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The BBC documentary Soul Deep: The Story of Black Popular Music provides a highly informative review of the evolution of the black music in a period of more than half century. It starts in the period following immediately the second world war with segments dedicated to Ray Charles and to Sam Cooke, in the period of evolution of black music from gospel and sectoral entertainment to the mainstream of American popular music. It continues with the story of the big record houses of Motown and Stax, the creation of the sound of soul music, and emergence of the generation of musicians who conquered the tops in the 60s - Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross. It goes beyond the commercial pop period which is not very much appreciated (Whitney Houston gets some maybe undeserved bashing) to the soul origins of hip-hop seen a continuation of the emotional and social involvement of soul. As the show was made in 2005 Mary J. Blidge and Beyonce get most of the attention in the last segment, but as we all know this is a story that continues in our days. I would have liked a little more focus on the musical aspects and trends, this part of the commentary was quite thin, but was compensated by first hand testimonies from critics, historians and artists such as Etta James or James Brown. More interesting was the permanent presentation of the musical aspects on the background of the historic developments in the life of the Afro-American community. It can be said that the half century covered by the series saw not only the emergence of new genres in music that conquered the world, but also a historic change in the life of the black community in the United States. The two revolutions - in music and in the social life - happened together and this is well covered in these detailed and documented series.
In its first 5 parts, this is a largely excellent BBC documentary on one of America's greatest cultural contributions. The program is divided into 6 parts, each jammed with useful information and many archival clips that are presented nearly complete (often not the case in such documentaries). Another praiseworthy feature is the large number of interviews with people from behind the scenes, those who made it happen. You see and hear, among many others, such figures as Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Etta James, Barrett Strong, Candi Staton and David Porter. These interviews outnumber the critical observations of writers like Peter Guralnik, although his contributions here are excellent as well. This is a historical documentary that successfully attempts to trace the roots and development of American Black popular music. Possibly due to time constraints, certain people and institutions are never mentioned (Tyrone Davis, Gene Chandler, VeeJay Records, the entire Chicago Soul scene is reduced to Chess Records and a brief mention of Curtis Mayfield. Also omitted is the Philadelphia Soul scene, which includes The Spinners, The OJays, Harold Melvin.) And what about Al Green? Surely among the greatest soul singers of all time. He's never mentioned. In the Motown segment, perhaps too much time is devoted to The Supremes. They were important, to be sure, and made some great records, but so little is said about Smokey Robinson who, along with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, was one of the greatest of all Motown talents. Wonder and Gaye are given their due in the following segment. While a great deal of attention is focused on the development of Funk, by way of James Brown (his section is a major highlight), no mention of Disco can be found. Like all the other genres here, Disco produced both good and bad music. It deserves at least a mention. Black American Popular Music continues to develop, but this great documentary charts the often magnificent strides it took in the early years of its history, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke (a segment superior in every way to a recent PBS program), Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Motown, Stax, Atlantic and numerous others. An unsatisfying Part 6 is limited by its attempt to document the present of 2005. All that said, it is well worth the trouble of tracking this program down.
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