Just when you thought Black Movie Soundtrack could not get any better, it did. The 4th edition soared on Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl, exceeding expectations. This was an arduous task as the first three renditions set the bar incredibly high. Led by the imaginative creator/director Reginald Hudlin and Grammy-winning and adept musical director Marcus Miller, they triumphantly told stories of excellence in Black cinema and music. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and maestro Thomas Wilkins returned as collaborators in this ingenious venture, with Craig Robinson resuming his hosting duties and providing immediate lightness asking the crowd for grace, saying, “Please don’t roast my outfit.”
The splendid pairing of live performances with scenes from iconic movies is not overstated. From the moment it began, you knew you were in for a treat when mini scenes from Dream Girls, The Wiz, Straight Out of Compton, Do the Right Thing, Shaft, Get Out, Ray, Sister Act, and so many others flashed across the screen. And when the quintessential score from Shaft rises to begin the introductions of beautifully shot and, at times, nostalgic movie scenes, you know pure joy is on the way.
The prolific duo kicked off the show with the 1943 film Stormy Weather, starring Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, and his Cotton Club Orchestra, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers. If you haven’t seen Stormy Weather, it’s well worth it, but I must warn you that this sentiment applies to every movie featured during the night. If you have never seen the scene ‘Jumpin Jive’ from the movie, YouTube it immediately. The scene showcases one of the “greatest dance routines ever captured on film” with tap masters Fayard and Harold Nicholas. We learned that the entire scene was filmed in one take. To describe the performances of Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers defies words, but here goes…it was glorious, joy-dropping, superb, and the splits performed by Fayard, and Harold were other-worldly.
This year’s event paid tribute to the elegant and brilliant work of Sidney Poitier. “Sidney destroyed stereotypes of Blacks in the movies on a global level,” Hudlin said. Poitier, an undisputed symbol of excellence, shone brightly in his films. Who can forget Poitier deliverance of the iconic line, “They Call Me Mister Tibbs,” from In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field, and Guess Who’s Coming to dinner; a magnificent body of work all released in 1967. Grammy-winning artist BeBe Winans performed In the Heat of the Night, written by Poitier’s close friend, Academy Award and Grammy-winner Quincy Jones. In one of the many memorable moments, Winans performed a tribute he wrote for this moment entitled, An Ordinary Man. Winans ended his performance with birthday wishes to Hudlin’s wife, Chrisette as she swayed against the glowing backdrop of hundreds sending her birthday wishes.
Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds took to the stage to introduce the 1992 Hudlin-directed film Boomerang, celebrating its 30thanniversary. The film starred Eddie Murphy as Marcus, Robin Givens as Jacqueline, and Halle Berry as Angela. Edmonds teased that he would sing the song only to have a surprise appearance by the soulful Johnny Gill, who originated the music on the soundtrack. The wildly successful soundtrack was released by Edmonds company, LaFace Records, and landed in the No. 1 spot on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums in 1992.
Next up was the Blaxploitation period. Robinson described this era of Black cinema as opportunities for Black people to tell stories that were low budget but garnered significant returns. Singer Eric Benet took the stage to perform songs written by the gifted songwriter Curtis Mayfield – the 1972 song Freddie’s Dead from the movie soundtrack SuperFly, a smash hit and one of the few movie scores to outperform the film.
The show continued with Aretha Franklin’s documentary Amazing Grace, a 1972 film that was almost never seen. It featured the indomitable talents of James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir and was filmed before a live audience at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The film resurrected in 2018 was finally seen by legions of Franklin’s fans and was a highlight of the evening.
Bodyguard, a film that is now 30 years old and the debut film of the late Whitney Houston, caused quite a stir when her video appearance on the screen ignited a spontaneous tribute from Bowl goers using their cellphones to light up the night as she sang I Will Always Love You. Next, up – hip-hop artist Warren G performed Regulate, in a nod to the film Above the Rim featuring the sorely missed Tupac Shakur. And what night would be complete without Kid-n-Play, the charismatic duo recreating the dance battle from the film House Party, a Hudlin film that is always a crowd pleaser – Ain’t Gone Hurt Nobody got the crowd up and moving.
The magical night continued with Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s beautifully played tribute to Black Superheroes, specifically, the universally loved Black Panther starring the late and über talented Chadwick Boseman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The show was highjacked by the magnificent, Tony-Award winner Jennifer Holiday who performed as only she could, a showstopping performance of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going with fans giving her a much-deserved standing ovation.
The Hollywood Bowl orchestra returned with a tribute to Prince – Venus De Milo from the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. The musical gem Macy Gray took the stage as she lamented how difficult it is to take the stage after Jennifer Holiday – continuing the Prince era with the Forever In My Life, with bassist Marcus Miller once again showing why he is the master of the groove, a perfect pairing for this song followed by Take Me With You. The show’s finale featured Lalah Hathaway bringing it home with Purple Rain, a song that summed up the evening perfectly, “I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain,” and this magical night at the Hollywood Bowl ended with smiles, laughs, and memories of a fantastic night.