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The Swinging, Jamming Musical Charms of 1940s Soundies

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Hair slicked and smile set to dazzle, Duke Ellington is standing at an upright piano when “Hot Chocolate” opens, conducting a band that’s already swinging. A decorative musical staff provides the only ornamentation on the otherwise bare-bones, cramped set. That scarcely matters because Ellington is playing. He calls out Ben Webster’s name and there’s a cut to the saxophonist. A few more cuts take us to two women who smile and nod, then Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers begin jumping, rocketing the film into the stratosphere.

Hot Chocolate” was among the more than 1,800 short films called Soundies that Ellington and hundreds of other entertainers made in the 1940s. The films were commissioned by the Soundies Distributing Company of America, part of the Mills Novelty Company, which made the large cabinets — Panorams — that played them. Each had a 16-millimeter projector inside, a glass screen on the exterior and looked like a supersized early TV set. Viewers had to watch eight films on a loop, but today you can pick what you like among the hundreds that are free on YouTube. Many are in very rough shape, so watch them on a small screen where the visual degradation is less apparent. At around three minutes, they are perfect for short attention spans.

As a showcase for black talent, Soundies also offer a bittersweet vision of an American movie mainstream that could have been. Produced during Jim Crow, the Soundies were as segregated as the rest of the country. The catalog listed black artists in a separate section, apparently for the convenience of the segregated joints that played them. Most of the Soundies I’ve watched feature either all-white or all-black casts; a few showcase Latinos, but there are next to no Asians. (Ricardo Montalbán appeared in Soundies, including “He’s a Latin from Staten Island,” which, alas, I have yet to locate.) One of the few integrated Soundies I’ve seen is “Let Me Off Uptown,” with the jazz greats Gene Krupa, Roy Eldridge and Anita O’Day cooking with gas.

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Cinemagraph

A clip from a soundie featuring the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Soundies were largely produced and directed by white filmmakers, but one of their most important contributors was Fritz Pollard, the pioneering black football player turned booking agent, entrepreneur and future Hall of Famer. (He also worked on the Paul Robeson film “The Emperor Jones.”) In 1942, Pollard signed with Mills, becoming the manager for the Soundies’ New York office. According to the Pollard biographer John M. Carroll, musicians rehearsed their numbers at Pollard’s Suntan Studios in Harlem and shot the acts in a Bronx studio. However contrived and impoverished their means, these films are a crucial part of African-American cinema history.

From 1941 to ’46, Soundies could be played on Panorams — or movie jukeboxes as they’re often called — across the country in bars, pool halls and restaurants. Movies have always tried to get out of the (cinema) house, and one of the fascinating things about Panorams is that they allowed users to control their viewing experience. Soldiers, barflies and folks waiting for the next train could slip a dime in a Panoram and summon up Louis Armstrong and Spike Jones, and future Hollywood stars like Doris Day and Dorothy Dandridge, who made my favorite Soundie, the delightful “A Zoot Suit.” Most of the great entertainers in Soundies played jazz, but there are films with the blues, cowboy tunes, Hawaiian melodies, polka music, rumbas, the works.

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Credit…Soundies Distributing Corporation of America Photographs/Margaret Herrick Library, via Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Soundies are often referred to as music-video prototypes, which is true but doesn’t fully capture their hybrid charm and how they fuse vaudeville, theater, cinema and the era’s newest novelty, television. The films were made on the cheap, sometimes in just one day with the sound recorded first and performers miming the music during production. Often, the featured attraction performs in the middle of the frame while looking directly at the camera, as if on a stage. She — most often he — performs with other musicians, dancers or both, and sometimes for a tiny audience. The acts sometimes appear on a stage with a curtain, as if in a theater; at other times they look as if they’re jamming in a basement storeroom.

Like some other movies produced outside the studio system, Soundies wiggled around tight censorship rules. Some are amusingly racy when compared with the uptight Hollywood fare of the period, which explains all the bobbing breasts, crossing-uncrossing female legs and even some teasing peekaboo from burlesque stars like the fan dancer Sally Rand. Female extras were often used to dress up the blah sets, to smile and nod and add sex appeal. If the Soundies were a guy, I’d call him a leg man, though sometimes the eye drifts elsewhere. In the otherwise insipid “Oh! Please Tell Me Darling,” future noir goddess Gloria Grahame steals the show by fidgeting with her neckline while feigning interest in the singer Red Maddock.

Credit…Soundies Distributing Corporation of America Photographs/Margaret Herrick Library, via Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Soundies (and their assorted competitors) offered a challenge to the theatrical experience, so it’s no surprise that exhibitors viewed them with alarm. In their invaluable guide “The Soundies Book,” Scott MacGillivray and Ted Okuda explain that exhibitors were furious that the Mills Novelty Company had millions of dollars in orders before the first Soundie was shot. The company had grand ambitions: At one point it announced that it planned to manufacture 100,000 Panorams, but it ended up placing only about 5,000 machines across the country. Wartime restrictions on the materials used to manufacture Panorams put a dent in the business, as did a musicians strike, but it was television that really killed them off.

Still, Soundies lived on, including in packaged reels sold for the home market. They are ripe for film preservation and for wider love from the public. That’s especially true because they were such a fantastic showcase for black talent, including women of different sizes and complexions whom Hollywood ignored or degraded, and whose legacies are often memorialized only on jazz websites. It’s because of Soundies that I discovered Una Mae Carlisle, a protégée of Fats Waller of black and of Native American heritage. In “’Taint Yours,” she performs for a sharp looker leaning on her piano; in “I’m a Good Good Woman,” she plays for five appreciative men doing the same.

Credit…Soundies Distributing Corporation of America Photographs/Margaret Herrick Library, via Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I can’t get enough of the Soundies that feature the mind-blowing International Sweethearts of Rhythm. This acclaimed, predominantly black all-female band appeared in several Soundies that were culled from “That Man of Mine” (1946), a musical with the young Ruby Dee. The Soundies feature the glamorous bandleader Anna Mae Winburn, who swings and sings amid gown changes. For one song, she steps aside and the trumpeter Tiny Davis (whom Louis Armstrong admired) takes center stage, singing with bluesy oomph — “you’ve got the key to my door if you know how to turn it right” — before taking her horn and blowing the roof right off.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/movies/soundies-duke-ellington.html

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Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020

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Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.

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Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

[email protected]

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

Source: https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/63564-2/

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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-10-21-20/

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Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery

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Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/syte-sees-30m-series-c-for-product-discovery/

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