“This is invaluable… . They are the first music videos!”
– Leonard Maltin
Before MTV, there were “soundies.” First appearing in 1941, these three-minute “music videos” played in famous nightclubs and restaurants everywhere, featuring many of the legendary musicians of that era and of all time. For the price of 10 cents, audiences enjoyed artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway — all viewed through a special machine called a “panoram,” or movie jukebox. Not only were these unique classic film clips precursors to music videos, but they also capture the social history and popular culture of one of the most exciting and influential eras in America. SOUNDIES: A MUSICAL HISTORY HOSTED BY MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, a delightful collection of these musical treasures, airs as part of the March 2007 pledge drive (check local listings) on PBS.
Hosted by Michael Feinstein, four-time Grammy nominee and one of the premiere interpreters of American song, the program also contains interviews with some of America’s most famous musical and cultural icons — including Wynton Marsalis, Les Paul, George Duke, Hugh Hefner and film historian Leonard Maltin.
Together, these experts tell the story behind the soundies and explain what made the programs so popular. For many people across the nation, the soundies started a musical revolution. The panoram allowed viewers to see for the first time many of the nation’s greatest musicians — as well as the very first footage of black and white musicians performing together. This rare exception to segregation was an important milestone that foreshadowed the 1960s civil rights movement and underscored the fact that music is a catalyst for bringing people together.
By the end of World War II, more than 1,800 soundies had been made. Now, many of the best performances, meticulously restored to pristine quality, are available, for the first time, on PBS.
The classic black-and-white musical performances in SOUNDIES: A MUSICAL HISTORY include:
• Duke Ellington and his orchestra performing “Hot Chocolate” with Arthur White’s Lindy Hoppers — an exhilarating dance performance.
• Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing “Blow Top Blues.”
• Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five performing “Jumpin’ at the Jubilee” — a song considered one of the roots of rock ’n’ roll.
• Musical legend Les Paul playing “Baby Don’t Cry” — a sizzling performance by an indisputable guitar legend — and comments and commentary from Paul.
• Merle Travis and Carolina Cotton playing “Why’d I Fall for Abner.”
• A wonderful performance from singing legend Kay Starr of “Stop That Dancin’ Up There,” including Starr’s first-hand account of the filming of this performance.
This musical compilation of soundies traces the history of this revolutionary viewing device and how it helped launch the careers of musicians as diverse as Doris Day (who made her first film appearance in a soundie), Liberace and Nat King Cole. The next time someone mentions MTV as the cultural phenomenon that “invented” music videos, PBS viewers can note that the giants of jazz, big band and swing set the stage some 40 years before with soundies — a genuine musical innovation.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved what we now call American Popular Standards. My parents played them around the house, and it was music that resonated with me at an early age,” notes SOUNDIES host Michael Feinstein, “and that’s why I think the soundies are so compelling because you see amazing performances from the past that are unique and special and deserve to be preserved. It’s why I’m very excited to be a part of this project.”
Feinstein, one of the premiere interpreters of American popular song, has been a household name since the success of his 1988 one-man show Isn’t It Romantic. He enjoys an active performance schedule, performing with symphony orchestras and at major concert halls, intimate jazz clubs and college campuses. More than a mere performer, he is nationally recognized for his commitment to American popular song, both celebrating its art and preserving its legacy for the next generation. Feinstein is currently producing a CD for his friend Liza Minelli, based on the music of her renowned godmother Kay Thompson, the author, singer and arranger. He also has written the score for a new stage musical, The Gold Room, opening soon in London’s West End.
Underwriters: Public Television Viewers and PBS. Producer: Liberation Entertainment, Inc. Executive producers: Jay Boberg and Chris Lamson. Supervising producer: Jennifer Sneider. Producer: Antonia Lianos. Director: Chris Lamson. Writers: Chris Lamson and Jennifer Sneider. Editor: Rom Lipschitz. Format: CC Stereo
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