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A Secret History of Recording

“Jazz did not come out of nowhere-blacks did not appear in the major concert halls in the 1930s with no predecessors,” says Tim Brooks, author of the new book Lost Sounds. That quote is more or less a thesis statement for the 675-page volume, recently released by the University of Illinois Press and subtitled Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919.

The book chronicles the careers of black artists like George W. Johnson and Bert Williams, whose names may not be famous, but whose recordings had remarkable impact on the burgeoning sound recording industry, and society at large. Brooks, the current executive vice president of research at Lifetime Television and former president of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, packs this history with stories from primary sources, as well as a number of vintage photographs and illustrations. Among Lost Sounds‘ other subjects (some of them very famous) are George Walker, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, W. C. Handy, James Reese Europe, Wilbur Sweatman, Harry T. Burleigh, Roland Hayes, Booker T. Washington, and boxing champion Jack Johnson. Lost Sounds also covers the subjects of race relations in post-Civil war society, copyright control and how the mass distribution of recorded sound enabled social change.

Brooks also includes a selected discography of CD reissues, and author-producer-broadcaster Dick Spottswood provides Lost Sounds with an appendix describing early recordings by black artists in the Caribbean and South America. For more info on the book, visit

Originally Published