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The Sounds of America: Lily Tomlin

Operators and switchboards have largely been consigned to history. But Ernestine the Telephone Operator as played by Lily Tomlin endures.

The character originated on the TV comedy series “Laugh-In” in 1969. Tomlin played Ernestine, a sharp-tongued, power-crazed telephone company employee.

Ernestine’s trademark was to count the rings and greet callers with “A gracious good morning to you.” She would then launch into a verbal assault. And the laughs followed.

Tomlin reused the character in several stage shows, commercials, and guest appearances including “The Electric Company” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Her 1971 album, “This Is a Recording,” has been picked this year to enter the National Recording Registry.

The album peaked at 15 on the Billboard chart, the highest charting solo comedy album by a woman.

“This Is A Recording” also won Tomlin a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, making her the first woman to win that award for a solo recording.

We hear from Tomlin, actor, writer Anna Deavere Smith, professor and comedy producer Caty Borum, and actor and comedian Sandra Bernhard.

Want to add a recording you think should be added to the National Recording Registry? Your nomination must meet three conditions; there needs to be an existing physical copy of the recording, it has to be at least 10 years old, and it has to have had some significant impact on American culture. Just send the library an email recregistry@loc.gov.

The Sounds of America is produced by Jennie Cataldo for Accompany Studios.

Copyright 2024 WAMU 88.5

Rupert Allman