Even the buffiest of old movie buffs are likely to think of Al Jolson’s THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) as the first sound film, notwithstanding the fact that it is mostly silent (part-talkie with bits of spoken dialogue in addition to musical segments). The first feature-length, all-talking picture was 1928’s LIGHTS OF NEW YORK, a crime drama which cost $28,000 to produce, and grossed over $1,000,000. You couldn’t get most of today’s entertainment prima dons and donnas to turn out the lights for $28,000.
But neither of those films can hold claim to being the first sound movie. Experimentation with sound film had begun the previous decade, and in 1919 Lee de Forest filed the first patent on his sound-on-film process, calling it the De Forest Phonofilm. After several years of development, private and press demonstrations, de Forest publicly premiered 18 Phonofilm short films on April 15, 1923 at the independent Rivoli Theater in NYC (theater chains were controlled by Hollywood studios, none of which expressed an interest in his invention).
Two of the 18 films featured the great vaudeville team of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (“The Dixie Duo”), who composed the music for SHUFFLE ALONG (the first Broadway hit musical written by African Americans), which included such songs as “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find A Way.” Here is one of those two historic films:
Noble Sissle died on this December day in 1975 at the age of 86. Eubie Blake found a way to live to age 96. Together, they live on in film and song.