A Soundie’s visual content, what people saw on the Panoram screen, almost always resulted from two determinants: the music and lyrics, and the economic imperative of “make it quick, make it inexpensively, make it look good.” At times, sometimes purely by accident, music and image came together in ways decidedly progressive, even if that was not what the producer and director had in mind.

“I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” was from Michael William Balfe’s 1843 opera The Bohemian Girl. Almost a century later the aria’s title was parodied as “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Harlem.” The tune was originally offered as an instrumental and was featured by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. The lyrics, written by Robert Wright, were somewhat commonplace and were less often performed. Here, those lyrics are expertly sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys, but it is what we see on the screen that grabs our attention.

The Soundie begins with the Delta Rhythm Boys pictured as farm hands, but less than a minute into the film everything is turned head-over-heals and the slowly-growing reality of black middle-class life is seen on screen. The Delta Rhythm Boys is now dressed in tuxedos, performing in a swank African American night spot. Everyone is well-appointed, and the floorshow features dancers Herbert Harper and Kathleen Stanford, dressed in top hats and tails. At the end of the Soundie we are back in the barn, but the upbeat attitude of the singers seems to suggest, “We might be here now, but we won’t be for long.”

Of course, this is an interpretation eighty years after the production of the Soundie, and our primary focus should still be on the music. The swinging vocal blend of the Delta Rhythm Boys was one of the best of the 1940s, and they were immensely popular on the radio and recordings, and occasionally the Broadway stage. Special note should be made of the rhythm section in Steve Schultz’ studio band from CBS radio, swingers all: Rene DeKnight, the Delta Rhythm Boys regular pianist; Carl Kress, guitar; Gene Traxler, string bass; and O’Neil Spencer, drums.