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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.

Similar to Telescriptions, a 1950s’ equivalent format, performances were shot live, usually with two or sometimes even three cameras with their footage intercut to match the accompanying live audio recording. The difference between these and the more widely known Scopitones is the fact that the latter, like all modern music videos, features lip-sync to a pre-recorded track.

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),[1][2] RCM Productions (1941-46), LOL Productions (1943), Glamourettes (1943), Filmcraft Productions (1943–46), and Alexander Productions (1946).

Musical genres[edit]

Soundies covered all genres of music, from classical to big-band swing, and from hillbilly novelties to patriotic songs. Jimmy Dorsey, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, 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, Gwen Verdon and Lawrence Welk were a few of the Soundies stars.

Many nightclub and recording artists also made Soundies, including Gloria Parker, Hildegarde, Charles Magnante, Milton DeLugg, and Gus Van. More than 1800 Soundies mini-musicals were made, many of which have been released on home video.[3]

Comedy films[edit]

Beginning in 1941, Soundies experimented with expanding its format, and filmed comedy Soundies with Our Gang star Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Broadway comic Willie Howard, dialect comedians Smith and Dale, and silent-movie comedians The Keystone Kops.

Most of these films were non-musical, and were not as well received as the musical Soundies. Soundies abandoned the comedy-sketch idea, but continued to produce filmed versions of comic novelty songs. They were regularly described and reviewed in the entertainment and music trade publications, such as Billboard.


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,[1] 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, Françoise Hardy, and Julie London. The Scopitone lasted until the end of the decade.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Honeysuckle Rose" sung by Fats Waller in a 1941 Minoco Production Soundie (video)
  2. ^ Ain't Misbehavin' (soundie with Fats Waller) on IMDb
  3. ^ Anthony Slide, New Historical Dictionary of the American Film Industry Chicago & London : Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998 1-57958-056-4 p.191

External links[edit]