Universal Pictures released one of the best musical biopics of all time with “Straight Outta Compton” (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures).
Music Makes Movies
Other than superhero movies, biopics arguably have become Hollywood’s go to move for guaranteed success on the big and small screen.
Biopics often do well because they have a built in fan base, which is the fan base of the person or persons that the film is about.
And very few groups of people have the rabid fan base that a successful musician has.
While many music fans know every song that an artist put out, many fans still do not know the behind-the-scenes details of their favorite artist’s life.
Musical biopics fill that void.
And while urban music fans eagerly anticipate planned biopics on Marvin Gaye, Bobby Brown and the DeBarge family, RegalMag.com looks back at the top 10 musical biopics/miniseries of the past that featured stories on musicians from the jazz, blues, R&B, hip-hop, pop and vaudeville genres.
“Lady Sings the Blues”—By 1972, Motown had arguably become the biggest and most successful Black-owned record label to date. However, Motown CEO Berry Gordy had movies on in his mind and had moved his company from Detroit to Hollywood. Motown jumped head first into filmmaking with the Billie Holiday biopic, “Lady Sings the Blues.” Pop star Diana Ross received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Holiday and Billie Dee Williams added to his star stature with an iconic and supercool performance.
“The New Edition Story”—The year 2017 belonged to Boston boy band New Edition. BET’s three part miniseries on the six members broke records and created a new fan base for the group responsible for hits like “Can You Stand the Rain” and “I’m Still in Love with You.” The casting set this miniseries apart from the competition and the candid honesty of the members made the miniseries an instant classic.
“Straight Outta Compton”—If the year 2017 belonged to the legendary boy band New Edition, 2015 belonged to gangsta rap pioneers, N.W.A. The brainchild of Ruthless Records founder Eazy-E only released a few albums during the brief tenure together, but the group from Compton, Calif. changed the creative direction and business of hip-hop forever. N.W.A made sure hip-hop did not just revolve around New York. The group made street reporting a necessary element in hip-hop. And the members of the group, made sure that their business remained just as important as their art.
“Ray”—The Ray Charles biopic let Hollywood know not only how talented Charles was, but how diversely talented Jaime Foxx is, as he earned the Academy Award for his jaw-dropping performance. Like “The New Edition Story” over a decade later, “Ray” did not try to sugarcoat the musical genius’ legacy. The biopic did not try to hide his infidelity. The biopic did not try to hide his drug addiction. And the biopic did not try to hide the fact that Charles had a reputation of being a jerk to his employees and band mates. But most importantly, the biopic could not hide how talented he was, and how brilliant he was as a businessperson, despite his handicap.
“The Temptations”—Before New Edition members began breathing, The Temptations tore up the Billboard Charts with classics like “My Girl” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” But “The Temptations” foreshadowed “The New Edition Story” so eerily that the groups have to be related somehow. Eddie Kendricks foreshadowed Ralph Tresvant with his classic falsetto. David Ruffin foreshadowed Bobby Brown with his bad boy antics. Paul Williams foreshadowed Ricky Bell with his battle with addiction. Otis Williams foreshadowed Michael Bivins with his business acumen. And Dennis Edwards foreshadowed Johnny Gill with his calming influence, and great voice, as a late addition to the group. But while New Edition still has a chance to reclaim their glory, the classic lineup of The Temptations had a tragic ending.
“Get on Up”—The Godfather of Soul. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Soul Brother Number One. Mr. Dynamite. James Brown picked up where Ray Charles left off with his business acumen. And although Brown did not play instruments like Charles, nobody could dance like Brown. And no artist had as much funk as Brown. And “Get on Up” captures his story from rags to riches, which included his upbringing in a brothel and his stint in prison. Although Chadwick Boseman has gone on to bigger roles since then, “Get on Up” made him a bona fide star.
“The Josephine Baker Story”—Vaudeville star Josephine Baker had the complete package. She had beauty. She had sex appeal. She had talent. And she had business acumen. Unfortunately, she did not have the complexion for the protection to quote comedic legend Paul Mooney. Furthermore, she did not have much luck at love. But through it all she persevered, stretching the boundaries of sex appeal with semi-nude performances to sophistication with full-length sequined gowns. Baton Rouge, La. native Lynn Whitfield portrayed the groundbreaking performer exquisitely in the 1991 television biopic, “The Josephine Baker Story.”
“The Jacksons: An American Dream”—The Jacksons’ story could not fit into a two hour movie. The first family of music needed a biopic. “The Temptations” and “The New Edition Story” came after, but “The Jacksons: An American Dream” set the precedent way back in 1992. The miniseries took fans from the courtship of Joseph and Katherine Jackson to The Jacksons’ monumental stadium concerts, the Victory Tour in 1984. The film deals with Joe’s infidelity, Jermaine’s decision to leave the Jackson 5 and Michael’s tragic injury while filming a Pepsi commercial. The Jacksons’ story contains so much excitement that a sequel should happen, which focuses on Janet’s astronomical success to how The Jacksons’ picked up the pieces after Michael’s tragic death and maintained the group’s legacy.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It”—The Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It” inspired so many, that many people still quote the film like Beyoncé and Jay-Z on “Drunk in Love.” Anna Mae Bullock (Turner’s birth name) overcame family abandonment, domestic violence and age discrimination to become a bona fide rock star in the 1980s. Over 30 years later, Turner is completely iconic.
“All Eyez on Me”—Forget what the haters say, “All Eyez on Me” did legendary rapper/actor/activist Tupac Shakur justice. Although Shakur represented a larger than life figure during his brief life and career, “All Eyez on Me” humanized the West Coast rap legend. Furthermore, people can learn valuable lessons from “All Eyez on Me.” Words and actions have consequences. Having bad apples in your circle could result in catastrophe. And doing business with the devil could produce a hell of a tragedy.