PEOPLE reported at the time that the King Kong exhibit was "three quarters lost" and that the NY set "has been totally lost". The New York Times' coverage of the backlot blaze, like many others, didn't mention that music recordings might have been among the ashes. Nearly of all of Buddy Holly's masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane's masters in the Impulse Records collection.
The list of artists whose recordings were destroyed reads like a musical hall of fame roll call: Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, Elton John, the Eagles, Aerosmith, the Police, Janet Jackson, Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Eminem and many others. Master music recordings are the original recordings from which all subsequent copies are derived.
The Times reports the flames likely swallowed up the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was still a teenager, as well as songs like "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets and "At Last" by Etta James. In a confidential report by UMG in 2009, the company admitted that around half a million song titles were lost as well.
A New York Times report published on Tuesday reveals that a 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood destroyed master recordings by artists spanning multiple genres and decades.
While reporters for The Times appear to have gone through great lengths to research this matter, one rep for UMG told Variety that the publication's reports include "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets".
Universal Music Group would not confirm the number of actual losses due to the fire, nor would it confirm the status of masters for specific artists. But the exact nuances of the high notes, the bass riffs, the vibrato and cymbals preserved on the master recordings that did burn that June day-those have gone quiet.