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Musical Space: Public Domain


Tomorrow - New Year’s Day - a number of works written in 1924 will have outlived their legal copyright status and enter public domain. This means anyone can record and perform these old songs and symphonies without having to pay royalty fees to estates or publishers. 

Ninety-five years is longer than any composer can hope to benefit from their work while alive, but Congress has repeatedly extended the term, much to the benefit of rights holders like Disney and Time Warner. The latest extension, Sonny Bono’s law, also called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, gave 20 years of added income to publishers.

Music: “Copenhagen” - Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverines (rec. 1924)

So it’s been a wait. But 1924 is now open to us. It was a fruitful time for American music: The jazz age was dawning and there was an explosion of new media in the form of phonograph records and radio. Music theatre was evolving and the Gershwin brothers had their first hit.

So, what goes into public domain tomorrow? There’s George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, and a whole bunch of pop tunes from right when the ‘20s started really roaring. We’ll no doubt start hearing these in commercials and soundtracks a lot more often, which is fine, because it belongs to us now.


Listening list:

We’re doing only old music today, all written in 1924.


Gertrude "Ma" Rainey-See See Rider Blues. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues." That’s Louis Armstrong on trumpet.



Puccini, “Nessun Dorma,” Turandot, (Luciano Pavarotti). Pavarotti holds the high “C” an insanely long time. As one YouTube commenter says: “...longer than I can hold a job.”


Isham Jones and Gus Kahn, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (Django Reinhardt, 1939)


“Nobody’s Sweetheart,” (Benny Goodman Trio, rec. 1936). Gus Kahn also wrote the words to this. Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums.


George and Ira Gershwin, “Lady Be Good” (Ella Fitzgerald w/ Bob Haggart, rec. 1947). Amazing scat solo.


George and Ira Gershwin, “The Man I Love” (Billie holiday, rec. 1939). Also written by the Gershwin brothers for Lady, Be Good. That’s Lester Young on saxophone.


Vincent Youmans, “Tea For Two,” Art Tatum. Written for No, No, Nanette.



Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.