Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra “Hello Bill”

At first glance the 1946 short subject LUCKY MILLINDER AND HIS ORCHESTRA seems to be no different than many of the band shorts that had been filmed since the late 1920s: ten minutes in length, no story, just a straight presentation of musical performances on screen. In this case each song has a vocal, each has some jazz solos within the tightly-written arrangement

Filmed for theaters that catered to black audiences, this short features a band that had been popular in Harlem since the early 1940s, and which, at this time, gravitated between Swing and big band rhythm and blues.

However, something very special and unique is happening here, for we have the first screen appearance of a fully integrated black jazz band. Indeed, six of the sidemen are white, something unheard of at the time. And this was not only a band that played in the New York City area, but one that toured the South as well. In 1946, with lynching in the South still common, the armed forces still segregated, and racial prejudice common nationwide, Lucky Millinder took a stand again existing conditions, one that has gone largely unrecognized to this day.

“Hello Bill” is a rather mundane composition, but it is enlivened by Lucky’s spirited vocal, with solos from Harold “Money” Johnson, Sam “The Man” Taylor and Clarence “Bullmoose” Jackson. The sideline photography was in the early morning, after a full night on the bandstand, and the trombonist to the top left, poor fellow, actually nods off during the performance.

The story of this film is a fascinating one. CLICK HERE for a detailed study of the short.

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