Big Screen Biopics that Honored America’s Best Musicians for African American Music Appreciation Month
The soundtrack of America can often be heard in the sounds of music icons such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Little Richard, and so many other countless Black American musicians. African Americans’ musical influence can be seen in virtually all music genres. Black musicians have inspired so many internationally known artists, from Elvis to Justin Bieber. And this is one of the reasons U.S. President Jimmy Carter declared the month of June African American Music Appreciation Month back in 1979. At the time, President Carter wanted to celebrate and honor the invaluable contributions Black singers and songwriters had on America.
Decades later, we still honor the contributions and influence every June. Some of the best contributions by Black entertainers can be seen in so many critically acclaimed biopics. Here are a few Golden Globe-winning and Golden Globe-nominated films profiling some of the most influential Black American artists of our time.
The 2005 biopic Ray is one of the best stories ever told about an American musician on the big screen. Jamie Foxx‘s total transformation into the legendary Ray Charles won him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Charles was the first person that Foxx thanked. Portraying Charles was a behemoth task, considering that Ray Charles – often dubbed “The Genius” – is considered one of the most influential musicians to sing and play the piano while blind. After winning the Golden Globe for Ray, Foxx went on to win an Oscar and a SAG Award for his performance as well.
It’s probably been a while since you last watched the 2006 musical drama Dreamgirls, but you can never watch this musical too often. The big-screen adaptation of the famous Tony Award-winning Broadway musical was loosely based on the story of one of Motown’s greatest acts, The Supremes. A-listers Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Beyoncé sang and acted their way to numerous awards including three Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, and Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. Murphy and Hudson won for the latter two. The film also helped catapult Hudson’s career in Hollywood, after her electrifying performance wowed audiences.
Aretha Franklin was such an influential singer that her life has been portrayed on both the big and small screens. Cynthia Erivo played the “Queen of Soul” in the NatGeo miniseries Genius: Aretha. Jennifer Hudson transformed into the iconic songstress in the 2021 film Respect. The film’s title borrows from Franklin’s hit song of the same name. Hudson’s rendition of the song, “Here I am, Singing My Way Home” received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. One year after making Respect, Hudson went on to achieve EGOT status, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and last week, a Tony Award. The storytelling in both biopics is noteworthy.
Jazz luminary Billie Holiday’s life was so intriguing and impactful that there have been two award-winning films about her life. Grammy-winning superstar Diana Ross played Holiday in the 1972 Oscar-nominated biopic Lady Sings the Blues. And it was no surprise that Ross knocked it out of the ballpark with her performance, which earned her a Golden Globe Award for Most promising female newcomer and a nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. Nearly 50 years later, singer Andra Day portrayed Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. In an exclusive interview with the Golden Globes, Day talked about listening to Holiday’s music while growing up. “When I listened to ‘Strange Fruit,’ I heard sacrifice in her voice, it was like she was saying, ‘This is my vessel, this is my message.’ So that helped me eventually to really own my own voice.” Day’s incredible performance won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama among multiple other accolades.
And it’s hard to find a more captivating big-screen biopic than 1984’s Purple Rain. The musical genius, Prince, made his acting debut in this movie. Both the music and acting were so superlative that the film was placed in the United States National Film Registry. The film chronicled Prince’s rise to stardom and looked at his rocky relationship with his parents and the tense times he had with his bandmates. The multi-instrumentalist even received his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for “When Doves Cry.” Purple Rain became one of the top-selling soundtracks in the world.