Decades before Peter Frampton made the Talk Box come alive on songs like "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Show Me the Way," another legend, Lucille Ball, experimented with its forerunner, the Sonovox. Invented by Gilbert Wright in 1939, the Sonovox "used speakers pressed into [a performer's] throat to produce mechanical talking sounds." And the sounds could then be modulated by the tongue and lips. Above, in a 1939 newsreel clip called "Machine Made Voices!," Ball puts the Sonovox on display. This marked one of her earliest appearances on film.
The Sonovox would later feature prominently in radio station IDs and jingles. Bela Lugosi would use it to "portray the voice of a dead person during a seance." And it would even make an appearance on The Who's 1967 album, The Who Sell Out--all before the modern Talk Box arrived on the scene.
Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.