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Fats Domino, B.B. King and Other Artists to Remember This Month

Buddie Petit's New Orleans Jazz Band, ca. 1910s

In celebration of African American Music Month, check out some of the fascinating music documentaries available on GPB Passport, and hear some of the best music produced in the last century or so. Even the most well-versed music aficionado will learn something new about the artists and genres profiled in the films below, and even more about the history of the United States. One notable omission is Ken Burns’ fundamental 2001 documentary, Jazz. If you haven’t watched it in its entirety, do. The complete series is also available to view on-demand on Passport.


In Tune - The Ben Tucker Story

Jazz bassist and composer Ben Tucker played in some of the best ensembles of the 50s and 60s. He was a beloved figure in his adopted hometown of Savannah, Georgia, having moved there after purchasing WSOK AM and working to revitalize the city’s once vibrant jazz scene. You may already know those things about Tucker, but did you know about his advertising background, or his role in the creation of the classic children’s series Schoolhouse Rock? This charming documentary paints an engrossing portrait of a true renaissance man, who used his considerable talents to enrich the lives of those around him. 


Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound

“The Miami Sound,” emerging in the mid-60s scramble of regional record labels to duplicate the success of Detroit’s Motown, was created from a powerful and energetic blend of influences. It was where the Florida A&M University marching-band met the rhythms of the Caribbean, and Deep City Records captured it for the world to enjoy. Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound tells the story of Deep City founders Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall, men behind some of the best soul music and performers of the era, including such talents as Betty Wright and Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, and brings well-deserved recognition to this criminally under-acknowledged era in music history.


American Masters – Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr. last performed in public in 2007, after nearly 60 years on stage, performing sometimes up to 10 months out of the year. During that time, his brand of New Orleans R&B would be eagerly consumed by white audiences and renamed, becoming so overwhelmingly popular that it would eventually be credited with helping to end racial segregation in the US. His contribution to American music and culture cannot be overstated, and this American Experience documentary does a good job of explaining the artistry and influence of the shy man that Elvis called the king of rock ‘n’ roll.


American Masters – B.B. King: The Life of Riley

Another prolific and transformative workaholic, once playing 365 days one year, was B.B. King, who is lovingly profiled in the American Masters documentary B.B. King: The Life of Riley. Born Riley B. King in Berclair, Mississippi, King was an inventive multi-hyphenate who turned his weaknesses into astounding strengths, eventually becoming known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar.” For example, his difficulties playing chords led him to focus his energy on solo improvising, for which he developed a style of vibrato that influenced later generations of blues guitarists. The documentary features many of these guitarists and musicians, all recounting how King’s brilliance and generosity touched them personally. Also, the story of how his beloved Lucille got her name is… unexpectedly dark.

Let us know what you think in the comments, and enjoy!