Amoeblog

All-Female Bands of the Early 20th Century - Happy Women's History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2012 02:43pm | Post a Comment

Nehmes Bastet


Female singers have been popular since ancient times. Earlier this year a tomb was discovered in Egypt housing the earthly remains of Nehmes Bastet, a singer who lived and died some 2,900 years ago -- around the time of Carthage's founding and that the Iron Age was making big waves in Central Europe. To date, she's the only known woman buried in the Valley of Kings who wasn't related to the royal families.

Nearly 3,000 years after her death, female singers were still undeniably popular. Although female musicians have long been celebrated in the rest of the world, in the west most were limited to either the piano or harp -- and strictly in a non-professional role -- until the dawn of the 20th Century.

An important development in all-female bands was Lee De Forest's invention of Phonofilms in 1919. Before then, a few early attempts at marrying music to short films were made with Kinetoscopes but were hampered by their short length of 22 seconds. Phonofilms, which were essentially music videos, were longer and often featured female musicians.

Predictably, many of these pioneers were apparently valued more for their looks and/or novelty than their cultural contributions but that, of course, isn't a reflection on their technical or artistic merits. It's just that, as Sherry Tucker's book Swing Shift (one of the few books on the subject) put it, the public "looks first and listens later."

Continue reading...

Happy birthday Bronze Buckeroo - Herb Jeffries turns 98 today.

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 24, 2011 02:18pm | Post a Comment
HAPPY 98th

Herb Jeffries

Today is the 98th birthday of actor/singer Herb Jeffries. Although not widely recognized today (especially among non-black audiences, during his heyday in the 1930s and '40s he was an enormously popular singer and the first black actor to star in Westerns. I'd probably know nothing of him except for my tenure in the Black Cinema section at Amoeba, where elderly gentleman regularly treated me to their reminiscences about a black singing cowboy they'd idolized as kids. 

Detroit 1913

 

Herber Jeffries was born September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan to Afro-Sicilian pianist Umberto Balentino and his Irish-American wife, Mildred. He never knew his father and was raised by his single mother, who ran a boarding house. Although light-skinned and almost surely able to "pass," he identified as black and associated himself with Detroit's Howard Buntz Orchestra, which brought him a measure of local fame.

Continue reading...

The evolution of the music video, part I (1890s - 1940s)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 14, 2009 02:56pm | Post a Comment
Video and the Radio Star

I think it's safe to say that many, if not most, people seem to assume that music videos began with the initial broadcast of MTV on August 1, 1981. That first video, the Buggles' excruciating "Video Killed the Radio Star," came out in 1979, so what were they singing about? Were the Buggles prophets or were there videos before MTV?


For a long time, there have been musical numbers both in film and on TV. And hundreds of people have probably seen the PBS documentary about Soundies, where Michael Feinstein suggests that "an amazing forty years before MTV made its debut came a revolution in sight and sound." Hacktually, the marriage of music, advertisement and visuals within discrete shorts is almost as old as film itself and this, part one of The evolution of the music video, actually ends with Soundies.  

*cue the Ken Burns music*

1890s - The Kinetoscope

William K Dickson  Kinetoscope  Kinetoscope Parlor
William Dickson, a Kinetoscope and a Kinetoscope parlor

William K.L. Dickson, one of the most important pioneers of early film, was working on the Kinetoscope, which played short films matched sound recorded on wax cylinder to film. In what to me is the first music video (filmed around 1894), Dickson plays "Song of the Cabin Boy" on the fiddle whilst two dudes grind suggestively.