In Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time, Susan Delson takes a deeper look at these films by focusing on the role of Black performers in this little-known genre. She highlights the women performers—from Dorothy Dandridge to gospel and blues star Sister Rosetta Tharpe—who were crucial to Soundies’ success, while offering an intimate look at icons of the age like Duke Ellington and Nat “King” Cole. For less well-known musicians, like the L.A. women’s jazz combo the Vs, Soundies may be the only surviving record of their performances.
In bringing this overlooked chapter of Black entertainment history to light, another far-reaching story also unfolds: the racial dynamics of the World War II years and just after. What emerges is a telling snapshot of race relations in a turbulent era, vividly revealed in the pop culture of the day.
The book draws on newly discovered sources—including a New York State Supreme Court transcript—to create a vibrant portrait of Black-cast Soundies, the performers and filmmakers who created them, and the ambitious, overreaching corporation that sent them out across the country.
Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time features some 70 images largely taken from the films themselves. A video jukebox on this website presents almost all of the Soundies discussed in the book. Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time is for anyone interested in film, Black entertainment history, and American history.