BIDDEFORD, Maine (AP) — One of two copies of the oldest known recording of a black vocal group in the U.S. is up for auction — a recording so rare and delicate that the auctioneer doesn’t dare try to play it.
The 1893 recording of “Mama’s Black Baby Boy” by the Unique Quartet pre-dates vinyl recordings. The song was recorded on a wax-covered cylinder using technology invented by Thomas Edison. It can only be played on a special cylinder player that was a predecessor to phonographs, which played flat, vinyl discs, said Troy Thibodeau, manager of Saco Bay Auctions.
The 120-year-old recording, along with a second Unique Quartet song, “Who Broke the Lock (on the Henhouse Door)?” from 1896, came from a Portland collector who amassed 3,000 of the old cylinder recordings.
“They’re in fantastic shape,” Thibodeau said Wednesday, carefully showing off the smooth cylinder covered in brown wax on which the music resides in etched grooves. “All it takes is a little bit of heat or a little bit of cold, and these things are junk. So, for more than 100 years, someone really took care of these things and treasured them.”
Both cylinders are up for auction on Saturday, along with hundreds of other items, including a shirt belonging to George Custer, the cavalry captain who died in 1876 while fighting Indians at Little Bighorn in Montana.
Cylinder recordings are becoming rare, and recordings of black artists even more rare.
There are so few cylinders that have the historical significance of the Unique Quarter recordings that it’s hard to know how much they might sell for. An appraiser believes they’ll go for $25,000 or more — apiece.
The cylinders rotate on a machine that looks like an early Victrola-style player. A needle fits in the wax grooves as the cylinder spins. Such players still exist, but the wax degrades with each playing. Later phonographs featured flat platters and vinyl recordings that lasted far longer than wax.
Another black group, the Standard Quartet, is credited with making earlier cylinder recordings than the Unique Quartet, but none of those recordings exist today, said Bob Marovich, a gospel music historian in Chicago.
Marovich said he holds out hope that more of the old music could turn up. “Finding this one serves as a well of hope that maybe some more of them are out there,” he said in a telephone interview.
It’s startling how soon music can be lost.
Robert Darden, who’s working to save the music by digitizing existing vinyl recordings through the Black Music Restoration Project, estimates that 75 percent of gospel music recorded on vinyl from 1940 to 1970 has disappeared.
“All pre-digital black sacred music is at risk. The cylinders are made from pressed, hardened wax and grow brittle and chipped with age. Vinyl 78s, 45s, and LPs were melted down and recycled as part of the war effort during World War II,” said Darden, who’s a professor at Baylor University in Texas.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
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5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
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6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
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7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
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8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
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9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
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10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
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11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
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12. Late nights mornings
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13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
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14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
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15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
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16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
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17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
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18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
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19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
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20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
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21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
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22. Claudia Jordan: ....
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23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
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24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
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25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
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