A Soundies Win for KJZZ


This past September, reporter Jill Ryan at KJZZ, the NPR station in Phoenix, AZ, did a wonderful story on Soundies, with a focus on Black performers.

In her story Ryan paid special attention to the Moore brothers—Oscar Moore, guitarist in Nat King Cole’s trio, and Johnny Moore, leader of Johnny Moore’s 3 Blazers—who grew up in Phoenix.

Along with interviewing me, Ryan spoke with my colleagues on the Kino Lorber project, “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection”: artist and media archivist Ina Archer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Soundies archivist and scholar Mark Cantor.

On Wednesday, Ryan’s story won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Sound.

Congratulations to Jill and to KJZZ. Listen to the story, read more about it, and watch a couple of the Soundies here.

On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” a Segment on “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection”

While I was out watching the eclipse today, NPR’s “Fresh Air” was reviewing “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection.”

Thanks to music critic Lloyd Schwartz for a warmly descriptive, beautifully produced 9-minute segment on the 4-disc video set, which I curated for Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress.

The piece includes luxuriously long audio clips from the Fats Waller Soundie “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (1941), Walter Liberace in “Tiger Rag” (1943), Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge, and Anita O’Day in “Let Me Off Uptown” (1942), and Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White in more than a minute of “A Zoot Suit” (1942).

“Soundies were a short-lived phenomenon that bridged the chronological gap between radio and television,” Schwartz says. “But they presented a surprisingly complex image of American life.”

“Curator Susan Delson arranges this collection into a variety of social activities, especially dancing and the war effort,” Schwartz says, “and categories of music, including such bizarre hybrids as ‘The Hula Rhumba’ and ‘Cowboy Calypso.’ Most Soundies were made with white performers,” he notes, “but Delson readjusts the balance so that almost a quarter of the Soundies here feature Black performers.”

Soundies, he adds, “were largely ignored by Hollywood’s strict Production Code, so some of them are delightfully raunchy.”

You can listen to the full “Fresh Air” Soundies segment here.


2 New Reviews for “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection”

More than three months into its release, the “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection” continues to rack up reviews and coverage.

This week brings a full-page story by Russ Tarby in The Syncopated Times and a review by film maven Laura Grieve on her blog “Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.”

In his article, Tarby singles out a number of individual Soundies performers, especially Black musicians like Duke Ellington, Dorothy Dandridge, Nat King Cole, the Delta Rhythm Boys, and John Shadrack Horace & Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers in “Along the Navajo Trail.” 

But his greatest enthusiasm goes to a more obscure performer. “It’s  the lesser-known hillbilly combo, Redd Harper and the Sells, that really stands out thanks to British-born actress Florence Gill,” Tarby writes. “While band members sporting fake beards crank out ‘There’s a Hole in the Old Oaken Bucket’ on guitar, concertina, and tea kettle, an elderly Florence steals the show by clucking like a chicken. Her fowl imitation is so realistic that she often appeared as a hen in Disney cartoons. Unforgettable!”

For Grieve, the entire set is “absolutely stupendous,” with “many hours of watching, reading, and listening enjoyment.” And, she notes, “along with watching the movies, the programs can also simply be listened to. It’s a movie or a music jukebox, as one prefers!”

You’ll find the online version of Russ Tarby’s article here.

And Laura’s blog post here.

“Jammin’ in the Panoram”: J. Hoberman on Soundies and “The Ultimate Collection”

Film critic, curator, and historian J. Hoberman has written a wonderful essay about Soundies, which went online this weekend at the New York Review of Books.

Describing Soundies as “social hieroglyphs,” Hoberman enriches an account of their history with specific films in the Kino Lorber set, from Dance, Baby, Dance (“Tantze Babele”) to I Shut My Mouth for Uncle Sam.

With a historian’s eye, he adds wonderful tidbits to our collective Soundies knowledge—including the little-known fact that “Mi Chee” (née Machiko Takaoka), the miniature dancer in Hoagy Carmichael’s Hong Kong Blues, was also known as Myrtle Goldfinger.

“Delson’s curation is creative,” Hoberman writes about Soundies: The Ultimate Collection, adding that “her strongest points are made through juxtaposition. The introductory section basically alternates Black bands and performers with white ones, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions about the origins and virtuosi of American entertainment.”

In closing, he writes: “To use a term that migrated from Black slang to general usage during the 1940s, Soundies: The Ultimate Collection is a deep dig. . . . Not just nostalgia buffs or cultural historians but Tik Tokers will find much to mine here.”

Read the full essay here.

A Thumbs-Up on Soundies from the Wall Street Journal

Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal review of "Soundies: The Ultimate Collection"

“An essential set in terms of both quality and quantity, with no shortage of amazing performances.”

That’s how music and cultural writer Will Friedwald describes Soundies: The Ultimate Collection in today’s Wall Street Journal.

“The most radical aspects of the package,” Friedwald adds, “are its emphasis on Black performers and its thematic organization largely along social, racial, political and gender lines.”

In addition to appearances by future celebs like Nat King Cole, Doris Day, and “a pianist at a point so early in his career that he is billed as Walter Liberace,” Friedwald notes that “every kind of music is accompanied by dancing; the set is easily worth the asking price for that footage alone.”

In the 1980s, Friedwald says, it was common to describe Soundies as the forerunner of MTV music videos. But, he concludes, “we now know that they were much more than that—an invaluable musical and visual record of who we are as a people and a culture.”

Read the full review here.

A Rave Review . . . And Another Interview

Word is starting to get out about Soundies: The Ultimate Collection.

In a New York Sun review that went online July 27, critic Mario Naves writes:

“Few items that have come through the transom in recent months have elicited as much joy, as much wonder and surprise, as ‘Soundies: The Ultimate Collection,’ a four-disc Blu-Ray set released by Kino Lorber. For devotees of American popular music, the package is nothing short of a necessity.”

He wraps up by saying: “What are you waiting for? ‘Soundies’ is a valuable contribution to our understanding of 20th century America and an indicator of how pop culture may well be the most effective agent for fostering true diversity.”

Read the full review here.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s a 12-minute Soundies conversation with Max Foizey, host of “Max on Movies” on KTRS radio in St. Louis and contributor to the movie website ZekeFilm.

Hear the conversation here.

Soundies Come to NitrateVille

Interview Closes 100th Episode of Popular Podcast


Soundies interview with Susan Delson on Nitrateville Radio podcast

Just released! My interview with host Mike Gebert on his NitrateVille Radio podcast.

On his website, slide the timecode to 64:19 for the start of the interview, which runs roughly 40 minutes.

It was great to talk Soundies with Mike, who’s  a smart, lively interviewer and a terrific editor. The conversation is dotted with audio excerpts from a variety of Soundies, all of them spot on for the topic at hand.

Our interview closes out NitrateVille’s 100th episode. Congratulations to Mike, and thanks for making Soundies part of that milestone. 

Soundies Book Is An Outstanding Academic Title of 2022


Trust a librarian to know good books! And the librarians of Choice, the American Library Association magazine, have named Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time an Outstanding Academic Title of 2022.

Books on the list are chosen for their “excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as an important—often the first—treatment of their subject.” 

According to the ALA Choice website, “The list is quite selective: it contains approximately ten percent of some 5,000 works reviewed in Choice each year.” 

Librarians: If you’re adding the book to your collection,  I’d love to hear about it. And thank you.

Sneak Preview: Soundies Book Reviewed in ALA “Choice” Magazine


One of the first reviews for Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time will appear in the November 2022 issue of Choice, the American Library Association magazine.

The review is brief, pithy, and positive.  Hitting just about all the bases, it calls the book “a fascinating resource for those interested in film, jazz, performance, WW II, race, Black film history, and socio-cultural history.”

“In this comprehensive work, Delson locates Soundies within cinema history” while building the case that Soundies “impacted the social and cultural fabric of a racially divided America” and “played a role in advancing the country’s racial politics even when the country seemed reluctant to do so.”

Summing it up, the review had one final word on the book: “Essential.”

Can’t wait to see this in print.

Soundies Book on “Archival Spaces”

Just catching up with the essay that Jan-Christopher Horak, former director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, wrote about Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time, which he posted on his Archival Spaces website in January. 

Calling it “a must-read for anyone interested in the history of African American popular culture,” he pulls together several of the book’s key points in a short, quick piece. (With a lot of images.)

Click here for the Archival Spaces website, then scroll down to entry #287.