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5 Documentaries Worth Watching in Honor of Black Music Appreciation Month

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With the month coming to an end, the last events celebrating Black Music Appreciation Month are set to take place. 

Some of the most popular Black artists in the music industry are set to be honored at the BET Awards tonight at the Microsoft Theater. Tik Tok and rapper and entrepreneur, Diddy, are also partnering up to host a live event on June 29 and NPR Music is set to air a special episode on jazz trumpeter Theo Croker on June 30. 

In addition to tuning into these events, here are five documentaries about Black artists and their influence that are worth watching in these last days of Black Music Appreciation Month.

  1. A Band Called Death: Released in 2012, “A Band Called Death” is a documentary about a band whose first and only album was released more than 30 years after it was recorded. In the mid-1970s, guitarist David Hackney and his brothers, Bobby Hackney and Dannis Hackney, formed a band called Death and unknowingly became pioneers of the 1970s punk sound. 

Led by David, Death had difficulty getting record companies to believe in their brother’s vision, eventually losing out on a record deal because of David’s refusal to change the band’s name. Discouraged, the brothers disbanded in the early 1980s with just a demo tape to Death’s name. 

Featuring interviews and home videos, the documentary gives viewers a glimpse into their lives after, covering Bobby and Dannis’ brief stint in a reggae band, David’s death and the band’s reemergence in 2009 as demos of the band’s album landed at the hands of rare record collectors. While the documentary offers a deep look into the formation of the punk sound before there was punk, “A Band Called Death” is also a documentary about faith, perseverance and brotherhood. 

  1. The Black Godfather: Created in 2019, “The Black Godfather” pulls the curtain up on the career of music entrepreneur Clarence Avant. Known professionally as “the Black Godfather,” Avant’s work has largely been disregarded, even as his impact extended into music, politics, film, sports and more. Mentored by Joe Glaser, a manager of many jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, Avant helped launch and manage the careers of singer Bill Withers, singer Sarah Vaughan, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, writers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, singer Janet Jackson and composer Lalo Schifrin. Dedicated to making all types of Black talent known, he’s credited with getting Hank Aaron an endorsement deal with Coca-Cola before his 715th home run, getting former President Barack Obama on TV and airing the speech that launched his career at the 2004 Democratic Convention and more. Alongside the footage, the documentary features interviews with Quincy Jones, President Obama, Lionel Richie, the late Lionel Withers and Avant himself to give viewers a look into the life of an unsung entrepreneur. 
  1. My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip Hop: Directed by Ava DuVernay and aired by BET in 2010, “My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip-Hop” is a documentary about women in hip-hop from the 1980s to the 2010s. Featuring interviews with hip-hop legends like Missy Elliot, Eve and Salt-N-Pepa, the documentary delves into the history of women emcees and women who have helped revolutionize the genre. “My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip-Hop” also focuses on the difficulties of being a woman in the music industry, such as over-sexualization, that’s navigating a male-dominated genre.
  1. ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads: Released in 2019, “Devil at the Crossroads” focuses on piecing together the little information available to give a more complete picture of who blues legend Robert Johnson was. Featuring interviews with artists like Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal and Keith Richards, the documentary uses animation and dramatization as a substitute for pictures and videos; throughout the course of his life, Johnson’s existence was documented by just two photos.

Seen as a mysterious figure, Johnson’s story is best connected with how he rumoredly sold his soul to the devil to play guitar. Described initially as a novice guitar player, Johnson is rumored to have gone to the crossroads to make a deal with the devil and returned with skills that outplayed the best artists such as Son House. Known now as “the King of the Delta Blues,” his skills can be heard on just 29 recorded tracks, but his influence can be heard throughout the decades. In his documentary, Oakes tracks not only Johnson’s life but his impact on artists such as Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones, Cream and Bonnie Raitt.

  1. Otis Redding: Soul Ambassador: Released in 2013 by BBC, “Otis Redding: Soul Ambassador” features a deeper look into the career of the legendary Otis Redding. The film traces the icon’s life from his childhood in Georgia to his untimely death in 1967. Although the film covers all of his career, “Otis Redding: Soul Ambassador” puts an emphasis on his career in 1967, exploring his tour of Britain as part of the revolutionary Stax Records tour and his career-defining performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Created with rare footage of unseen performances, the documentary also includes interviews with Redding’s family, Booker T. Jones and other members of his original backing band and artists like Rod Stewart and Tom Jones as they discuss the impact Redding had on their lives.

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