It’s not often an album made in Minnesota winds up in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. In fact, it’s only happened once: Prince’s “Purple Rain” earned the prestigious honor in 2012.
The second locally made album to make the cut earlier this week isn’t actually by a Minnesota act, but it just so happens to be by a group that performed in town Friday night at Orchestra Hall: the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their 1964 debut album, “Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Band,” was recorded live at the old Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It’s one of the 25 records announced on the library registry Wednesday, alongside the Doors’ and Joan Baez’s debut, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
That a group that’s now a New Orleans institution had to come all the way up to Minneapolis to make an album demonstrates how out-of-favor their old-school brand of Dixieland jazz was in the early 1960s. Allan and Sandra Jaffe opened their venue just off Bourbon Street in 1961 in an effort to “preserve” the music. Their house band was brought up to the Guthrie a few years later to record by local musicologist Harry Blackburn and a group called Minnesota Jazz Sponsors.
“"I'd say it's the band's most important and probably best-known recording," Ben Jaffe, son of Allan and Sandra, told the Star Tribune in a 2009 interview.
Now the leader and sousaphonist in the hall’s namesake band, Ben said his dad stayed up all night mixing the record after the show. Little did he know it would officially be recognized as a landmark recording by the U.S. Congress 51 years later. The album was also just referenced last year in a history lesson of the group/venue in the Foo Fighters’ HBO documentary series “Sonic Highway,” after Dave Grohl & Co. recorded there. A revival of it was arranged at the new Guthrie Theater in 2011 with Marcia Ball filling in for late singer Sweet Emma Barrett.
Alas, neither Allan and Sandra Jaffe, Sweet Emma nor any of the other participants in the recording are alive today to enjoy the attention.