have been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Nirvana. They tell hard stories about what it was like to be black and a musician in the early 1930s. They are treasures.
But many of Lead Belly’s original recordings no longer exist. The tapes that held his last sessions were beyond saving after the oxide on the top of the record fell off rendering it unplayable. Because conservators couldn’t get to them earlier, those songs are lost forever. Let’s repeat that — some of these songs, among the most significant in music history, are less than 100 years old but still lost to us for all time.