Beat boxing, break dancing, music television and karaoke, 1930s style
I was delighted to stumble on this wonderful video, from the early 1930s, showing the Mills Brothers, an African American singing outfit whose performance was way ahead of its time. Here, you can see the Mills Brothers and some dancers give a stunning rendition of the Count Basie classic Caravan. It’s a performance that transcends the unfortunate setting and costumes:
The performance features The Mills Brothers’ mouth music, which can be thought of as an early forerunner of hip hop beat boxing. Mouth music was the art of impersonating fashionable musical instruments, just with your voice and body. The dancers, whose performance is a nod to Josephine Baker and the Charleston, also show off their break dancing skills, fifty years before this dancing style became high fashion in New York and beyond.
Thanks to Terri Affleck for sending me this other Mills Brothers delight, a beautiful Fleischer cartoon featuring the brothers on a very early depiction of television (1932). This wonderful early music video also features a beautifully animated karaoke section: