A 2008 fire at Universal Studios in Hollywood destroyed scores and master tapes of approximately 500,000 albums and singles that shaped music history, a New York Times investigation has revealed.

The fire was subject to headlines around the world, but Universal shifted the attention of its carnage to the destroyed King Kong theme park attraction. Whilst building 6197 —UMG’s main West Coast storehouse of masters— perished in the blaze with no real coverage from media.

Initially, reports shared that “a vault full of video and television images” was destroyed in the fire, and an unnamed representative for Universal quoted: “Thankfully, there was little lost from UMG’s vault. A majority of what was formerly stored there was moved earlier this year to our other facilities. Of the small amount that was still there and waiting to be moved, it had already been digitized so the music will still be around for many years to come.”

This was not the case. The Times report has revealed that around 500,000 songs were lost in the devastation. The vault held an irreplaceable library of recordings, from masters dating back as far as the late 40s. The loss included Aretha Franklin’s first recordings, Etta James’s ‘At Last, Chucky Berry’s recordings for Chess Records, and masters from Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland.

It also destroyed single and album masters from a pool of artist whose music defined 20th and 21st-century pop music. This list includes: “Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.”

The destruction of these tapes will impact UMG’s ability to release future high-quality reissues of these recordings. “A master is the truest capture of a piece of recorded music,” Adam Block, the former president of Legacy Recordings, told the New York Times. “Sonically, masters can be stunning in their capturing of an event in time. Every copy thereafter is a sonic step away.”

You can read the full New York Times report, ‘The Day the Music Burned’ here.

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