Black Music Month: Movie Music We Love

Great films can take you back to times and places in your life, where

for a short while you’re 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.

 

I’m 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 West’s “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 Kid’s 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, Prince’s 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 “Night’s 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

rags-to-riches story.  

 

What’s 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 What’s 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, she’s still going strong in

real life.

 

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.

Powerful

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

 

 “I’m 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 Lymon’s life. Told

mostly in flashbacks, the women each gave their account of their relationship

with the singer. Vivica A. Fox’s portrayal of Elizabeth Waters, Lymon’s 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

Eagle.

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 I’m singing: “Papa

was a rolling stone/ Where ever he laid his hat was his home!” Yes I know I

wasn’t 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 you’re 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 Richard’s songs in

the ‘50s, and the white radio stations play Boone’s version instead of Richard’s.

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 don’t 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 “What’d 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

audiences.

 

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 Hudson’s performance of

the Jennifer

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 Deena’s

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

of art!

 

Honorable Mentions

 

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, 1976’s 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 Walker’s best-selling book

touches on several aspects, including racism, abuse, incest, family problems

and more. Moving songs fit in nicely, and the 1985 film’s 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

you’re 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 Force’s “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 you’d like to speak on! Let’s hear about it!

 

 

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