Great films can take you back to times and places in your life, where
for a short while youre able to zone out and tap into your deepest feelings.
Some of the very best African-American musicians in history have been depicted in cinema as we watched their journeys to
the top. Black music has been a major influence to the masses through the years, and has continually been a factor in the
growth of pop culture.
Though there are numerous films to choose from, we had the daunting task of
picking 10 in celebration of Black Music Month. Of course you can go back 40
and 50 years to find great musical films, but we stayed on
this side of 1975 for the main list here.
Regardless, many of the most epic music-driven films are set in the ’50s, ’60s and 70s,
so it safe to say those were major times in Black music.
The Wiz – 1978
The Wiz was the urban
adaptation of the American classic The
Wizard of Oz. Set in New York City with an all-Black cast, this film became
an instant cult classic. The cast of stars included Diana Ross as Dorothy,
Michael Jackson is the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as Tinman, Richard Pryor as
The Wiz and Lena Horne as Glinda the Good.
Im sure in one way or another everyone remembers Diana Ross
and Michael Jackson frolicking together singing Ease on down the Road. This scene
will always reply in my mind, I can see them now, tearing up the yellow brick
road with their dance moves!
Other memorable songs in the film include “Soon
As I Get Home, “If You Believe In Yourself” and “Home.” Overall
this film has a positive, feel-good theme, and the underlining meaning of
believing that still resonates today.
Purple Rain – 1984
In Kanye Wests Stronger he belted out the lyric: Since Prince was on Apollonia, referring to the Black Rock classic Purple Rain Starring
Prince as The Kid, the film also featured Morris Day and the beautiful
Apollonia as The Kids love interest.
The Kid is a musically talented young man with a promising
career in the music industry. Just imagine the scene of Prince flying on his
motorcycle, hair blowing in the wind across the Minnesota countryside as Take
Me With U played on. He loved him some Apollonia, even if he did make her
jump naked into the lake! And who can forget the doe-eyed moment of silence right before the grand finale?
The Purple Rain
soundtrack spawned chart-topping
singles such as Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry and of course Purple Rain.
Though it was over 20 years ago, Princes music from Purple Rain is still rocking to this day!
The Five Heartbeats – 1991
This, honestly, is one of my favorites. The Five Heartbeats followed a male quintet group and was said to
be loosely based on the life and times of several R&B artists. This
touching story was brought to life by director and co-writer Robert Townsend, who
also co-starred with the likes of Michael Wright, Leon, Harry J. Lennix, Tico
Wells and Diahann Caroll.
The Five Heartbeats always made me feel like I was back in
the 60s as they sang and performed smooth dance sequences. Remember the scene when
the group was on tour and the racist police pulled them over and they were told
to sing? As they sadly sang Nothing But Love, you felt the humility as they
came to realize that even though they were a popular band and they seemed to be
on top, they were still Black.
How cute was the scene when Duck put together the song “We Haven’t Finished Yet” as his
little sister sang in their bedroom! This song was actually performed by Patti LaBelle on the soundtrack.
Oh! and who could forget the
infamous seen when Eddie King Jr, came to the group barely holding himself up
singing Nights like this I wish that
rain drops would fall but of course it was the drunk and high version!
I could go on and on about this film, but lets continue our
trip down memory lane.
The Jacksons: An American Dream – 1992
Angela Bassett, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Holly Robinson
Peete, Jason Weaver, Billy Dee Williams, Vanessa Williams and Terrence Howard were
all a part of the all-star cast in the The
Jacksons: An American Dream. The highly anticipated two-part mini-series
aired on ABC as narrative into the life of the Jackson family and the journey
of The Jackson 5.
This movie was the talk of the town as people prepared to
peer into to the lives of one the most popular family and boy bands of all
time. We saw just how strict their father Joseph was with the children, as they
received numerous beatings and embarrassing encounters in front young ladies who
were fawning over them.
When I think of this movie, for some reason the first image
I see is of young Michael (Jason Weaver) in the kitchen under the table with
his friend the mouse, who later was an inspiration for the heartfelt ballad
Ben. Some of the hit songs that were featured in the movie included I’ll Be
There, The Love You Save and I Want You Back/ABC, which I believe was the
best performance in the movie.
I remember my brothers and I dancing, trying to mimic all
the dance routines. Despite their troubled times, the Jacksons are definitely a
family filled with musical icons, and the movie did justice to their phenomenal
Whats Love Got To Do With It – 1993
In 1993 Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne starred as the
troubled couple Ike and Tina Turner in the electrifying Whats Love Got To Do With It. The emotionally-driven film chronicles
the career of Tina Turner from the time she met musician/songwriter Ike Turner
until the beginning of her solo career.
We had a startling look into their lives as we watched Tina
Turner being beaten profusely by Ike. Tina triumphs in the end, and even 15
years after the movie about her career was made, shes still going strong in
As the couple battles in court, Tina firmly lets the judge
know that Ike can keep everything Except my name. I’ll give up all that other
stuff, but only if I get to keep my name. I’ve worked too hard for it, your Honor. And that, she did.
performances in this epic include Proud Mary, River Deep, Mountain High and
I Don’t Wanna Fight.” A poignant moment for me is when Tina is killing it
on stage, performing the anthem What’s Love Got to Do With It” as Ike
watches forlornly in the background. This song became a huge hit and established
Tina Turner as a solo star.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love – 1998
Im Mrs. Frankie
Lymon was the familiar quote from the movie Why Do Fools Fall in Love. The story followed the life of the drug-addicted doo-wop singer,
who was originally a part of the group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers when
he was only 13-years-old. The group fared well with their 1956 hit Why Do
Fools Fall In Love, but a year later Lymon was a solo artist, hustling any way
he could. His professional career ended by age 18, and he died of a heroin
overdose at age 26.
Instead of focusing on the rise and fall of the troubled
entertainer, the overall theme was centered around the women in Lymons life. Told
mostly in flashbacks, the women each gave their account of their relationship
with the singer. Vivica A. Foxs portrayal of Elizabeth Waters, Lymons first
wife, was pretty entertaining. Halle Berry did her thing as music diva Zola
Taylor of The Platters, and Lela Rochon was sweet as timid school teacher Emira
Songs like “Baby Baby,” “Goody Goody, and of course the hit Why Do Fools Fall in Love, were performed thrillingly by Larenz Tate, as he mastered the swagger and fancy footwork that Lymon was famous for in his early years. Despite that fact that he exponentially more grown and handsome than the cherubic Frankie Lymon, Tate captured the child-like undertones of eagerness and lament of a boy who was forced to grow up too quickly.
Remember Frankie’s big “comeback” performance that Zola set up for him? It looked so happy and glossy in the movie, but check out this actual performance clip from Frankie Lymon in 1965 – he was around 22-years-old here, sadly lip-synching to the original version of the 1956 recording:
There are also wonderful songs that set the tone of the
movie by artists Frankie performed with in his short career, including Little
Richard, The Platters and Otis Redding.
The Temptations – 1998
Right now Im singing: Papa
was a rolling stone/ Where ever he laid his hat was his home! Yes I know I
wasnt born during that time, but The
Temptations definitely made me feel like I was there. Starring Charles
Malik Whitfield, D.B. Woodside, Terron Brooks, Christian Payton and Leon, this
movie was the true story of Motown’s sensational group.
A crucial part of the story is when the group anxiously walked into Hitsville USA and performed in front of Berry Gordy for the first time singing Oh, Mother of Mine.
An angry quote actually comes to mind as I write on this
movie. When they were firing David Ruffin (Leon) from the group, he said Y’all
are stupid! You can’t fire me! I made youre asses! Do you hear me? Do you hear
me? You can’t do me like this! You ungrateful son of a b***s! How many times do you think people are still
saying things like this in music today?
In addition to the movie capturing all of the drama, we were
treated to some of The Temptations greatest hits, including “My
Girl” and “Get Ready.”
Little Richard – 2000
Is the name Leon starting to ring a bell now? I think we
should all realize by now that he is definitely one of the go-to actors for
depicting the lives of Black musicians. Leon played the leading role in the
made-for-TV movie Little Richard,
which also features Jenifer Lewis, Carl Lumbly and Tamala Jones.
The story of Little Richard details his life as he started out
performing R&B then transformed into a Rock and Roll legend. In his journey,
(thieving ass) Pat Boone, a white singer, records many of Richards songs in
the 50s, and the white radio stations play Boones version instead of Richards.
Let’s take a listen while we cringe!
Little Richard “Long Tall Sally”
Pat Boone “Long Tall Sally”
and even more theivery… (Chuck D wasn’t kidding about this guy!)
The highly energetic performances included hits such as “Lucille” and “Long Tall
Sally,” and most notably Tutti Frutti – A-Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo!
On another note, here’s a clip of the real (incredible!) Little Richard performing “Ready Teddy” in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It
Ray – 2004
Was anyone was surprised that Jamie Foxx won the Academy
award for Best Actor in the 2004 film Ray? I dont think so. The masterful film
featured an amazing cast, including Kerry Washington, Regina King, Larenz Tate,
Terrence Howard and Bokeem Woodbine. The story came to life as we watched the
trials and tribulations of the legendary Ray Charles – from going blind at the
age of seven to becoming a musical genius.
One line that stuck
with me is when Ray said, Don’t you talk about God! You have any idea
how it feels to go blind and still be afraid of the dark? And every day, you
stand and pray just for a little light, and you don’t get nothing. Cause God
don’t listen to people like me. That is just piece of the depth in the script.
At the end of the
film, after years of being banned from Georgia for not playing in a segregated
venue, Ray Charles classic 1960 ballad “Georgia on My Mind” (which
was actually written by in 1930 by Stuart Gorrell and Hoagy Carmichael), became
Georgia’s official state song.
Ray featured a horde of tunes that make you want to get up and dance any time
you see it, especially Whatd I Say, “Hit the Road Jack” and I Got a Woman.
Dreamgirls – 2005
The sounds of Broadway hit the big screen in the spectacular
film Dreamgirls in 2005, a story loosely
based on The Supremes. With a an all-star cast that included Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé
Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Anika
Noni Rose, it is no wonder that this film was acclaimed by a wide variety of
The story transitions through the late 60s and early 70s,
and chronicles three friends from Detroit in their bumpy road to stardom. One
of the most climatic moments in the film is Jennifer Hudsons performance of
Holliday original “And I
Am Telling You.” I had goose bumps through the entire scene. In this
moment, we all realized that a star was born.
Eddie Murphy had
us laughing when he decided to try rapping Jimmy got, Jimmy got, Jimmy got soul! Beyoncé emanated Deenas
angry disappointment in the studio scene as she recorded Listen. From the
wardrobe and choreography to the excellent acting by the cast, Dream Girls was hands down a beautiful work
Here are a few films that deserve some credit for their impact
in Black music, film and pop culture as well!
Carmen Jones Of course this is an all-time classic, even if a
white singer was actually behind Carmen Jones performances in the movie,
Dorothy Dandridge still made history playing the proud, free-spirited Jones in 1954.
Sparkle Another super classic Black film, 1976s Sparkle gave
us a young Irene Cara as Sparkle and Lonette McKee as the troubled Sister.
Sultry performances set in the 50s included Something He Can Feel (penned by
Curtis Mayfield, performed on the soundtrack by Aretha Franklin), which was
redone in 1992 by En Vogue.
The Color Purple – Set
in the early 1900’s, this story based on Alice Walkers best-selling book
touches on several aspects, including racism, abuse, incest, family problems
and more. Moving songs fit in nicely, and the 1985 films music eventually grew
into a full Broadway show in 2005 that still runs and tours today.
Beat Street – This cult classic depicts the wonders of rap music, dance and graffiti as it follows South Bronx Hip-Hoppers in the early 80s. It features cameo appearances by The Treacherous Three, The Magnificent Force, Rock Steady Crew, New York City
Breakers, The Furious Five and many others. If you have not seen this movie and
youre on AllHipHop.com, shame on you.
Breakin – Another classic made 1984 details struggling young
dancers as they become street sensations. Ok, so the acting sucked and the plot
was terrible, but those dance sequences featuring Turbo (Boogaloo Shrimp) and
Ozone (Shabba Doo) were off the hook especially the broom scene! Ok, so you
could see the string, but it was still hot. Not to mention we got to see Ice-T
rapping really fast with goggles on.
House Party –
Simply, Kid N Play, an all-star cast,
the dance sequence to Full Forces “Ain’t My Type of Hype” and the
freestyle battle are all reasons why this is one of the greats. And we can see
it on cable TV at least five times a month these days. Off topic, did you know that A.J. Johnson who plays Sharane is a wellness counselor now? It’s not surprising – all this dancing makes for some great cardio!
Have some more great movies or some memorable moments from
these youd like to speak on! Lets hear about it!