To commemorate Black Music Month, I compiled a list of the Top 25 Black Music Movies. The films that made the list made you dance and sing - while you watched. After compiling a list of over 100 films, the list was whittled down not by the quality of the films, but by how great the music was in those films.
There are arguments for many films that clearly were outclassed by their soundtracks. Marvin Gaye's only soundtrack was done for the forgettable film, Trouble Man and on and on. In addition to the selection of each film, I also selected the film's signature song. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, are the Top 25 Black Music Movies.
Cooley High (1976)
Why It’s Hot: The story of a friendship between a group of Chicago high-school students in the early 1960s. Featuring a booming Motown soundtrack, “Cooley High” is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Signature Song: G.C. Cameron’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” continues to stand the test of time as a classic song.
Why It’s Hot: This adaptation of the smash Tony award-winning play was equally stunning on the big screen. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and showed off the acting talents of Eddie Murphy while introducing the world to Jennifer Hudson.
Signature Song: Hudson as Effie White in the tour-de-force, “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.”
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Why It’s Hot: Diana Ross was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her searing performance of the late jazz icon, Billie “Lady Day” Holliday. The film also featured Hollywood hunk, Billie Dee Williams and arguably his best film role, Piano Man, Richard Pryor.
Signature Song: Ross as Lady Day singing, “My Man.”
Why It’s Hot: He’s a bad muther, shut yo’ mouth, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Shaft. Issac Hayes’ thunderous soundtrack dominated this film about adventures of private detective, John Shaft. Hayes won an Oscar for the film’s title song.
Signature Song: “The Theme from Shaft.”
Why It’s Hot: Ron O’Neal had brother’s perming their hair in hoods all over America listening to Curtis Mayfield’s uban ode about a brother trying to “get out of the game.” Mayfield’s classic soundtrack is arguably is superior to Issac Hayes’ “Shaft.”
Signature Song: Pulsating with urban urgency is Mayfield’s “Pusherman.”
Why It’s Hot: Thirty years before the Dream captivated the big screen, Sparkle (Irene Cara) and Sister (Lonette McKee) starred in this drama of the rise and fall of a fabled girl group. Curtis Mayfield’s score provides the film with musical electricity.
Signature Song: “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” led by McKee.
Waiting To Exhale (1995)
Why It’s Hot: Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds’ soundtrack provide a musical storybook for this story of four friends in Phoenix who suffer various trials and tribulations all in the name of love.
Signature Song: Among a galaxy of stars, Whitney Houston’s title song, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” stood out.
The Wiz (1978)
Why It’s Hot: One of the most star-studded films of the 1970s, this musical starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor and Lena Horne. An adaptation of another huge Broadway hit centered on the retelling of the “Wizard of Oz,” from a Black perspective.
Signature Song: A hard choice because of so many solid songs; my choice is the uplifting Luther Vandross song, “Brand New Day.”
Carmen Jones (1954)
Why It's Hot: Dorothy Dandridge broke through stereotypes to create Hollywood’s first Black female sex symbol, Carmen Jones, in her Oscar-nominated performance. Most of the singing in the film was dubbed to match the classic nature of the original production.
Signature Song: Jones’ cautionary tale, “You Go For Me.”
Purple Rain (1984)
Why It’s Hot: Prince rocketed to stardom in this semi-autobiographic tale of a singer who can only hear his own music. Chock full of memorable songs, this soundtrack cemented his Royal Badness’ legacy as a great pop performer.
Signature Song: Prince’s pensive and stirring title song, “Purple Rain.”
Why It’s Hot: Jamie Foxx won a Best Actor Oscar while giving a performance for the ages playing musical trailblazer, Ray Charles in “Ray.” Foxx not only shared an uncanny resemblance to the musical giant, but his musical talent enabled him to perform all of Charles’ trademark numbers.
Signature Song: “I Got A Woman” is central to the film’s story line and Foxx nails the song’s raw emotion.
Hustle & Flow (2005)
Why It’s Hot: Terrance Howard received a Best Actor Oscar nomination as a Memphis pimp who finds salvation as a rapper. Several stellar performances, including Taraji P. Henson, Anthony Andersen, Ludacris and Elise Neal. A breakout performance from Howard.
Signature Song:“Whoop that Trick” and “H&F” are funky but “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp” captures the film’s true essence.
What’s Love Got To Do With (1993)
Why It’s Hot: Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne both shine in this biopic about the live and tumultuous times of superstar Tina Turner. Both leads received Oscar nominations for their strong performances. Bassett was a revelation bulking up to portray the dancing diva.
Signature Song: Bassett belting out the film’s title song, “What’s Love Got to Do With,” provided the film’s punctuation mark.
Beat Street (1984)
Why It’s Hot: This coming of age story of a group of 1980s New York kids who live a true hip-hop lifestyle in the South Bronx. Featuring cameos from many of the early old school hip-hop pioneers.
Signature Song: After the death of one of the main characters, Grandmaster Melle Mel delivers a powerful version of the film’s theme, “Beat Street.”
The Five Heartbeats (1991)
Why It’s Hot: Five childhood friends form a singing group and discover that the recording industry (and human nature) can be a scary thing. The film is loosely based on the story of R&B group, “The Dells.”
Signature Song: The Heartbeats led by Eddie Kane win over an inhospitable crowd by wowing them with “Heart is a House for Love.”
Why It’s Hot: Lady’s man, Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) receives his comeuppance in the form of sexy ad executive, Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens). Graham receives a second chance at love, courtesy of shy ad assistant, Angela Lewis (Halle Berry); one of Murphy’s most charming performances.
Signature Song: Toni Braxton triumphant female anthem, “Love Should Have Brought You Home Last Night.”
School Daze (1988)
Why It’s Hot: Spike Lee’s musical about race, love and politics at a fictional HBCU. The film served as a precursor for the NBC drama, “A Different World,” featuring future stars Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Tisha Campbell Martin, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Signature Song: The Jigaboos and Wannabees square off in Madam Re-Re’s Salon, singing “Good & Bad Hair.”
Jungle Fever (1991)
Why It’s Hot: Director Spike Lee examines interracial dating in New York backed by a thoughtful, breezy Stevie Wonder soundtrack. Samuel L. Jackson gives the film’s breakout performance as the crack-addicted, Gator.
Signature Song: Wonder’s title song, “Jungle Fever.”
New Jack City (1991)
Why It’s Hot: To bring down a new jack hustler, you need a new style cop; Wesley Snipes faces off against Ice-T in this strong crime drama. Druglord Nino Brown (Snipes) introduces crack to Harlem runs up against cops who knows its streets.
Signature Song: Ice-T captures the fury of streets with the searing, “New Jack Hustler.”
Love Jones (1997)
Why It’s Hot: Young lovers, Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosely (Nia Long) star in one of the decade’s smartest romantic comedies. Anchored by a cast that included Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy and Lisa Nicole Carson, “Love Jones” sizzles.
Signature Song: Dionne Farris’ song, “Hopeless,” brilliantly.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Why It’s Hot: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) have shared one dream since they were kids, to play in the NBA. As time evolves, that’s not the only thing these two have in common. All's fair in love and basketball!
Signature Song: While Monica plays Quincy in the ultimate one-on-one love game, Meshell Ndegeocello’s hauntingly beautiful “Fool of Me,” served as theme music.
The Bodyguard (1992)
Why It’s Hot: Whitney Houston acting and singing propelled this film to over $400 million worldwide gross. Playing a . . . singer, Houston reached her creative apex in this romantic tale. Although, Kevin Costner co-stars, this film showed that there was no problem with Houston.
Signature Song: Houston’s romantic anthem, “I Will Always Love You.”
Car Wash (1976)
Why It’s Hot: A day in the kooky life of a Los Angeles car wash where the unpredictable is predictably consistent. Norman Whitfield’s soundtrack drives this 97-minute music video. Future director, Bill Duke, made his film debut sharing screen time with Richard Pryor and film veteran Ivan Dixon.
Signature Song: Rose Royce’s loving plea, “I Wanna Get Next To You.”
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Why It’s Hot: A compulsive gambler, Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) dies during a shooting, but he'll receive a second chance to reform himself and to make up with his worried wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters). But not so fast, Lucifer enlists a secret weapon, the sultry Georgia Brown (Lena Horne), to win Little Joe’s soul.
Signature Song: Little Joe and Petunia’s jubilant duet, “Cabin in the Sky."
Krush Groove (1985)
Why It’s Hot: The semi-autobiographical story of the rise of DefJam, featuring all of the labels stars minus one, Russell Simmons (played by Blair Underwood. Simmons appears in the film in another unnamed role.) In addition, brothers Russell and Run compete for the affections of Sheila E.
Signature Song: We couldn't live without LL Cool J’s “Radio,” in his film debut.
This feature also appeared on BET.com.