Soundies were an early version of the music video: three-minute musical films, produced in New York City, Chicago, and Hollywood between 1940 and 1946, often including short dance sequences. The completed Soundies were generally released within a few months of their filming; the last group was released in March 1947. The films were displayed on the Panoram, a coin-operated film jukebox or machine music, in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, factory lounges, and amusement centers.
Several production companies filmed the Soundies shorts: James Roosevelt's Globe Productions (1940-41), Cinemasters (1940-41), Minoco Productions (1941-43), RCM Productions (1941-46), LOL Productions (1943), Glamourettes (1943), Filmcraft Productions (1943-46), and Alexander Productions (1946).
Soundies covered all genres of music, from classical to big-band swing, and from hillbilly novelties to patriotic songs. Jimmy Dorsey, Spike Jones, Liberace, Stan Kenton, Gale Storm, Kay Starr, Doris Day, The Hoosier Hot Shots, Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, Gene Krupa, Anita O'Day, Merle Travis, and Lawrence Welk were a few of the Soundies stars. Many nightclub and recording artists also made Soundies, including Gloria Parker, Charles Magnante, Milton DeLugg, and Gus Van. More than 1800 of the Soundies mini-musicals were made, and many of them have been released to home video.
Today Soundies are perhaps best known for the performances of African-American artists who had fewer opportunities to perform in public venues. Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Dorothy Dandridge, Big Joe Turner, Meade Lux Lewis, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Stepin Fetchit all made Soundies.
Beginning in 1941, Soundies experimented with expanding its format, and filmed comedy Soundies with Our Gang star Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Broadway comic Willie Howard, dialect comedians Smith and Dale, and silent-movie comedians The Keystone Kops. Most of these films were non-musical, and were not as well received as the musical Soundies. Soundies abandoned the comedy-sketch idea, but continued to produce filmed versions of comic novelty songs. They were regularly described and reviewed in the entertainment and music trade publications, such as Billboard.