The unlikely intersection of Amelia Earhart, avant-garde vocals, and the future of music.
In the 1930s, with the possible exception of Charles Lindbergh, no American aviator was more popular or beloved than Amelia Earhart. In 1928, a mere eight years after U.S. women were given the right to vote, Earhart found global fame as the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by plane. Four years later, she piloted the flight herself becoming the first woman to solo the Atlantic. For her accomplishment, she received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross and the enduring love of a nation. Earhart lectured. She wrote books. She fought for women’s rights. And when she set out to aerially circumnavigate the globe, the entire world was watching. Those same people’s hearts broke when on July 2, 1937 Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere near Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. Earhart’s disappearance is a mystery that’s been debated and unsolved for nearly 85 years.
As fate would have it, on the day Earhart went missing, a 15-year-old girl named Betty Klenck was settling in to spend the afternoon listening to her family’s short-wave radio in St. Petersburg, Florida. Armed with a notebook and pen to write down her favorite song lyrics, Betty began tuning the dial looking for music. But instead, she heard a woman’s voice, speaking English and clearly frantic. Most of what she heard were fragments, but she clearly heard the woman say, “this is Amelia Earhart … this is Amelia Earhart.” Betty wrote down everything she heard and it’s now believed that what she may have heard was Amelia Earhart’s final haunting distress call.
Over the years, Betty’s notebook became an acute fascination for historians, researchers, conspiracy theorists, and anyone interested in what happened to Amelia Earhart. Now, some 85 years after its creation, Betty’s account of Earhart’s call for help is poised to find the limelight again. It’s always been a heartbreaking piece of one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. To artistic director Sam Brukhman, it was the perfect basis for a groundbreaking piece of choral music recounting the story.
“Betty’s Notebook,” the piece Brukhman commissioned from composer Nicholas Reeves, is a dissonant, atonal piece that at times feels as much like Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as it does a choral piece. The 22-minute opus mixes multiple choral layers with audio of an older Betty Klenck recounting what she heard on her radio back in 1937.
The extraordinary piece was recorded by Dallas’s Verdigris ensemble at our sister company, Luminous Sound Studios, masterfully engineered by three-time Grammy-winning engineer Tre Nagella and promptly minted into a series of NFTs.
Billed as the “first programmable music NFT minted and sold on the blockchain,” “Betty’s Notebook” went to auction last week at Async Art with NFTs available for the fully mastered piece, as well as the four primary audio layers, or “stems.” Brukhman set the bidding at $150,000. In all, the NFTs for “Betty’s Notebook” were purchased for $375,000.
For music fans, NFTs represent exciting new chances to “own” exclusive music, tickets, videos, images, experiences, swag, and other commodities sold by their favorite artists. And since NFTs live forever on the blockchain, the authenticity and provenance of ownership is never in question should that fan choose to resell their NFT at a later date.
Where NFTs may revolutionize music is on the artist side of the ledger. Where digital streaming has virtually destroyed artist revenue paying them just fractions of a cent for each digital play of a song, NFTs give artists a new opportunity to monetize their music and the marketing channels corollary to it. Just imagine what the NFT for “Kind of Blue,” or The Beatles’ White Album, or “Led Zeppelin IV,” or “Exile on Main Street” would be worth today. Best of all, NFTs give artists the opportunity to write “smart contracts” into the digital code guaranteeing they receive a percentage of every sale and resell of that NFT in perpetuity. Imagine artists getting paid for their talents again.