Films

America's Music will highlight popular music from our country in the 20th Century through documentaries and scholar-led discussions, focusing on unique American musical genres: blues and gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass and country, rock 'n' roll and the Latin rhythms of mambo and hip hop.

Here's the films that are included in the program:

 

Broadway: The American Musical
This six-part series from PBS tells two stories: the 100-year history of musical theater and the story of its relationship to 20th-century American life. It begins with the immigrant experience at the turn of the century, when a melting pot of voices and styles gave rise to a popular new form of entertainment, and ends with today’s Broadway, where big-budget new productions and revivals of classic favorites compete side by side for box office success. We will be focusing on Episode 2: Syncopated City.

 

From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale
From Henry Chalfant (co-director of Style Wars), this hour-long documentary tells a story about the creative life of the South Bronx, beginning with the Puerto Rican migration and the adoption of Cuban rhythms to create the New York salsa sound; continuing with the fires that destroyed the neighborhood, but not the creative spirit of its people; chronicling the rise of hip-hop from the ashes.

 

High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music
This 1991 doc frames its historical survey around Bill Monroe, the father of Kentucky bluegrass. As Monroe visits his old Kentucky home, now dilapidated and full of memories, the film traces the emergence of bluegrass from Appalachian descendants of Scotch-Irish settlers, and a variety of bluegrass greats (including narrator Mac Wiseman) offer informative anecdotes, accompanied by evocative archival footage and concert performances from the bluegrass festival circuit.

 

The History of Rock and Roll
Executive produced by Quincy Jones and respected writers Peter Guralnick and Greil Marcus listed as consultants, this series, first presented in 1995, serves as an introduction for neophytes and a refresher course for experts. Beginning in the pre-rock days of bluesman Muddy Waters and boogie woogie master Louis Jordan and continuing through the death of Kurt Cobain and the birth of the Lollapalooza festival in the mid-1990s, along the way dozens of big-name performers are on hand to lead us through the story. We will be focusing on the Plugging In segment from the series.

 

International Sweethearts of Rhythm
From the Piney Woods School in the Mississippi Delta to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City, this toe-tapping film tells the story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, America’s first integrated all-women swing band. A 16-piece band with a strong brass section, heavy percussion, and a deep rhythmic sense, the Sweethearts were not just a novelty but featured many of the best female musicians of the day. Buy or rent through the TFI Reframe Collection®

 

Jazz
Ken Burns' Jazz spans nearly a century of jazz styles, from the martial rhythms of James Reese Europe to the soul-jazz of Grover Washington Jr. It includes time-tested classics like Benny Goodman's 1938 "Sing, Sing, Sing"; John Coltrane's chanting 1965 immortal track, "A Love Supreme"; Billie Holiday's blue-ember ballad, "God Bless the Child"; and Ella Fitzgerald peeling off "A-Tisket A-Tasket" just to name a few. We will be focusing on Episode 6: Swing, The Velocity of Celebration.

 

Latin Music USA
This fresh take on American musical history reaches across five decades to portray the rich mix of sounds created by Latinos and embraced by all. See the rise of Latin jazz with the great Machito and the explosion of the mambo with Pérez Prado. And watch as Latin music infiltrates R&B and rock throughout the 1960s, from the Drifters to Santana up to today. We will be focusing on Episode 1: Bridges.

 

Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues
Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese, these seven approximately 90-minute films follow the blues—the foundation of jazz, soul, R&B, and rock & roll—from its African roots to its Mississippi Delta origins, up the river to Memphis and Chicago, then to New York, the United Kingdom and beyond. We will be focusing on the Feel Like Going Home segment from the series.

 

Say Amen, Somebody
This 1982 documentary by director George T. Nierenberg breaks down the roots of gospel music as he examines the lives and careers of a handful of since-departed gospel stars, who helped create the genre from which so many other forms of music flowed.

 

 

[Photos: From Mambo to Hip-Hop photo by Henry Chalfant; International Sweethearts of Rhythm courtesy of Jezebel Productions; Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues courtesy of Sony Music/Legacy Recordings; Say Amen, Somebody copyright © 2012 George Nierenberg]