February 8, 2017
by Lisa Thornell
To celebrate Black History month, Kanopy (streaming video database courtesy of the Library) has highlighted a selection of independent films to share stories of extraordinary African American musicians whose talent has shaped today's music industry. Kanopy's entire Black History Month collection is available to watch here
Bayou Maharajah This film explores the life, times and music of piano legend James Booker, who is described as, "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced." This roller coaster portrait brings to life the unforgettable story of this amazing musician.
You See Me Laughin' A personal journey into the lives and music of the last of the Mississippi hill country bluesmen - farmers and laborers first, musicians second. Musicians who've labored for the blues tradition despite lives steeped in poverty and violence. The result is a raw, powerful music.
America's Blues Explores the impact that the Blues has had on our society, our culture, and the entertainment industry. The Blues has influenced nearly every form of American Music and sadly, aside from its part in the birth of Rock and Roll, its influence often goes unrecognized. If music were a color, it would be Blue.
The Girls in the Band This award-winning documentary tells the untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their journeys from the late 30s to the present day. The many first-hand accounts of the challenges faced by these talented women provide a glimpse into decades of racism and sexism that have existed in America.
Killing Me Softly: The Roberta Flack Story In the 1970s Roberta Flack became a global sensation. Her style of soulful pop transcended to become the dinner party soundtrack for Middle America. It is a deeply personal story told alongside the wider context of America's civil rights movement, a struggle that was to strike a chord all over the world.
Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man's World A tender, revealing documentary about one of the most famous and popular performing artists of the 20th century. Her legendary banana belt dance created theatre history; her song "J'ai deux amours" became a classic, and her hymn. Josephine Baker is portrayed as a true superstar, one with grace and humility.
The Spirituals A musical art form, the American Spiritual, was born out of the folk songs of slaves. Melodies of backbreaking work were sung and passed on throughout the Deep South. Sorrow songs were used to console and transmit secret information. The spirituals have survived generations and continue to inspire all over the world.
Thug Immortal: Tupac Shakur This documentary is an intimate look at Tupac Shakur's life told through never-before-seen footage and interviews with his close friends, revealing an artist who grew up a thug, but one who soon tired of that lifestyle and its trappings, revealing a Tupac far different from the one most of America knows.
Sound of Redemption By 15 years old, Frank Morgan was an accomplished saxophonist. As his notoriety grew, so did a steady heroin addiction, landing him in and out of jail for over 30 years. The Sound of Redemption offers a frank look into the ups and downs of Morgan's life and a reflective look at African American culture in 1950s Los Angeles.
T'Aint Nobody's Bizness This film excavates the hidden sexualities of Black female entertainers who reigned over the nascent blues recording industry of the 1920s. Unlike the male-dominated jazz scene, early blues provided a space for women to take the lead and model an autonomy that was remarkable for women.
These films were selected and described by Kanopy