It’s Not All La La Land – TBB’s 10 Must-See Black Cinema Musical Interludes

Bestowed with five BAFTA awards and a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has pulled the musical back into full focus. So in similar high-kicking spirit TBB looks back through the archives to bring you 10 toe-tapping musical moments from the history of Black cinema.

Stormy Weather – hailed by Fred Astaire to be, “the greatest movie musical number” he had ever seen, the Nicholas Brothers reached new nights with their acrobatic ‘Jumping Jive’ routine. The all-black 1943 movie based on the life of dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson featured a host of stars including Cab Calloway and Lena Horn’s unforgettable performance of the title track.

Moonwalker  – As a mash-up of concert footage, music videos and Spielberg-esque fantasy adventure Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker fails more times than it succeeds. However people of a certain age all remember practising the Smooth Criminal anti-gravity lean from a routine that has influenced every major artist since its release.

Lady Sings the Blues – The casting of Diana Ross as Billie Holiday was a surprise to many, but from her tragic opening sequence of arrest and straight-jacketed confinement to the sorrow-filled performance of Good Morning Heartache she proved them all wrong, as did the five Academy Award™ nominations.

Sparkle – Remade with Jordan Sparks and Whitney Houston, the original 1976 rags-to-riches tale of an all-girl group bombed at the box-office but Lonette Mckee’s performance of the Curtis Mayfield penned Giving him Something he Can Feel has made the film a cult classic.

The Wiz – Produced in partnership with Paramount, it’s no wonder that two of Motown’s biggest stars take the lead roles in this 70’s adaptation. Jackson’s pitch-perfect performance of the boogie-inflected Ease on Down the Road alongside Diana Ross’ star power ensures it stands out as one of the film’s highlights.

Purple Rain – He never wanted to cause us any sorrow, he never wanted to cause us any pain, but in this semi-autobiographical tale his purple highness showcased the anthemic Purple Rain and won two Oscars™ for his troubles. (Original film clip not available).

Sister Act II – Whoopi may have been Back in the Habit, but this sequel is remembered for the film debut of Lauryn Hill. Playing a rebellious teen, her all-too brief performance of His Eye is on the Sparrow gave the world a glimpse of the unparalleled talent she was to become.

Dreamgirls – Although it’s Deena Jones as played by Beyoncé who is pushed centre-stage to become the lead, the story belongs to Jennifer Hudson’s Effie and her show-stopping rendition of And I Am Telling You. When starting out as an American Idol contestant, Simon Cowell told Hudson she was “out of [her] depth”. Her best-supporting actress Oscar™ told Cowell otherwise.

The Bodyguard – With her first cinematic outing, Whitney Houston scored a global box-office and recording hit. The update of Dolly Parton’s plaintive I Will Always Love You spent 32 weeks on the UK charts with 10 of them at number one while the soundtrack has become the best-selling of all time.

Tap – Linking the past with the future of tap, Gregory Hines learnt at the feet of the Nicholas Brothers and Sandman Sims, and mentored a young Savion Glover in this 1989 film. Featuring performances by the greats of tap, including Sammy Davis Junior’s last cinematic appearance, the opening scene sees Hines transcend the confines of his cell as a fellow prisoner yells above the dissent to ‘let the man dance’.

Article by Samantha Ellington


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