Ongoing famine in Ireland during the mid-1850s led to an estimated two million emigrants coming to the United States between 1845 and 1855. By the 1940s the vast number of Irish Americans meant that their music would be represented on the Panoram screen. Irish tenors had been popular on stage, record and screen for years and there were many audience favorites who were called upon to appear in Soundies. Morton Downey, John Feeney, Michael Bartlett and Lee Sullivan all shared ballads that were popular in taverns across the nation, and especially in Chicago and East Coast urban centers where the Irish had settled.
Crooner Lee Sullivan was a popular entertainer who was featured on the variety stage, record, film and Broadway. Sullivan could be heard on the radio as early as 1937, and was in a fairly large number short subjects appearances that brought him additional exposure between 1934 and 1937. Sullivan performed on the Broadway stage during the early 1940s, then returned to the big screen in the 1945 feature The Great John L. Sullivan. He had a radio series of his own in 1947. Later that year he moved back to Broadway where he was featured as Charlie Dalrymple in the hit Broadway hit Brigadoon. Sullivan was a natural for television and appeared on many variety programs, including the Ed Sullivan Show in 1955 and 1960.
Sullivan’s partner in this Soundie is Janice Cullen, a nightclub dancer in New York City during the mid 1940s.
“When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” written by James Thornton in 1898, was the type of melodic, nostalgic, sentimental material favored by Irish tenors. He does a fine job here, accompanied by an unidentified New York studio orchestra. As I say, not my taste, but still an important part of the Soundies catalogue.