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10 Recent Documentaries Spotlighting Black Musicians

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During Black History Month and beyond, the history of black music is something that should always be revisited and shared. The ever-evolving art form of music has received countless contributions from black artists, spanning many decades and generations. No matter what genre we’re talking about, black musicians will always be a big part of history.

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In recent years, documentaries featuring black musicians have shown the talent and drive it takes to become one of the greatest in their craft. Through the adversity and struggles these artists went through, their drive and talent persevered and is a big reason people consider them legends today.

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Soul Summer (2021)


Sly Stone in the Summer of the Soul

When most think of the great music festivals of 1969, their mind immediately goes to Woodstock. While Woodstock is an iconic counterculture moment, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is severely overlooked and soul summer aims to give it the importance it deserves.

Made by Questlove, soul summer takes viewers inside the weekly celebration of black music and culture held in 1969, featuring legends such as Stevie Wonder, BB King, Nina Simone, among others. Spanning different genres, the sounds and overall vibe of the Harlem Cultural Festival encapsulates the past, eventually becoming unofficially dubbed the “Black Woodstock”.


What happened, Miss Simone? (2015)


What happened, Miss Simone?  directed by Liz Garbus

Nina Simone’s calligraphy legacy is something fans of all genres of music can appreciate and not only What happened, Miss Simone? delve into her musical career, but also into the social activism for which she was so well known.

What happened, Miss Simone? emphasizes the human side of being a politically charged artist in a time when artists were chastised and blackballed for talking about real issues in their music. Especially in the case of a black woman, Simone was and still is considered a pioneer in both activism and music and the documentary showcases her genius on many levels.

Quincy (2018)


quincy jones

The great Quincy Jones is the mastermind behind countless classic tracks and albums. 2018 Quincy documentary features the trials and tribulations of her storied career, directed by Alan Hicks and Jones’ daughter and actress, Rashida Jones.


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Jones’ career in music spans over 70 years, and viewers who don’t know the man himself before watching him are very likely to know his music. Throughout the film, his knowledge and respect for his craft shines through on screen as he drops many notable quotes for fans to take home with them. The story of the 28-time Grammy winner is a must-read for any avid music listener and the perfect example of giving people their recognition while they’re there to appreciate it.

Mavis! (2015)


Cover of the 2015 documentary Mavis!

The Chicago-based Staples Singers enjoyed great success throughout their run, with their most notable albums released in the 1970s. But even before they reached the peak of their fame, their music been used as a vehicle for change. Mavis! tells the story of Mavis Staples, the band’s most famous member and her career.


Despite her family’s best solo career, Mavis has kept her family values ​​close and has become a civil rights icon. Staples is highly respected throughout the music community and the documentary features many top artists such as Prince, Bob Dylan and Chuck D singing its praises.

Dreamville Presents: REVENGE (2019)


A scene from the documentary Dreamville Presents REVENGE

J. Cole’s evolution from artist to musical executive has been one of the most intriguing stories in rap over the past decade. His Dreamville label is full of crazy talent and the 2019 documentary Dreamville Presents: REVENGE gives fans a glimpse into the making of the label’s compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III.


Fans can witness the album’s 10-day recording session, hear songs from the album in their debut, and the creative processes of the artists who make up Dreamville’s roster. While most rap fans were very familiar with J. Cole by the time the film and accompanying album was released, artists like JID, Ari Lennox, Bas and others featured prominently, their giving more visibility to a wider audience.

Whitney (2018)


Whitney Houston biopic released in 2022

If there was an official list of the greatest voices in music history, Whitney Houston would be somewhere near the top. Gone too soon, the singer left an undeniably great musical legacy, which is documented in Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney.

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Numerous interviews in the film testify to his quality as an artist. Given that she is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, fans can take solace in the fact that her music is timeless and spans generations. With plenty of stock footage and music to spare, Whitney is a unique and emotional take on the life of one of the greatest to ever do so.

The Black Godfather (2019)


The idea around The Black Godfather was to provide insight into one of the most important people in music that the general public had never heard of. Anyone who saw him would be in disbelief at the influence Clarence Avant had in the music industry and understand why he was nicknamed “The Black Godfather”.

Avant’s hand has been in several musical genres and has built up such a wide network that his influence has extended to sports, politics and other respective industries. Support many black icons, in music and otherwise, The Black Godfather tells the story of one of the most misunderstood men in music.

Hitsville: Behind the Scenes at Motown (2019)


Tutle card for the 2019 Hitsville documentary The Making Of Motown

As one of the most famous record labels of the 20th century, Motown’s roster boasts countless iconic artists, from the Jackson 5 to the Temptations. Their specialty in soul music throughout the mid-century earned them the reputation of success for which they are known and Hitsville looks back at the early years of the label before moving from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972.

Berry Gordy’s genius and his unique ways of building Motown from the ground up is a story for the ages, given that the label was arguably the ultimate source of black music at the time.

The Art of Organized Noise (2016)


Three men with their backs to the camera in the documentary The Art Of Organized Noize

Hip-hop producers have gained much more recognition as separate entities in recent years, separating their individual brands from the artists they produce for. While Organized Noize emerged at a time when producers were generally never heard from, Organized noise art testifies to the impact the band has had on the genre.

The film’s deep dive into Organized Noize’s career gives the production group the credit it deserves for pushing Southern hip hop to the forefront of the genre. From producing TLC’s “Waterfalls” to Outkast’s first four albums, among other incredible production credits, the Atlanta-based band have established themselves as legends in the game.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (2019)


Poster for Chasing Trane The John Coltrane Documentary

John Coltrane is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, releasing numerous critically acclaimed albums and performances throughout his 20+ year career. Chasing Trane covers the life and career of the man who was born to play the saxophone.

Coltrane’s career has seen both personal ups and downs and the documentary serves as a layered piece showcasing the human side of the musical titan, while fans usually only see the artist. Chasing Trane gives her flowers to Coltrane while being narrated by Denzel Washington.

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