Saturday, August 13, 2016

Soundies Singing Films

Soundies were three-minute American musical 16mm films, produced in New York City, Chicago, and Hollywood, between 1940 and 1946, each containing a song, dance and/or band or orchestral number. The completed Soundies were generally made available for rental within a few weeks of their filming, in film collections of eight to a reel, primarily by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America, from which the name "Soundies" was generalized to any similar film, including later, single pieces shot as "filler" for early television. The last true Soundies group was released in March 1947. The films were displayed on the Panoram, a coin-operated film jukebox or machine music, in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, factory lounges, and amusement centers.

Several production companies filmed the Soundies shorts: James Roosevelt's Globe Productions (1940–41), Cinemasters (1940-41), Minoco Productions (1941–43), RCM Productions (1941-46), LOL Productions (1943), Glamourettes (1943), Filmcraft Productions (1943–46), and Alexander Productions (1946).

Musical Genres

Soundies covered all genres of music, from classical to big-band swing, and from hillbilly novelties to patriotic songs. Jimmy Dorsey, Louis Jordan, Spike Jones, Liberace, Stan Kenton, Gale Storm, Kay Starr, Cyd Charisse, Les Brown, Doris Day, The Hoosier Hot Shots, Martha Tilton, Mel Torme, Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, Sally Rand, Alan Ladd, Peggy Lee, Nick Lucas, Gene Krupa, The Duncan Sisters, Anita O'Day, Jimmie Dodd, Ricardo Montalban, Yvonne De Carlo, Merle Travis, and Lawrence Welk were a few of the Soundies stars.

Many nightclub and recording artists also made Soundies, including Gloria Parker, Charles Magnante, Milton DeLugg, and Gus Van. More than 1800 Soundies mini-musicals were made, many of which have been released on home video.


Today Soundies are perhaps best known for preserving rare performances of African-American artists who had fewer opportunities to perform in films. Artists such as The Ink Spots, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, Dorothy Dandridge, Big Joe Turner, Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, The Mills Brothers, Sarah Vaughan, Herb Jeffries, Cab Calloway, Meade Lux Lewis, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Nina Mae McKinney, Nat King Cole, Moms Mabley, Mantan Moreland and Stepin Fetchit all made Soundies.


In 1958, the Soundies concept led to the development of the Scopitone which featured color 16 mm film with an improved magnetic soundtrack. This was created by the French company Cameca. Similar to Soundies, Scopitones were short music films played on a specially designed coin-operated jukebox.

By the mid-1960s Scopitone jukeboxes had spread across England and the United States. Many well-known American and French pop music acts of the '60s made Scopitone films such as The Exciters, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone, Dalida, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Procol Harum, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Brook Benton, Ray Anthony, Gale Garnett, Buddy Greco, Tommy James & the Shondells, Della Reese, Bobby Rydell, Petula Clark, Bobby Vee, Lou Christie, The Shadows, Jody Miller, Kay Starr, Dionne Warwick, Jane Morgan, Nancy Sinatra, Francoise Hardy, and Julie London. The Scopitone lasted until the end of the decade.

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