Over 10 years ago, Universal Studios Hollywood went up in flames but has recently returned to the news due to a series of cover-ups by Universal Music Group.
In 2008, the company claimed all they had lost was the theme park’s King Kong attraction and a vault of copies of old movie footage.
It’s been uncovered that 500,000 master recordings were destroyed in 2008 Universal Studios Hollywood fire including music from Elton John, Nirvana and Chuck Berry.
This has proven to be false after an investigation into the burning of Building 6197, which not only held film reels but all the master recordings owned by the label since 1940. Inside the video vault was a fenced off 2,400 square feet with 5.5-metre high storage shelves dedicated to sound recordings. At the time, it was documented as only the copies of work had been burned and all original works had both been digitised and or avoided the flames.
In a 2009 confidential document from UMG, they detailed that an estimated 500K song titles were lost. These include original recordings from Decca Record collection which included: Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. Destroyed in the fire was also Chuck Berry’s recordings produced for Chess Records which feature Aretha Franklin’s debut on record.
This collection also covers decades of popular music from the likes of Sonny & Cher, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Elton John, the Four Tops, Barry White, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, Tupac, Burt Bacharach, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Neil Diamond, Al Green, Cat Stevens, Nirvana and that’s only mentioning a handful.
Universal Music Group are now disputing the severity of the information that was initially uncovered by the New York Times. In a statement made by UMG they claim, “the tens of thousands of back catalogue recordings that we have already issued in recent years – including master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions of many recordings that the story claims were ‘destroyed,’” and state “UMG invests more in music preservation and development of hi-resolution audio products than anyone else in music”. They did not, however, deny however the damage of the archives including the loss of 500,00 recordings.
To put it simply, here’s an excerpt from the internal assessment “lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage.”