A set of wax phonograph cylinders.
PHOTO FROM THE ARCHIVES OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC/INDIANA UNIVERSITY
Researchers at Indiana University have been digitally preserving recordings of Native American songs made on fragile wax cylinders more than 100 years ago.
BY MARY ANNETTE PEMBER
5 MIN READDEC 23, 2019
Alvin Schuster could scarcely believe his ears. He was hearing the voice of an ancestor whom he’d never met but whose legacy was a constant guiding presence in his life.
Schuster, 75, listened with wonder to the restored recording of his grandfather, Louis Mann—made more than 100 years ago.
And although his grandfather died before he was born, Schuster was raised hearing stories of his courage as a fighter for the rights of the Yakama people. That legacy influenced and guided Schuster’s life as a leader in local and national Native education. “It made me so happy to hear his voice; growing up, I knew him only by word of mouth,” Schuster says.
The recording was originally made in 1909 by photographer Edward Curtis. Although well-known for his photographs of Native Americans, Curtis also created several recordings of Native people on wax cylinders.