As Ken Burns' acclaimed "Jazz" series wraps its PBS run and Black History Month gets under way, a unique five-part documentary on the history of black music is going into production, Billboard exclusi
As Ken Burns' acclaimed "Jazz" series wraps its PBS run and Black History Month gets under way, a unique five-part documentary on the history of black music is going into production, Billboard exclusively reveals in its Feb. 17 issue.
"Say It Loud: Black Music In America" is a co-production of VH1, Quincy Jones Media Group, and Rhino Entertainment in association with Highway Films. Slated to air this fall on VH1, it will chronicle the evolution and cultural impact of jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, soul, and hip-hop, supplemented by a companion CD box set from Rhino.
Underlining his devotion to the form, Jones says, "I have studied and researched the evolution and history of black music for 25 years, and I've had the opportunity to play a role in much of it." He adds, "The influence of African-American music can be found in virtually every genre of modern music, and to date, there has yet to be a real examination of the African-American musical experience. 'Say It Loud' will be the first series to tell at least a part of that story in the words of the artists who created the music.
"Viewers will have an opportunity to see where the roots of African-American music originated, how it constantly changed shapes, what caused it to change, and how its influence left an indelible mark on our culture and the world's," he says.
VH1 has had the series in the works for two years, according to senior VP of programming and production Lauren Zalaznick, who will double as a series executive producer along with Jones and Rhino founder/president Richard Foos.
Shooting for "Say It Loud" is set for late February through March, with unconfirmed plans to interview artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Dr. Dre. In addition to artist interviews, the documentary will feature a mix of rare archival live performances and studio sessions, along with behind-the-scenes material and visits to such landmark sites as the original Motown Records location in Detroit.
Keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock has not been approached to take part in the special, but the wide-ranging jazz artist loves the idea. "I love that Quincy is doing this," he says. "But since it's on VH1 instead of PBS, I just hope [VH1 resists] the tendency to lean too much on the music that will keep their viewership -- since VH1 is a commercial station. I just want it to tell the truth."
Each episode of "Say It Loud" will be fashioned around a different theme, the framework for which is based on a set of working titles. "Spiritual Roots" explores black music's spiritual reach from gospel to "the devil's music." "In Pursuit Of Dreams" tracks black artists' progression in the music business from exploitation to ownership.
"Song Of Freedom" traces black music's relationship to politics and protest, including its major role in the civil rights movement. "Let's Get It On" examines sexuality in black music and the controversies it has spawned. And "Images" focuses on the style and imagery of past black artists and how black music has evolved to shape popular culture from fashion to language.
Zalaznick says the goal is for "Say It Loud" to be "an artist-based vs. a critic-based oral history, looking to the antecedents of today's music and getting comments from today's artists about those roots."
In keeping with that desire, Zalaznick says that the series won't use a narrator. Instead, the production team is exploring the idea of using a host to introduce each one-hour episode. Also in development, the accompanying boxed set will likely comprise six CDs with music by artists featured in the various episodes, as well as that of other genre pioneers.