Jun 1, 2021

June 1st: The Secret Destruction Of America's Musical History

On June 1st, 2008, at At 4:43 a.m. a fire started on a rooftop in the backlot of Universal Studios in Hollywood due to maintenance workers using blowtorches to heat asphalt shingles to repair the roof of a building on the set known as New England Street. The fire quickly spread across the backlot destroying American icons such as 'Courthouse Square' featured in “Back to the Future” as well as the King Kong Encounter from Universal Studios theme park.

In an effort to quell the blaze fire fighters tapped into the man made lake created for the film Creature From the Black Lagoon. Fire crews began drafting water from the lake. Nearly 24 hours later the fire had been subdued and made headlines around the world. News reports reported the damage done,  including the destruction of the warehouse known as 'The video Vault' and the loss of film and video masters stored there, but Universal never made known the list of lost films. More curious than that, Universal failed to mention that the Video Vault also contained 1000s of master audio recordings from Decca, Chess, MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen, Interscope, and other music labels that had been destroyed.

Of all the reporting on the day after the fire, only one reporter had speculated on the destruction of the audio recordings, Nikki Finke of Deadline. The following day Deadline offered a retraction, quoting a representative from Universal Music Group in saying “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.” Another news source quoted an UMG spokesperson in saying “We had no loss.”

But in a March 2009 UMG document marked “CONFIDENTIAL” the term “assets destroyed”  was used to detail an estimated 500,000 song masters that were lost, and valued this loss at $150 million. As the Video Vault had no real Inventory list, it is unknown exactly what songs were lost, but the list of artists' master recordings destroyed is staggering; including recordings by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Little Walter, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent, the Roots, Eric B. and Rakim, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden and other American music icons.