In 1946 William D. Alexander began the production of a series of one-reel shorts, half-hour featurettes and feature films that would serve a dual purpose. These black cast subjects would be released to theaters that catered to African American artists; concurrently, the music segments would be excerpted from the films and released as Soundies. Ultimately, sixteen of Alexander’s musical shorts reached the Panoram screen and they spotlighted the bands of Lucky Millinder, Billy Eckstine, Henri Woode and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. (Alexander actually produced four films with the Sweethearts, three ten-minute short subjects and one feature, although some of the music turns up in more than one film; only three performances saw release as a Soundie.)
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm grew out of a band formed in the 1930s at the Piney Woods Country Life School, an institution – in part an orphanage – for poor African American children. A member of the music department had apparently taken note of the success of Ina Ray Hutton’s Melodears and decided that an all-woman band composed of school members might lead to something special. While they performed locally, the ISR did not begin to hit its stride until it left Piney Woods and became a professional touring outfit in 1941. The band was certainly “international” in nature, and its ranks included African American, Latina, Chinese, Indian and Puerto Rican musicians. White alto saxophonist Roz Cron would join the band in a few years. (Roz recently passed away, and I am sharing this film in her memory.)
In 1941Anna Mae Winburn joined the orchestra as front woman and featured vocalist. Eddie Durham and Jessie Stone provided charts, and the incredible talent of the musicians led to significant popularity and success wherever the band performed. The ISR was booked at such venues as the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Washington D.C.’s Howard Theater, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and a large number of other venues that welcomed Black audiences. The band recorded a handful of sides for Guild Records and RCA Victor, and broadcast regularly on the Armed Forces Radio Service.
In the mid-1940s the popularity of the ISR increased, with arrangements now coming from Maurice King, who also served as the band’s manager. “Jump Children” is a Maurice King composition and arrangement that features Anna Mae Winburn on vocal, along with the band’s premiere soloist, tenor sax Viola (Vi) Burnside.
“Do you want to jump, children?” Yes, we do indeed!