Symphony in Black (1935)

A Rhapsody of Negro Life
10 mins., black & white, 16mm. FAB 6260
Paramount Pictures, 1935.
Director: Fred Waller;
Photography: William Steiner, Jr.
Valburn/Ellington Collection of the Library of Congress

This film of extraordinary historic and esthetic interest features Duke Ellington at the piano presumably composing the title symphony, crosscut with shots of a band playing the music. Includes the numbers “Jealousy”, and the four parts of the composition in order: “The Laborers”, “A Triangle (Dance, Jealousy and Blues)”, “A Hymn of Sorrow” and “Harlem Rhythm”. In the second part an uncredited 18-year old Billie Holliday sings the blues while watching a couple dancing Lindy Hop in silhouette behind a window shade. Dancers are unknown. Also on the film is the eccentric dancer (that’s a style, not an opinion) Earl “Snakehips” Tucker demonstrating his gifts in an appropriately surrealistic film sequence. Not to be missed.

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