NY Times investigation finds 2008 fire destroyed half a million audio recordings from legendary musicians
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A fire that tore through Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008 — reportedly destroying a video vault with only copies of “old works” — is now thought to have torched more archives, according to a new investigation.

The New York Times Magazine reported Tuesday that the blaze also destroyed about half a million audio recordings, causing "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business."

When the fire was first reported 11 years ago, the company said the fire ruined the “King Kong” ride and old works, including those of famous musicians in the 1940s, that were stored in the vault. But a confidential 2009 report from Universal Music Group said the loss totaled about 500,000 song titles.


Among the lost works are thought to be master recordings — the one-of-a-kind original music recordings from which any other copy is created — by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland, the Times reports. It also likely included some of Aretha Franklin’s first appearances on record.

Masters from Buddy Holly and John Coltrane vanished in the fire, which also took hit singles “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets,  Etta James’s “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” according to the Times.

The list continues, with decades’ worth of artists’ master music recordings lost. Recordings by Ray Charles, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and 50 Cent are just some of the artists whose works were affected.

The list also includes recordings that had never been commercially released, the Times reports.

The fire broke out in the early hours of June 1, 2008, after maintenance workers used blowtorches to fix the roof of a building on the set of New England Street, which served as the backdrop for several movies and TV shows.

Once the workers left, the flames formed and reached the video vault, which had videotapes, film reels and a library of master sound recordings, the Times reports. Emergency personnel who later responded to the scene chose to take apart the warehouse with the vault to make it easier to extinguish the flames.

While news of the fire spread across the world, most coverage focused only on the video recordings in the archive, according to the Times.