78s Bring the Past to Life

For many of us, music is an integral part of our memories.  It evokes a period of time in our lives, or inspires specific recollections.  Music can also conjure times long past, outside of our personal memories.


When we watch this movie, we see and hear Argentina in the early 20th Century.  The music in this clip came from a 78 collected in Buenos Aires by Tina Argumedo, part of her personal collection of hundreds of discs.

Tina Argumedo (L), D’Anna Alexander (C), Lucretia Hug (R)

Tina began collecting 78s in the 1930s.  The world was waking up from the Great Depression, Buenos Aires was celebrating its 400th birthday, and tango was moving from working class barrooms to grand, middle-class dance halls.  Tina was a 20 year old newlywed, and she and her husband loved to dance.  She began to collect the music she loved, and she continued to build her collection of 78s for 20 years.

When Tina’s husband died, she moved to the U.S. to live with her daughter, Lucretia Hug.  She sold almost everything she owned, packed up her life, and moved to a foreign country.  One of the few things she brought with her were her 78s.  She passed her love of music down to her children and grandchildren and shared this music with her family, sitting on the couch in the living room with her 78s on shelves around them.

A few years ago when Tina passed away, her family had to decide what to do with this collection.  They no longer had room to store the discs, but they knew how important this music had been to Tina and couldn’t imagine throwing the 78s away or donating them to some charity to be disposed of piecemeal.  Fortunately, a family friend (and Argentinian composer), Débora Simcovich, offered to take the discs and keep them together.

And then, just a few months ago, Tina’s granddaughter, D’Anna Alexander, heard about The Great 78 Project and she remembered her grandmother’s collection.  She and Débora agreed that the best tribute to Tina would be to donate her collection to the Internet Archive for digitization and preservation, so that people all over the world could appreciate this music and the collection that Tina built. It is a way to preserve and celebrate their family’s heritage and culture.

We have begun to digitize Tina’s collection and you can hear the first discs now in the Tina Argumedo & Lucretia Hug Collection.

More than 3 million recordings were produced on 78rpm discs, and many of them have never made the leap forward to modern formats. In some cases, these 78s contain the only version of these performances, and they are mostly inaccessible to people today.  Few people have equipment to play a 78, and the discs themselves are frighteningly fragile.

These 78rpm discs contain an entire era of our musical history, from about 1898 through the 1950s when LP records were introduced.  If we do not digitize the music on these discs, we will lose it. 

The Great 78 Project aims to digitize as many of those 3 million recordings as we can find. Currently we have digitized 50,000 recordings, and we continue to add about 5,000 each month.  We are preserving discs from more than 20 collectors and institutions around the world, and we continue to look for more people with collections they would like to share.  If you would like to work with us on this collection, please let us know at info@archive.org.

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