Being fairly technologically up-to-date, I have transferred most of my music to iTunes. All of my CD collection has been transferred, and some of my cassette tapes. I've not yet transferred my 45-rpm or 78 rpm records, but I would like to do so. My 8" reel tapes may never get transferred. (The fact that I even have them makes me old.) Currently I have 3,806 songs on my computer and on my iPod. I have categorized them into play lists of favorites, both by genre and by artist.
What is interesting, surprising, and a bit concerning, is the fact that at least half of my favorite musicians are dead, and I'm not even counting the classical composers like Handel, Mozart, Bach, Händel, Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, and Vivaldi -- who are most definitely dead. Does this make my taste in music old fashioned, or does it just make me old? Perhaps both. Many of the musicians that I like are not even names that people under the age of 30 have ever heard of. Some of these musicians were dead before I was born. This realization came to me as I was listening to one of my 68 Fats Waller songs. I wonder if anyone under 50 knows who he is.
I don't expect my undergraduate students to know or even have heard of Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, or Earl Warren. Likewise for Big Joe Turner, Guitar Gabriel, Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins, Stephane Grappelli, or Jack Teagarden. But it would be nice to know that they were musically enlightened enough to know about Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, and Lionel Hampton. It's only right that they do, since I have music by Brandy, Norah Jones, J. Lo, and Evanesence. Unfortunately most don't.
There is something reverent about listening to original recordings of music played by musicians who have since passed on. There is a depth of appreciation and awe that just isn't there with current popular musicians. They are singing and playing their hearts out in the prime of their lives, and it is a living testimony to those lives and talents, and to the culture and events of their time. Imagine if we had recordings of Jesus. Of course he probably couldn't sing worth a shit, but it would certainly be a big seller, and it would provide a whole new perspective on that era.
There are large repertoires of music representing the periods of World War I, the great depression years, World War II and the swing era of post WWII when the baby boomers were all being born. Listening to music recorded then takes you back in time and allows you to experience a bit of history and get a feeling of actually being there. If you can't experience a bit of the WWII era by listening to the Andrew Sisters, or of the WWI era by hearing "Over There" by George M. Cohan, then you are cheating yourself, and you are giving history a lot less respect than it deserves.