Live Musical Performance – History

The history of the live musical performance video started in 1927, when the first live-action film with sound, The Jazz Singer, was released. Incidentally, the first movie with sound was a musical, which marks the conception of the live musical performance video genre at the birth of sound recordings in film. The Jazz Singer marked the defining moment in feature-length motion pictures, when silent films became obsolete.

Sound was incorporated into film indirectly using the Vitaphone, which was essentially a large phonograph record player. Soundtrack disks were recorded while filming and would be played simultaneously with the film. The main producers of live-action films with Vitaphone sound technology were the major, commercial filmmakers/distributers of the time, including Warner Brothers, who held a monopoly on the Vitaphone until the 1960’s.

Later, analog sound reached beyond film and into television. New sound systems like the stereophonic sound were incorporated in film and television throughout the 40’s, and 50’s. During the 20+ decade span, great live musical performance videos of early jazz bands, swing jazz bands, and orchestras were featured on television. In the 60’s and 70’s, musical live performance television was at its climax of popularity with shows like The Lawrence Welk Show, American Bandstand, and the Ed Sullivan Show.

After the 60’s and 70’s, the live musical performance video has been a way to capture the live spectacle of musical performance. Later, this video genre was used to advertise what is known as music’s most profitable venture: the live performance. Today, in the age of the Internet, touring has become an essential part of the music industry’s revenue after CD and mp3 sales were threatened by music pirating in the 90’s. Live musical performance videos have taken such an essential role to touring success and profitability that musicians are often seen doing the late night circuit, performing on late night television shows like the Late Show with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live to gain publicity. Today, the Internet, Youtube in particular, harbors a lot of live musical performance videos from all decades and genres, allowing them to be easily accessed.

From its conception in late 1920’s movie theaters to the instantly accessible videos on the Internet, the live musical performance video has greatly evolved in format and purpose, but has always kept its priority to highlight the musician and celebrate the fan. Nowadays, with the distributive potential of the Internet (due to increased access to video and audio production technology), the fan can be the musician, as shown through the dramatic increase in amateur/independent live musical performance videos in the 2000’s. It is a step in an interesting direction that live musical performance video viewers will have to watch for.


The Jazz Singer snippet, 1927

Django Reinhardt, 1939

Count Basie, 1941

Johnny Otis Show, late 1950’s

The Lawrence Welk Show, “Annie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” 1962

Famous Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1964


Genesis, 1980’s

They Might Be Giants on Late Night with David Letterman, 1990

N’Sync on MTV’s TRL, 2002

Frank Ocean on SNL, 2012