Friday, December 21, 2007

Ukulele at the Dawn of the Talkies

Yesterday I stumbled upon this video posted to YouTube. It's a dub of a 1982 public access TV show, The Nightlife Show("Central Florida's Only Television Show About Television!"). In it, host Kerry Decker talks about Bell Labs' Vitaphone system (the first commercial system for talking pictures) and plays a short industrial film made in 1926 by Bell Labs to demonstrate how their system works. It's entitled, The Voice From the Screen. Watch the video before reading on. The set up will make what comes next pretty mind-blowing.

Warning: Here be Spoilers

Okay, did you happen to notice what they were shooting? Why the musical duo "Witt & Berg" performing a medley of hapa haole ditties on ukulele and guitar. So here we have what might very well be the first talking picture a ukulele performance (and it's on one of the first non-experimental sound motion pictures in history!). Enjoy the full performance below. And in case you're curious, I checked in with Michael Simmons, Ukulelia Professor of Lutherie Kine Stuff about the identity of the non-uke instrument being played. With 97.6532% certainty, Prof. Simmons says that he is playing "a guitar made in Chicago in the early to mid-1920s at the Lyon and Healy factory that bears either the Lyon and Healy name or the Washburn name." (Which, we would add, is the factory that made similarly styled ukuleles and tiples during the same period.) We hope you enjoy this little piece of ukulele history.

(By the way The Voice From the Screen is included as a bonus feature on the newly released DVD edition of The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson. Lots of other early vaudeville performance captured on Vitaphone shorts are also included!)


Anonymous said...

Amazing demonstration. Glad you found it.

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