Liberation setting 'Soundies' free

With PBS, Boberg firm gleans video clips of '40s pop

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 musical performance 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 its March pledge drive. The special is hosted by Michael Feinstein, a 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, more than 1,800 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.
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