The Black Movie Soundtrack
The Hollywood Bowl, September 3rd
Here are some of the songs you’ll hear in the show interspersed with an essay I wrote on the show.
Stormy Weather – Jumping Jive
The Black Movie Soundtrack was born with the advent of sound in movies itself. When Al Jolson speaks directly to the audience and says “you ain’t heard nothing yet” before launching into a ragtime, Black music in movies is established as a signifier of what is modern and hip. As musical styles evolved, from jazz to soul to hip hop, the significance of Black music in movies, regardless of the race of film’s cast, has been a dominant force in American cinema for nearly 100 years. This is why tonight’s celebration of The Black Movie Soundtrack is so important. We will be showcasing some of the greatest music ever made. In fact, often, the music is better than the movies that showcase it. But in some ways, that is an unfair comparison. Black music is arguably the most sophisticated form of artistic expression in our culture. Movies are pretty great too, but it’s hard to compete with composers who wrote for film like Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Marcus Miller, LA Reid & Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Pharrell Williams.
In The Heat Of The Night
When I sat down to make a list of tunes to be featured in this evening’s program, the first pass was 130 songs long. Knowing that we would be lucky to fit 20 songs into the evening’s program, I had to accept the idea that an audience member would be disappointed by the absence of the their favorite jam in the lineup, so I apologize but it could not be helped. The good news is that the playlist was a bounty of riches, and could be edited in any number of ways. We could do a night of jazz tunes. We could have done three nights focusing on the great music soundtracks of the 1970s. We could do an evening of Prince’s music in movies alone. We could do a night of hip-hop in cinema. While those are all programs that we might try to execute in the future, we thought that it would be best to start with an overview of Black music in movies for the last 75 years.
Earth, Wind And Fire – Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song
My first phone call was to my favorite music collaborator, the brilliant Marcus Miller. When we first started working together on the soundtrack of House Party, he told me about a week into his teenage years, when he was invited to join three bands: Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, and Weather Report. He chose Miles Davis and went on to produce several albums for him. With extraordinary dexterity, he was also Luther Vandross’ producer for his illustrious career. He also has a long career as a film composer for many directors including myself. Marcus quickly fell into a working groove with Hollywood Bowl conductor Vincent Mendoza.
Rose Royce – Car Wash
Usually classic Black music is not revived, and if it is, it is stripped of its lush ornamentation. Not tonight. You will hear songs like Theme From Shaft with a full string orchestra! We are also making a point to feature score and not just hit songs in tonight’s program. You will be hearing some great score cues from movies like Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song, Boomerang and He Got Game.
Curtis Mayfield – Freddie’s Dead
In the same way Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington and Oliver Nelson were the most prominent composers of early black film soundtracks, the work of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye dominates the 1970s “Blaxploitation” era.
Isaac Hayes – Theme From Shaft
If there is a single song that personifies the idea of The Black Movie Soundtrack, it is Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft. A legendary songwriter with Stax records turned solo artist, for Isaac Hayes, Shaft was the perfect canvas to express his widescreen sonic ambitions with music that harnessed the power of an orchestra with the groove of state of the art soul music to make an enduring classic that won one for the most deserved best song Oscars in Academy history.
En Vogue – Giving Him Something He Can Feel
Sparkle was one of three soundtracks by Curtis Mayfield. He was already a legend from his work with The Impressions, with songs like People Get Ready and Gypsy Woman, as well as huge solo career. But one could argue that Curtis Mayfield’s work on Superfly was his masterpiece. The lyrics of the soundtrack create a great chorus effect that critiques the story and the characters on screen. The combination of the music, the fashions, and the timely storyline all combine to make Superfly one of the most important films of its era. In addition to Superfly and Sparkle, Curtis Mayfield famously collaborated with Gladys Knight on the soundtrack to Claudine, another beloved film whose music is integral to the popularity of the film.
Marvin Gaye - Trouble Man
Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man is an underrated soundtrack, although aficionados of the genre love it. Marvin was not happy with the soundtrack for Trouble Man, so he rerecorded it entirely before it was released commercially; meaning the music in the film is quite different from the music on the album. Years later, John Singleton used large chunks of the score for his action film Four Brothers.
Prince – Let’s Go Crazy
The next Black artist to receive an Oscar for best song is Prince for Purple Rain. All of his soundtrack albums – Purple Rain, Parade, Batman And Graffitti Bridge – capture a genius at the peak of his talents.
Public Enemy – Fight The Power
I was a fan of Public Enemy from their debut. Their music felt like the summation of all the potential of hip hop both musically and lyrically. Public Enemy has done a lot of significant movies, including the song ‘Bring The Noise’ from the movie Less Than Zero, as well as songs in many films by Spike Lee. I was fortunate enough to work with Public Enemy on my first feature film, where they delivered yet another amazing song called ‘I Can’t Do Nothin’ For You Man.’
Pharrell – Happy
The beat goes on with Pharrell, whose work on the Despicable Me franchise is as impactful as his hit records with Jay Z, Snoop and his own solo career. Happy is one of the most accurately named songs in history, and it achieves the goal of any artist – to bring the whole world together on the One.
Marcus Miller – Boomerang
I would like to thank the Academy of Motion Pictures, the Hollywood Bowl, Laura Connelly, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Marcus Miller, Vince Mendoza, Jeff Kent and our host Craig Robinson for making a dream come true.
Anthony Hamilton – Freedom
The Academy Celebrates The Black Movie Soundtrackâ€¨
I Love Your Smile!
This is a promotion of the show at the Hollywood Bowl during the salute to James Brown…or was it during John Legend’s tribute to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? In any case, we were in the house!
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