Liberation sets 'Soundies' free


Liberation Entertainment, the year-old entertainment company headed by former MCA Records president Jay Boberg, is digging deep in the music video vaults for its next project.

Real deep.

The company is teaming with PBS to produce a two-hour special about "Soundies," three-minute music video clips that were popular in the 1940s -- four decades before the so-called birth of music videos on MTV.

The clips, featuring such artists as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, could be viewed in restaurants and nightclubs on a "Panoram" machine, essentially a video jukebox. The price: 10 cents a viewing.

"The Soundies: A Musical History" will be released on DVD by Liberation subsequent to its airing on PBS during the upcoming March pledge drive. The special is hosted by Michael Feinstein, the four-time Grammy nominee, and also includes interviews with such celebrated musicians as Les Paul and Wynton Marsalis, as well as film historian Leonard Maltin.

"Forever preserved on film, the Soundies remain a uniquely American creation, a milestone of talent and technology that provides us with a window into an unforgettable era in music history," Feinstein said. "The Soundies document who we were, foreshadow what we've become, and will always remain one of our great national treasures."

The first Soundies appeared in 1941; by the end of World War II, most than 1,800 Soundies had been produced. The Liberation production traces the history of the Soundies and the Panoram, which helped launch the careers of Cole, Liberace and Doris Day, among others.

The highlight, however, is a selection of actual Soundies, restored to pristine quality. Among them: Ellington and his orchestra performing "Hot Chocolate" with Arthur White's Lindy Hoppers dance troupe, Calloway and his orchestra performing "Blowtop Blues," Merle Travis and Carolina Cotton teaming on "Why'd I Fall for Abner" and Paul playing "Baby Don't Cry" with a new commentary track.

"Liberation was attracted to this project because of the historical importance of Soundies and because they still resonate with audiences today," Boberg said. "As owners of the treasures, we really consider ourselves custodians of these time capsules into the past, and are excited about partnering with PBS to present these to the public."

Liberation Entertainment was launched in 2006 by Boberg, a veteran music industry executive who before serving as president of MCA Records co-refounded IRS Records. The company focuses on theatrical, television and DVD distribution, and this year is slated to release more than 30 titles, ranging from music and TV-DVD to independent films. Previous releases include the "Daniel Boone" TV series and the animated "Puff the Magic Dragon." Upcoming releases include "Aurora Borealis" on DVD and "Stephanie Daley" theatrically.
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