Songs for Everyone

A brief history of the music-reproduction technologies

Exhibition Essa Nossa Canção (2023) by Museum of Portuguese LanguageMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In July 2023, Museum of Portuguese Language opened the temporary exhibition Essa Nossa Canção, which offers a dive into the universe of the word sung in Brazil, showing how profound the relationships that occur here between language and music are.

Timeline, exhibition Essa Nossa Canção (2023) by Museum of Portuguese LanguageMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In our country, songs permeate every corner, mixing oral and written culture, tradition and modernity, roots and influences, social classes and ages. They mark our history and are practically confused with Brazil and Brazilians.

Among other surprises, the visitor discovers how, over time, different technological resources were created to capture sounds and reproduce them, making them accessible to everyone: from gramophones to streaming, this is a fascinating path that we follow here.

O Violeiro (1899/1899) by Almeida JúniorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Live music only

Until the second half of the 19th century, it was only possible to listen to live music: an orchestra at the theater, a band on the street, or someone singing and playing an instrument at home.

Those who truly loved music dreamed of the day it would be possible to capture sounds and songs and listen to them again whenever they felt like it. However, back then, that day seemed impossibly far away.  

Phonograph wax cylinder (1901/1930) by Edison RecordsMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Tha machine that speaks (and sings)

The dream of recording and reproducing sounds came true in 1877 when American Thomas Alva Edison introduced his latest invention to the world: the phonograph.  

Phonograph wax cylinder (1901/1930) by Edison RecordsMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The phonograph consisted of a rotating cylinder, which made a needle scratch its surface, reproducing sound waves. The device soon became famous all over the world...

A Rio-de-Janeiro newspaper announced, in 1892:

In this city, at Rua do Ouvidor, 135, we will show the speaking machine, one of the most surprising and odd inventions. This machine reproduces not only the human voice but also all sorts of sounds, such as songs, operas, and military music.

O Phonographo (1913/1913) by Not identifiedMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The husky gramophone night

In 1893, German Emile Berliner introduced a new speaking machine: the gramophone.

Gramophone, His master's voice, Unknown, 1901/1930, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Gramophone, His master's voice, Unknown, 1901/1930, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Ad, Echo Magazine (1906/1906) by Not identifiedMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The gramophone included a small innovation, which later became a commercial advantage over the phonograph: instead of reproducing sounds in cylinders, it played wax discs.

78rpm gramophone record (1926/1926) by OdeonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa


The flat discs, as they were called at the time, were easier to make and soon became popular.   

In Brazil, Casa Edison, a store selling imported phonographs and gramophones, began mass-producing these disks in 1904. 


The deck chair, the bed, the see-saw, 
the cigarette, the work, the prayer, 
the guava paste for dessert on Sundays, 
the toothpick in happy people’s teeth, 
the husky gramophone every night 

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Família” [Family], in Alguma Poesia (1930).

General Electric Radio (1940/1949) by General EletricMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Crossing the blue space

The first radio broadcast occurred in Brazil in 1922. Within a few years, nearly every house had a radio, which broadcast the news, ads, and a lot of music.

Between the 1930s and the early 1960s, the big broadcasters hired orchestras and singers, which performed in auditoriums, and these concerts were broadcast live to Brazil.

Advertising of Dorival Caymmi’s concert (1956/1956) by UnknownMuseu da Língua Portuguesa


One famous song, recorded in 1936 by Carmen Miranda and her sister, Aurora Miranda, said: 

We are radio singers  
Our songs cross the blue space  
And bring in a big hug together,  
hearts from all over the place  

Portable Delta victrola (1975) by DeltaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Spinning on the victrola nonstop

In 1948, vinyl records were created in the Long-Play (LP) format, taking the place of the old 78 rpm, which lasted only three or four minutes on the player. 

LPs, in their turn, spinning at a 33 rpm speed, lasted over twenty minutes on each side. The new players included the possibility of adjusting speed. Thus, they could play both old and new records.

Victrola and record player advertisement (1929/1961) by UnknwonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Victrola was the name of a record player produced by the Victor Talking Machine, a US company. It became so popular that it started to mean the record player itself.

Victrola and record player advertisement (1929/1961) by UnknwonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Victrola and record player advertisement (1929/1961) by UnknwonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Its competitors tried hard to come up with different names, such as “electrophone” or “Grafonola,” but none was successful. The Victrola imposed itself and settled in our language, loud and clear.

Victrola and record player advertisement (1929/1961) by UnknwonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Rita Lee & Tutti Frutti perform the song "Esse tal de Roque Enrow" (2023/2023) by José MotaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Show machine

Brazil’s first television broadcaster aired in 1950. In its first years, music performances on TV were a like a “filmed radio,” with singers standing and facing the microphones that were typically from the radio. However, as time went by, things changed.

Rita Lee & Tutti Frutti perform the song "Esse tal de Roque Enrow" (2023/2023) by José MotaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In the 1960s, the famous song festivals—popular music contests that were televised—allowed people to watch their idols’ concerts without leaving home. In the 1970s, the first music videos appeared, which became increasingly popular.

A General Electric television set advertisement (1950/1950) by UnknwonMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Anywhere at any time

Magnetic tapes or cassettes, which were played on cassette players, appeared in the 1960s. At that time, most music releases were in LP format or on cassette tapes. You could also buy blank cassettes and record the songs of your choice onto them, creating unique and personalized tapes.

Sports Sony Walkman, Unknown, 1993, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Cassette tapes were more practical than records. One could listen to them on one’s car tape player or battery-powered players that could be carried anywhere.

In 1979, mobility peaked, when Sony introduced the first Walkman model—a mini recorder with headphones. Its tagline was: A new way to enjoy music in high quality anywhere at any time

Sony Walkman advertisement (1979/1979) by UnknownMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

A thousand songs in your pocket

The first compact disc (CD) was released in 1982, along with the first CD player, sparking a new musical revolution. Smaller, cheaper to produce, and with the promise of purer, hiss-free sound, CDs soon became more successful than vinyl records.

But their reign was short-lived. In the 1990s, the arrival of the internet and digital songs in mp3 format toppled the traditional phonographic industry. In file-sharing networks, anyone could “download” hundreds of songs, “burn” their own CDs, or even transport virtual music libraries on small flash drives.

In this unpredictable scenario, a new type of device conquered the world: mp3 players, like the iPod. In its launch campaign in 2001, the iPod made an irresistible promise to music lovers: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” 

Sansui earphones, iPod Apple and Wireless earphones (2023/2023) by José MotaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Moving clouds

Currently, the songs are found mainly in the “clouds” of streaming applications, which we access via mobile phones. Today, that’s how we listen to music. But what does the future hold? Taking the variety of devices we’ve seen so far into consideration, it will be very different from what we know now.

There is already news, for instance, of an “invisible” earphone, which is to be launched in the upcoming years. This device will be able to create “sound balls” next to people’s ears, reproducing songs with the same quality as the best current devices. An invisible earphone formed by the sounds themselves! Awesome, right?

Timeline, exhibition Essa Nossa Canção, 2023-08-21/2023-08-21, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Credits: Story

São Paulo State Government
Tarcisio de Freitas | Governor

Secretariat of Culture, Economy and Creative Industry – São Paulo State Government
Marilia Marton | Secretary
Frederico Mascarenhas | Executive Secretary
Daniel Scheiblich Rodrigues | Chief of Staff
Vanessa Costa Ribeiro | Coord. of the Museological Heritage Preservation Unit

IDBrasil Cultura, Educação e Esportes
Carlos Antonio Luque | President
Renata Vieira da Motta | Executive Director
Vitoria Boldrin | Administrative and Financial Director
Roberta Saraiva | Technical Director

Exhibition Essa Nossa Canção
Carlos Nader e Hermano Vianna | Curators
José Miguel Wisnik | Consultant
Isa Grinspum Ferraz | Special curator
Marcelo Macca | Research
Márcia Macêdo | Translation

Virtual exhibition
Marcelo Macca | Research and original text
Cecilia Farias and Leonardo Arouca | Adaptation and settings
Camila Aderaldo | Coord. and review

Click here and find out more about the original exhibit.

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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