There is so much that could be written about this one Soundie that it could fill a book in itself. I will try hard to edit these thoughts down to a few short paragraphs.

Every ethnic and religious group was “fair game” for stereotypical portrayal in Soundies. It will surprise nobody that African Americans bear the brunt of said negative imagery, although what we see here is far more benign than is seen in other Soundies, some of which we will share by matter of illustration in the future.

The Three Chefs was a black dance trio popular along the West Coast for more than a decade beginning in the mid 1930s. There were changes in personnel over the years, and when this short was made in November 1940, the group included Sammy Warren, George “Smiley” McDaniel, and Benny “Smiley” Johnson. In order to creative something distinctive that would set them apart from other dance combos, the three dressed as chefs. What we see here is a fine example of “challenge tap” – each performing solo and attempting to outdo the other two dancers.

But what makes this performance somewhat unique is that the lyrics are not sung, but rather spoken rhythmically, using rhyming couplets. Decades later this approach would develop into rap music.

This short was produced in 1940-41 by Louis and Adrian’s Weiss’s Atlas Production, intended for sale and use on any projection system in place. They could not find any “takers” – or perhaps they lacked a distribution system; in any case, their entire output of 12 shorts was sold to the Soundies organization in 1943 to be released during the recording band. They group is backed by a Los Angeles-based band led by Bert Pellish; however, producers Louis and Adrian Weiss felt that the name was a bit too “ethnic,” so on screen the band is billed as Barry Paige.

At a dance program in the 1980s I had a chance to talk with Sammy Warren. He noted that the use of the chef “personas” allowed the group to clearly distinguish itself visually among a very crowded field of variety and dance performers. When I asked him how he felt, many decades later, about the group’s attire, Sammy said, “I didn’t think about it at the time. Now, if you don’t show my films, then my entire career disappears. I spend years on stage and all of a sudden I am totally forgotten. Please don’t let that happen”

Promise kept, Sammy.