More than four decades before music videos came into prominence in conjunction with the launching of MTV in 1981, a “primitive” form of such videos existed.
They were called Soundies, and from 1940 through 1947, the three-minute music videos were displayed on Panorams — which were coin-operated “film jukeboxes” — found in bars, nightclubs, restaurants and amusement venues.
More than 1,800 Soundies were produced between 1940 and 1946, and the last group of them were released in March 1947. They spanned the gamut of music styles — classical, big-band, swing, novelty, jazz and patriotic — but they were eventually superseded by a more modern thing called television.
They were simplistic in comparison with music videos that would follow decades later, but they were exceptional for the 1940s time frame. Virtually all all known jazz performers appeared in Soundies, which provided visibility for African-American performers who often blocked from performing in certain public venues.
Such big-name stars as Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Lena Horne, Lawrence Welk and Louis Armstrong could be seen on Soundies. But those music videos of the ’40s also featured little-known performers who would later become famous, including Liberace, Kay Starr, Doris Day, Alan Ladd and Cyd Charisse.
To see a five-minute video — called “Soundies: A Musical History — that features a background of the Soundies phenomenon, along with many short clips, click here.
To watch a cross-section of some of the Soundies that were available throughout the first years of the 1940s, just click on the respective titles:
* “Juke Box Saturday Night” (1942) was a big hit record for Glenn Miller and The Modernaires, and it was also a promient Soundie.
* “Stardust” (1945) was performed by Harry Cool & The June Taylor Dancers. Cool was formerly the primary vocalist for Dick Jurgens’ band.
* “In Old Shanty Town” (1946) was a big hit record by Johnny Long’s Orchestra, with the band members featured in chorus.
* “Swingin’ On Nothing” (1942) was performed by Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra, with vocals by Velma Middleton and George Washington.
* “Minnie The Moocher” (1942) was one of Cab Calloway’s most-famous songs. It includes a great trumpet solo by Shad Collins.
* “This Love Of Mine” (1942) was performed by Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, with some fine vocals by Cyd Charisse.
* “Playmates” (1944) was a nice uptempo semi-novelty number by Billy MacDonals & His Highlanders.
* “Zoot Suit” (1942) was sung by Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White with the backing of the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. Benny Goodman also had a hit with the same song.
* “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” (1942) was a big hit for Duke Ellington, with vocals by Ivie Ivy Anderson.
* “Got To Be This Or That” (1945) featured vocals by songstress June Barton, backed by Emil Coleman & His Orchestra.
* “Our Teacher” (1943) combines singing and comedy from longtime comedian Henny Youngman.
* “Once In A While” (1941) was sung by a talented young tenor named Lee Sullivan, who starred on Broadway.
* “Jiveroo” (1943) featured the singing of Harry Day and the short-skirt, leg-kicking performance of The June Taylor Dancers.
* “Beyond The Blue Horizon” (1944) includes vocals by The Three Suns and backing that includes organ and accordion.
* “Lullaby Of Broadway” is sung by The Mel-Tones, the backing group for Mel Torme, although Mel isn’t featured here.
* “Rambling Wreck From Georgia Tech” (1946) features Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians and vocals by The Gordonairs.
* “One Look At You” (1940) by Del Casino & His Orchestra with Del himself handling the vocals.
* “Route 66” (1946) was performed by Nat King Cole & His Trio toward the end of the Soundies era.
They weren’t around for too many years, but Soundies nevertheless remain a part of this nation’s musical and video history.