- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Grateful Dead veteran Mickey Hart remembers well the first sound recording that blew his mind.
"I was about 5 or 6 years old and my mother inherited a Count Basie and Duke Ellington collection of 78s," said Mr. Hart, 59.
"Right there in the middle of it was this rain forest Pygmy music. Someone must have put those records in there."
He was riveted by the Pygmy tribe's vocalizations.
"For a while, I ran with the Pygmies. Ate their food," he said, speaking figuratively. "It transported me to a wild world out there somewhere. That was my first hit of the music of the world."
Mr. Hart still performs as a drummer and singer. But he's also active in preservation and digitization of historic sounds with the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center. And it has evolved into Save Our Sounds, a collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution to preserve and restore tens of thousands of historic recordings, some dating to the 1890s.
They range from man-on-the-street interviews right after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first Jewish religious service from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Harlem renaissance poetry read by its authors to music-festival recordings during the birth of rap.
Beginning today on EBay.com, Mr. Hart and dozens of other celebrities, including Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Ludacris, Madonna and Ricky Martin, will be participating in an auction to raise money for Save Our Sounds.
Many have signed Gibson guitars that will be sold. Barbra Streisand has donated signed sheet music from her Oscar-winning song "Evergreen."
And later this month, the History Channel will air an hour-long documentary on the project. "Save Our History: Save Our Sounds" (8 p.m., Dec. 26) explores roots music, historic speeches and oral traditions, and features interviews with Mr. Hart, David Crosby, Pete Seeger and B.B. King.
"These are really our aural masterpieces our Picassos, Renoirs and Monets," Mr. Hart said. "They are representations of our essence as a people.
"I was just talking with Paul Simon about this last night. If we hadn't heard the blues or bluegrass or the Woody Guthrie stuff, there would be no Paul Simon. No Grateful Dead. No Carlos Santana."
Save Our Sounds takes recordings in their original forms disintegrating wax cylinders, tin, aluminum, tape and digitizes them. Then multiple copies are made on reel-to-reel tapes and CDs for storage and public access.
"People are just now waking up to the fact it's possible to save a vast amount of this treasure," Mr. Hart said.
It means a lot of first-person slave narratives that were endangered have been saved. Even recent sounds originally recorded on inferior material have been preserved.
"It's heartbreaking when you hear a tape disintegrating or a cylinder crumble" as sounds are being saved, Mr. Hart said. "It's not for the meek or weak."
But the goal, he says, is vital to our culture.
"It's important to give the children of any generation the chance to hear the dreams, hopes and fears of what's come before," Mr. Hart said. "As I see it, there's really nothing like music to give you a skeleton key into a culture."

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