Prisoner’s Song

Fleischer Studios (1930)

Screen Songs are animated cartoons featuring the famous “bouncing ball” produced by Max Fleischer and distributed by Paramount Pictures between 1929 and 1938. The cartoons are sing-alongs featuring popular song hits of the day along with the ethnic stereotypes and humor typical of the era in which they were produced. In the 1930s, the series began to feature current popular musical guest stars such as Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee and Ethel Merman. In the 1950s, the series was syndicated to television by UM&M/National Telefilm Associates.

The Prisoner’s Song was one of the top-selling songs of the 1920’s, and of the 20th century. Sheet music sales was the typical way to gauge music sales in the 1920’s, and this song sold over 1 million copies. The song was copyrighted and recorded in 1924 by Vernon Dalhart, who had heard the song from his cousin, who had heard it from his brother – a former prisoner. The authorship of the song has been a major controversy, and one story claims that the songs lyrics had been discovered on the walls of a Georgia cellblock. A Prisoner’s Song was the first country music song to sell over a million records. In 1930, the song was the plot basis for a Screen Songs short film, featuring a bouncing teardrop in the place of the Fleischer’s famous Bouncing Ball. The teardrop bounces over the song’s lyrics for almost an entire three minutes. The Prisoner’s Song also appears briefly in scenes from several other Fleischer Studio’s films.

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