2008 Fire at Universal Studios Destroyed 60 Years of Irreplaceable Master Recordings, Reports New York Times

Music critics are calling the discovery "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business"

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Los Angeles County firefighter Darrick Woolever examines metal that needs to be removed after a fire, June 2, 2008, at the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot. VOA

A 2008 fire at Universal Studios in Hollywood destroyed more than 60 years of irreplaceable master recordings of some of the most legendary names in music, The New York Times reports. Music critics are calling the discovery “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

The lost treasures include original one-of-a-kind recordings of jazz greats such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington to some top 21st century artists, including 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and Sheryl Crow. Universal had said in 2008 that the flames at the studio and theme park only burned a King Kong attraction and a room that stored copies of old movies and TV shows.

But according to an article in The New York Times Magazine, citing Universal company documents, a vault of master tapes and discs was completely destroyed when firefighters decided to dismantle a warehouse to make it easier to fight the flames. Although copies of the destroyed recordings probably exist on CDs, tapes, and discs, those copies are all taken from the priceless masters.

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Universal Studios, Singapore Tourism (Image Credits : Shaurya Ritwik) VOA

The material lost is priceless. Along with recordings from legends such as Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and John Coltrane, experts believe some of Aretha’s Franklin’s first recordings went up in flames. Buddy Holly’s masters were melted. Irreplaceable takes by Ray Charles, B.B, King, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and The Police went up in smoke.

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The Times says other recordings for which no copies are known to exist, including obscure and well-known gospel, blues, country, and pop artists are gone for good with no evidence they ever existed.

The article says Universal executives wanted to minimize news of the loss to avoid an outcry from the public and lawsuits from the artists whose work was destroyed and their heirs. (VOA)