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Oldest recording of national anthem unveiled

The 1942 recording of the Korean national  anthem performed by Korean-Americans reveals longing for the country’s independence

The oldest existing recording of the Korean national anthem, or “Aegukga,” performed by Korean-American men and women in 1942 while Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, was revealed for the first time in Seoul on Monday.

The state-run Independence Hall of Korea unveiled the record that has three songs ― old and new versions of the national anthem and “Mugungwha,” or the Rose of Sharon.

“According to the New Korea, a Korean-language newspaper published in the United States, the record was distributed at a ceremony on Aug. 29, 1942 where the Korean flag was presented to the city of Los Angeles. It was the first time that Koreans presented their national flag to a foreign office,” said Kim Yong-dal, chief researcher of the Institute of Korean Independence Movement Studies under the IHK. The records and propaganda leaflets were distributed at the scene for $1 each, the institute said quoting documents.
Kim Yong-dal, chief researcher at the Independence Hall of Korea, shows the oldest surviving record of the Korean national anthem in Seoul. (Yonhap News)
Kim Yong-dal, chief researcher at the Independence Hall of Korea, shows the oldest surviving record of the Korean national anthem in Seoul. (Yonhap News)

The Aug. 29 ceremony was organized by the United Korean Committee in America to declare their determination to fight for the independence of Korea. Aug. 29 was also known as the National Humiliation Day, when the country was forcefully annexed by Japan in 1909. The ceremony was attended by Fletcher Brown, the then-L.A. Mayor. Messages from the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea at Chungqing, China, the Korean Commission at Washington D.C. as well as California Governor Culber Olson were delivered during the ceremony.

“This record and other materials show how people desired for the country’s independence and how they fought by presenting Taegeukgi, or the national flag, in a foreign land,” said Hong Sun-pyo, a senior researcher at the institute.

Aegukga was composed by Korean composer Ahn Eak-tai in 1935. The song on the LP was sung by the Korean Victory Chorus accompanied by a piano. It is unknown how many people were in the chorus, the institute said.

Before Ahn composed the original melody for the lyrics, the words of national anthem written by an unidentified person had been sung to the tune of the Scottish folk song “Auld Lang Syne” since 1910.

The recording of the national anthem is a part of 161 record collection donated by the Young Korean Academy, a group of Korean patriots, in 1997. The institute was not able to play the record because it was broken into two pieces. But with the help of the Archive and Record Center for Korean Recordings at Dongguk University, the institute was able to release the tune of the oldest national anthem of Korea in digital formal, officials said.

The record and other documents are to be registered as cultural assets of modern Korean history by the Cultural Heritage Administration.

By Cho Chung-un (