Follow the Bouncing Ball

Could you imagine a modern-day family or a theater audience gathering together to sing along with a movie or TV program as the lyrics streamed across the screen, preferably with a bouncing ball to keep the proper tempo? No? Neither can I. We’ve become so jaded.

But people used to love to do this. From what I can determine by from my lazy Google search, the bouncing ball was first invented and employed in theaters in 1924. You can see a clip of the Roswell Sisters making great use of it in 1932 while singing the disturbingly racist song, Sleepy Time Down South, here.

There was also a well-known TV program in the 60’s called Sing Along With Mitch, and for the longest time, I could swear I had a vague memory of this show. But I thought it included the bouncing ball, and in fact, it only had the lyrics. Besides, NBC stopped showing reruns by 1966, so I’d have been less than two years old.

There are a few Youtube videos of Sing Along With Mitch, so I decided to check them out, to see if they rang any bells. And if I’m honest, to my modern eyes, this show kind of gives me the creeps. I don’t know. It’s something about the earnestness of it all, and his 25 man chorus, all dressed identically, like automatons. They also employed some really weird camera angles, and I don’t know if they had a very low budget or what, but they stood in a big, featureless room.

So there you have it: the bouncing ball as a precursor to karaoke. Karaoke is still popular, but it, too, makes me want to run screaming for the exit. And if you heard my singing voice, you’d probably thank me for that.

Mitch Miller

4 thoughts on “Follow the Bouncing Ball

  1. lyn sutton

    The dressing alike wasn’t that disturbing considering many earnest choirs dress identically. Maybe it creeped you out because it included minstrel numbers. Sure, it was missing the black face but many who watched, and sang along back then, were aware of minstrel show history. And maybe as a woman you don’t like people to refer to you as a gal. Times they are a changing…

  2. Tsk, tsk, you are just too young! Our family really enjoyed the cheerful, enthusiastic singing of the Mitch Miller programs. I remember how crisp the pronunciation was, so that we could get the words to the songs and if that weren’t enough, there were the words on the screen with the bouncing ball! In a day before Ipods and the like, by watching sing-along shows we imprinted our memory with uplifting tunes to hum to ourselves on the bus (since laptops, cell phones and etc. had not yet been invented!)

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