Photo: Georges De Keerle/Getty Images
For The Record: Revisiting The Historic 'Waiting To Exhale' Soundtrack
At the 1997 GRAMMYs, the soundtrack received 11 GRAMMY nominations—including Album Of The Year—and won Best R&B Song for the Whitney Houston-sung lead single, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)"
For the latest episode of For The Record (watch below), GRAMMY.com explores the first all-female soundtrack for the 1995 Black-female-led film Waiting to Exhale. The Babyface-produced album featured original music from one of the movie's stars, Whitney Houston, along with fellow R&B/pop greats Aretha Franklin, Brandy, Toni Braxton, TLC and more.
Related: How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks
At the 1997 GRAMMYs, the soundtrack received 11 GRAMMY nominations—including Album Of The Year—and won Best R&B Song for the Houston-sung lead single, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)."
Houston and superproducer Babyface made the intentional decision to create the first all-female soundtrack to match the all-female lead cast. Now that's star power!
GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Whitney Houston Sing "Greatest Love of All" At The 1987 GRAMMYs
Photos (L-R, clockwise): GAB Archive/Redferns, Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression
From the Supremes to the Spice Girls, take a deep dive into the history of girl groups — and how their songs, performance and vocal power changed pop culture.
For more than eight decades, girl groups have harmonized their way into the collective consciousness, bringing female empowerment to the forefront — and changing culture along the way.
Of course, girl groups have come in many forms: there's the family-friendly Andrew Sisters, the funk rock-infused Labelle, and the R&B-leaning Destiny's Child. As the construct of the girl group has evolved, so has their cultural impact — while acts like the Supremes helped push popular music in a more diverse direction in America, J-Pop and K-Pop groups have helped girl groups be viewed through a global lens in recent years.
What has tied all of these groups together is their infectious and inspirational records, which have encouraged women to express themselves and feel empowered in doing so. Groups like the Spice Girls and the Shangri-Las, for instance, have helped women express all sides of themselves, reminding the world that there is joy and beauty in contrast.
As Women's History Month nears its end, GRAMMY.com celebrates all of the powerful women who have been part of the girl group evolution. (To narrow the field, we characterize a girl group as acts with a minimum of three members and a focus on vocal performance; hence why you won't see bands like the Go-Gos or the Chicks on this list.)
Below, take a look at how girl groups have changed in both construct and impact for nearly 90 years — and counting — and listen to GRAMMY.com's official Girl Groups playlist above.
Though women have no doubt sung together since the beginning of time, the formal concept of the girl group came sometime in the '20s or '30s, with the rise in popularity of tightly harmonizing family acts like the Boswell Sisters and the Hamilton Sisters (the latter of whom would become Three X Sisters). The groups really started to see a rise in popularity around the beginning of WWII — perhaps because the entrance of more women into the workforce opened peoples' minds to the idea of the pop girl group, or perhaps because the soldiers overseas sought comfort and mild excitement via the groups' smooth sounds and attractive looks.
The Andrews Sisters, who officially formed in 1937 as a Boswell Sisters tribute act, would become the most popular of the sister acts, riding tracks like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,""Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" and "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out The Barrel)" straight to the top of the charts. They're considered one of the most successful girl groups of all time, selling an estimated 80 million records and counting. Other girl groups followed the Andrews' act, including the Dinning Sisters, who released "They Just Chopped Down The Old Apple Tree" as an answer to their rivals' hit.
The Andrews Sisters continued to be popular well into the '50s, inspiring similar close harmony acts like the Chordettes, who found success with tracks like "Mr. Sandman" and "Lollipop," and the Lennon Sisters, who became a mainstay on "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Around the middle of the decade, girl groups started pulling a bit more from the doo-wop movement, with songs like the Bobbettes "Mr Lee" helping pave the way for a wave of all-Black girl groups to come. The Chantels — who had come up together singing in a choir — quickly followed with "Maybe," which solidified the genre's style with a blend of rock, pop, doo-wop that would act as a sonic template for years to come.
In 1961, the Shirelles found quick success with tracks like "Tonight's The Night" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which became the first girl group cut to go to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The group would have five more hit singles throughout the decade, and inspired acts like the Marvelettes, whose "Please Mr. Postman" would become the first No. 1 single for Motown Records.
Keen to seize on that success, Motown invested heavily in creating more girl groups, crafting trios and quartets out of various singers that they might have previously eyed for solo work or even passed on signing. That kind of business-minded molding is what yielded Martha and the Vandellas, the Velvelettes, and a little act called the Supremes, who would go on to become the most successful American vocal group of all time, according to CNN. The success of the Motown acts — the majority of whom were all Black — was also a sign of American culture's increasing acceptance of the integration of popular music.
Having seen the success that Motown had in consciously crafting its girl groups, other producers and small, independent labels sought to capture some of that lightning in a bottle for themselves. The Philles label cashed in on the sound of the Crystals and the Ronettes, while Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller signed the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups to their Red Bird label. Tracks like the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" offered a surprisingly real perspective on teen girl crushes, while "Leader Of The Pack" helped bring female perspective to a subgenre of songs about macabre teenage tragedies previously dominated by all-male acts like Jan And Dean and Wayne Cochran And The C.C. Riders.
First formed in the '60s as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Labelle pushed the genre out of the sock hop and into the nightclub, becoming one of the premiere girl groups of the '70s. Their funky, rock-infused singles were unlike anything girl group aficionados had heard before, and in 1974, the group captured America's heart with "Lady Marmalade," a slightly suggestive song that broke out of the discos and into the collective consciousness. Other acts originally formed in the '60s found similar success, like the Three Degrees, who had a number of hits, including the sunny and soothing "When Will I See You Again."
Sister Sledge also capitalized on the disco boom, crafting lasting hits like "We Are Family" and "He's The Greatest Dancer." The Pointer Sisters went through a rainbow of genres, including R&B (1973's funky "Yes We Can Can") and country (1974's "Fairytale," which won a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1975), before finding their biggest success at the beginning of the next decade with tracks like the sultry "Slow Hand" and the more frantic "I'm So Excited."
Girl groups went through a bit of a lull in the '80s, as the culture trended toward hair metal and hip-hop. Some acts still managed to break through, capturing listeners' hearts with dance-friendly cuts imbued with Latin freestyle flair. Full of synths and syncopated percussion, freestyle burst out of clubs and parties in New York and Philadelphia, finding a particular hold amongst Hispanic and Italian-American audiences.
Miami's Exposé was one of the decade's biggest freestyle acts, blending girl group harmonies with synthetic sounds for hits like "Point Of No Return" and "Seasons Change." Two New York groups, Sweet Sensation and The Cover Girls, had freestyle success that bridged the '80s and '90s. Sweet Sensation's "Never Let You Go" tore up the dance charts, and while the Cover Girls' "Show Me" and "Because Of You" weren't quite as popular, they still hold a special place in the hearts of freestyle fans.
Girl groups roared back in a big way in the '90s, thanks in part to the emergency of new jack swing and a renewed interest in R&B's smooth vocal stylings. En Vogue was one of the first groups to go big in the '90s, with debut single "Hold On" first hitting the Billboard charts in 1990. Their biggest tracks came later in the decade, with the powerful "Free Your Mind" and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" showcasing the quartet's vocal range and character.
Two groups from Atlanta also came to prominence around the same time as En Vogue. First was the street-savvy quartet Xscape, who harnessed the sounds of 1993 with tracks like "Just Kickin' It."
TLC had a more dynamic arc, first bursting into the collective consciousness with the new jack swing-infused "Ooooooohh… On The TLC Tip," which featured three top 10 singles, including "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." The group's baggy pants and hip-hop aesthetic pushed girl group boundaries, in part because its members actually acknowledged their sexual desires, as well as the need for everyone to have safe sex. Later in the decade, TLC would rise to even higher heights with tracks like "Waterfalls" and the GRAMMY-winning "No Scrubs," the latter of which was actually co-written by two members of Xscape.
Destiny's Child initially emerged from Houston in the late '90s as a quartet, though they'd later lose some members and gain new ones, ending up as a trio. While it was hard to ignore the sheer star power of Beyonce, the threesome did generally function as a group, producing a string of danceable earworms, including "No, No, No," and "Bills, Bills, Bills." By the time they disbanded in 2006, Destiny's Child sold tens of millions of records and earned three GRAMMY Awards (and a total of nine nominations).
Out west, Wilson Phillips' Chyna Phillips, Wendy Wilson and Carnie Wilson were channeling the sounds of their respective parents, who had been members of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & The Papas. Their songs featured vocal harmonies and were largely about emotional longing, pushing back against the dance and funk that ruled much of the radio dial throughout the '90s.
Girl groups were also gaining major traction in the U.K during the '90s, spurred by a boy band boom in the country around the same time. Two groups — All Saints and the Spice Girls — were actually assembled by managers, something that didn't help allay naysayers' concern that much of pop music at the time was wholly manufactured. (Another U.K. mainstay, Ireland's B*Witched, came together organically.)
Regardless, both All Saints and the Spice Girls found commercial success, with the latter becoming absolutely massive not just because of catchy pop romps like "Wannabe," but because of the quintet's singular personas and the strength of their "girl power" messaging. The Spice Girls even starred in their own movie, "Spice World," which came out at the height of Spice-mania in 1997 and drew instant comparisons to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."
Girl groups continued to reign in the early part of the 2000s. A number of 2000s girl groups formed on television as part of reality programming, with U.K. sensation Girls Aloud forming on the ITV show "Popstars: The Rivals" and Danity Kane both forming and developing over three seasons of Sean Puffy Combs' "Making The Band." TV acted as a great launching pad for these pop acts, as fans were often emotionally invested in the group's success from watching the show so when a new single dropped, they were quick to get on board.
Girls Aloud and Danity Kane — as well as their peers, like Dream, 3LW, and Blacque — made pop music that was sexy, confident, and larger than life, with expensive-looking music videos to match. The songs also often crossed over from pop to urban radio.
Another of the most successful (and sexiest) girl groups of the 2000s also formed in a fairly roundabout way. The Pussycat Dolls found success with tracks like "Don't Cha" and "Buttons," but the actual origin of the Pussycat Dolls name and brand came almost 15 years earlier when an L.A. based choreographer named Robin Antin launched a burlesque troupe. After her club events and dancers became more and more popular (even posing for Playboy), she was urged by Interscope Records' Jimmy Iovine to attach the name to a pop group.
Antin recruited five singers who could hold a tune and looked the part, including Nicole Scherzinger — who initially got her start in Eden's Crush, another group formed on a TV show, the U.S. iteration of "Popstars" — and the Pussycat Dolls quickly strutted onto radio dials and Billboard charts with their catchy multi-tracked (and often risqué) hits.
Girl groups were also getting huge around the globe in the '00s, with Spain's Las Ketchup producing the insanely catchy pop ditty conveniently named "The Ketchup Song," Sweden's Play crossed over to commercial success in the American market, and the U.K.'s Atomic Kitten formed purely as a songwriting vehicle for Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark's Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw. Members of the latter would come and go throughout its career, but songs like "Whole Again" (which was also recorded by Play) have stood the test of time.
Though modern K-pop culture had begun in South Korea in the late '90s, it started to really pick up steam in the '00s, with both boy bands and girl groups benefiting from the surging Hallyu or Korean wave. One of those, Wonder Girls, found quick success in the late '00s with genre-spanning tracks like "Tell Me" and "Nobody," thanks in part to the pop act's ability to perform English versions of their songs while on tour with the Jonas Brothers.
Two of the 2010s biggest girl groups also came from televised reality competition shows. Little Mix, a quartet, was formed on the U.K.'s "The X Factor" and came to redefine the girl group era in Britain, selling more than 60 million records and topping the charts with high octane singles like "Cannonball" and "Shout Out To My Ex."
Stateside, Fifth Harmony was birthed on "The X Factor," where all five members had competed individually the season before but failed to advance. But after producers brought them back to compete as a group, Fifth Harmony was born, with viewers picking the name and ultimately helping them take third place in the competition.
The quintet emerged from the show signed to judge Simon Cowell's record label, Syco, and like so many great girl groups before it, embarked on a tour of malls and talk shows before eventually releasing a pop record tinged with both hip-hop and R&B. Fans latched on to songs like "I'm In Love With A Monster" and "Work From Home," the trap-laced monster hit that has garnered billions of hits on YouTube since its release.
The K-pop wave also continued in the 2010s, with groups like Girls Generation and Twice, both of whom broke the mold of a traditional girl group by having eight and nine members, respectively. At the same time, a J-Pop act, AKB48, rose to popularity, with a structure girl groups hadn't seen before — it has 80 members in total, with the group being divided into different "teams" that members are elected into by rabid fans. All three acts were literally and figuratively massive, selling tens of millions of highly produced bubblegum pop LPs and larger than life dance singles.
The success of K-pop girl groups shot to a new level when BLACKPINK entered the scene in 2016, forming after its members joined a girl group academy and underwent what amounts to girl group boot camp. The result is a fine-tuned musical machine that's produced pop hit after pop hit — including "Boombayah" and "DDU DU DDU DU" — as well as music videos that have been viewed billions of times online.
Spurred by the devotion of their fans (known as the BLINKs), BLACKPINK has also managed to rack up an impressive roster of accolades. They were the first Asian act to headline Coachella, the first female K-Pop artists on the cover of Billboard, and have amassed the most subscribers of any musical act on YouTube. But they're not the only female K-Pop act helping girl groups stay alive: Groups like Mamamoo and Red Velvet released hit after hit in the 2010s, and 2NE1 captured hearts everywhere with tracks like "Lonely" and "I Am The Best." In 2012, 2NE1 set out on what many consider to be the first world tour by a K-pop girl group, visiting 11 cities in seven countries.
A British girl group whose members pull from their individual cultures to create a unique, hip-hop influenced sound, Flo was also influenced by artists like Ciara and Amy Winehouse. Though they've only been together for a few years, their unique retro sound became almost instantly popular in the UK, with debut single "Cardboard Box" racking up almost a million views on YouTube within days of its release in early 2022. Other hit singles, like "Immature" and "Summertime" have followed.
Another thoroughly modern girl group, Boys World, was formed after managers found videos of five different women singing online and then contacted them to see if they wanted to team up. They said yes, launched a TikTok account, and moved into a house together in Los Angeles. Their thoroughly online approach to becoming a girl group has captivated audiences, along with their empowering anthems.
The K-Pop wave has continued to surge as well, with BLACKPINK headlining Coachella in 2023 and the quickly rising NewJeans earning the distinction of being the very first female Korean act to play Lollapalooza later this summer. Like so many girl groups before them, both acts continue to break boundaries and impact the culture at large, proving that the genre is as vital as ever.
While they may not be as abundant as in decades past, the girl group movement certainly hasn't shuttered. And with a diverse array of women still captivating audiences around the globe, girl groups will likely continue to spice up your life for years to come.
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Baptist Church
Inside The National Museum Of Gospel Music — A Beacon Of American Music Rising From The Ashes
The Pilgrim Baptist Church — arguably the birthplace of gospel music in America — burned down in 2006. Years later, a tireless consortium is working to establish a lavish, on-site museum that pays tribute to the history of gospel.
For more than a century, Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church stood on 3300 S. Indiana as a beacon of gospel music not only to South Side Chicago, but to America and the world. Until it went up in flames.
On Jan. 6, 2006, it was renovation time for the arguable birthplace of gospel music; as part of the half-million-dollar project, workers were fitting metal coping on the roof with blowtorches.
"And they dropped the torch," Antoinette Wright, the president and executive director of the National Museum of Gospel Music — a museum project centered on its site — tells GRAMMY.com. "When they dropped it, they kind of didn't tell anybody that they had. All they did was scurry off the roof; can you believe that?"
The building committee and assorted congregants alerted the fire department immediately, but it was too late. Congregants like Lakeisha Gray-Sewell, who had wed and planned baptisms for her children at Pilgrim Baptist, were shaken to their foundations. The house of worship where Martin Luther King once offered soaring words — and Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, and other gospel luminaries sent their voices into the rafters — was no more.
"I grew up in this church, my mother grew up in this church, my grandmother grew up in this church," Gray-Sewell told The New York Times upon the Bronzeville fixture's near-total obliteration. "When that smoke clears, I don't know what we're going to see. I'm afraid to see what we're going to see. No matter what, this will always be my church."
The synagogue-turned-church turned out to be completely gutted. Among the remains were those of a baby grand piano — just a charred cast-iron frame and a snarl of melted strings. Gone were the spectacular entry arch, windows, and ornamental panels by cherished Chicago architect Louis Sullivan; gone were boxes of irreplaceable photographs and sheet music by the church's music director, Thomas Dorsey.
Dorsey's legacy at Pilgrim Baptist — and role in gospel's overall evolution — cannot be overstated. Known for his synthesis of sacred music and the blues, the rightly-called "Father of Gospel Music" engendered a form that's central and essential to American music. As Chicago Historical Society curator John Russick told the Times, "he was like the Beatles of gospel music."
The son of a revivalist preacher born in 1899, Dorsey was galvanized early on by blues pianists in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. In the 1910s and '20s, he worked in secular "hokum" music as a composer, arranger, pianist, and vocalist. In 1916, he moved to Chicago and attended the College of Composition and Arranging; the following decade, he toured with Ma Rainey and his own bands.
The poles of the sacred and profane continued to magnetize him. Under the nom de plume "Georgia Tom," Dorsey later wrote the dirty blues "It's Tight Like That" with guitarist Hudson "Tampa Red" Whittaker. While the bawdy, double-entrendred tune was controversial in its day, it proved lucrative for its writer.
From 1929 on, Dorsey worked exclusively within a religious context. He wed blues melodies and rhythms to spiritual concerns; many of his resultant songs, like "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," became gospel standards. Dorsey went on to write and record prolifically in the 1930s, publishing his own sheet music and lyrics. In 1932, Dorsey became the choral director of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, a position he maintained until the late 1970s.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Gospel Music.
Dorsey's legacy — as well as that of his entire milieu — promises to be on full display at the National Museum of Gospel Music. Don Jackson, the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Central City Productions, and his team — including Wright — are in the midst of establishing the 45,000 square-foot structure on the site of Pilgrim Baptist, itself a National Historic Landmark.
"It will present the most expansive history of gospel music — from the spiritual, slavery area to today — of who the artists are," Jackson tells GRAMMY.com. "What were their contributions, how the music itself encouraged folks, and how the churches played a major part in opening their doors — recognizing those faith-based churches who let these artists perform, giving the credit for all they've done to keep the music alive and growing."
All involved stress that the museum in its final form will be encompassing and inclusive, stretching beyond Chicagoland to the regional scenes nationwide — hence the name. Plus, it will underline the music's resonance today. "I call [the gospel singers] the original rappers, because they're constantly telling the story," Wright says. "Gospel music is very vocal, like the blues. They both had kinship in telling the stories of life."
According to the National Museum of Gospel Music's website, the building will eventually feature "multigenerational programming and educational exhibits, auditorium seating up to 350 designed for television production, exclusive video archives and collection of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards programming," and a "listening and research library."
Thomas Dorsey singing in his living room in 1983. Photo: Chuck Fishman/Getty Images
The 2006 fire created "a gaping hole that's being burned out of our community," Bronzeville District Representative Bobby L. Rush told the Times. In 2020, 100 m.p.h. winds damaged the remaining southern and east walls. Today, all that remains are two limestone walls — one facing Indiana Ave., the other 33rd St. — which are braced and holding steady.
Through a web of scaffolding, you can read a passage from the Book of Psalms on the main entrance: "Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them to praise the Lord." Reading those soaring words from the street, they feel bittersweet and poignant. Could this haven for worshippers and hub of musical innovation ever throw open its gates again?
One hint lay in Jackson’s reaction. Instead of viewing the 2020 wind damage as an insurmountable blow he called it a "godsend." "This forces the urgency," he said at the time. "This has been a blessing for the project that says that we need to get started."
The project has already begun. While the interactive museum may not be physically up and running yet, it's open in an abstract sense — Wright calls it "a museum without walls. "It's functioning programmatically," she says, noting that in-person and virtual activities have fired up again. "It is in existence, but we're moving into a permanent home. Instead of saying, 'When is the museum opening?' I have to say 'The museum is open.'"
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Gospel Music.
Speaking to GRAMMY.com back in 2021, when the pandemic was more of a going concern, museum fundraising and construction was in more of a holding pattern; when asked if fundraising was going as Wright hoped, she replied, "Of course not." These days, she has better news to share: they've secured almost enough for the first phase of enclosing the building.
"We're meeting with different foundations; my idea is that you can buy a wall and your name can be on the wall," Wright explains. For the sake of argument: "This is the McCormick wall; this is the ComEd wall. This is the City of Chicago rooftop," she adds. "We want to give people the opportunity to know how important it is to enclose the building."
Like her colleagues, Wright is optimistic about the project's imminent fruition, partly because she's looked around at similar initiatives. "You think about the National Museum of African American History in Washington," she says. "Now, that facility took a hundred years to get there."
Between city, state and federal funding and donations from the public, as well as an accumulation of museum pieces, whose details can't be disclosed yet, the Gospel Museum is moving ahead. This is despite a litany of bureaucratic headaches, and its incremental nature; this is how projects of this scale tend to go.
"For the next 18 months, we'll be working on that building. People will see things being done, and that's going to increase our fundraising as well," the National Museum of Gospel Music's Chairwoman Of The Board, Cynthia Jones, told GRAMMY.com in 2021.
"We're going out to various foundations and benefactors," she continued. "And we just know we're going to be successful this time because they're going to actually see the work that's being done — because we've gotten some of the money we need to restore and preserve that building."
As the National Museum of Gospel Music forges ahead, there are pragmatic ways to engage with and support the institution. You can donate via their website. You can follow them via Facebook to stay abreast of virtual and in-person event programming. Because when the physical building finally culminates, it promises to be a glorious thing.
"I'm hoping, at the end of the day, it would not be just a museum talking about the music, or saying how the music improves life," Jones added. "I want it to stimulate and inspire people to do different things for the betterment of mankind."
The Real Ambassadors At 60: What Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck & Louis Armstrong's Obscure Co-Creation Teaches Us About The Cold War, Racial Equality & God
Photo: /AFP via Getty Images
From 'Shaft' To 'Waiting To Exhale': 5 Essential Black Film Soundtracks & Their Impact
Black film soundtracks have introduced countless bops and future household names into the mainstream. These soundtracks not only elevate narratives, but reinforce the emotional impact of movies that center the Black experience.
Black filmmakers have long understood the power of infusing music into their narratives. Whether it’s the tapping of the hi-hat at the beginning of "Theme From Shaft" or the warbly opening synth before Prince’s spoken-word intro on "Let’s Go Crazy," these signature sounds evoke a cinematic image that deepens the sonic and visual elements of a film.
As with most great innovations, the concept of working with a composer to create original sounds for film emerged from desperation. Trailblazing Black film auteur Melvin Van Peebles was eager to attract a larger audience for his 1971 Blaxploitation crime drama, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and hired Earth Wind & Fire to score his X-rated opus about a Black hustler on the run from the law.
But instead of developing a string of new tracks reminiscent of their past work, the label-defying band created new sounds that served the narrative of Sweet Sweetback. Understanding that visibility is paramount for cinema, Van Peebles chose to release the soundtrack before the film to get people excited about the material — and his plan worked.
The film's success — with Black and non-Black audiences — led to a revolutionary shift in the relationship between music and cinema. Other productions adopted the tactic, including the 1972 crime drama Super Fly, and promotional soundtracks eventually became the status quo in Hollywood.
Prominent Black filmmakers continued the legacy of using music to drive and promote their narratives. In the '70s, some filmmakers gave the reins to a single artist, like Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly and Stevie Wonder’s Jungle Fever. The late '80s and early '90s saw increasing popularity of compilations featuring notable and emerging acts, such as School Daze, Soul Food and Poetic Justice.
The mid-to-late '90s saw a rise of musicians-turned-actors like Will Smith and Whitney Houston, who received dual billing in movies and soundtracks such as Men in Black, Wild, Wild West, The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife. (However, blurring the lines between music and acting was nothing new for Smith; the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song has stamped a place in television history.)
And the tradition has continued into the new millennium. With its roster of G-Unit artists, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin soundtrack is an East Coast descendant of 1994's Above the Rim, which features a lineup from the West Coast's Death Row Records. On the music-actor hybrid front, Beyoncé has carved out a lane similar to Whitney Houston, doing double duty for Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, Cadillac Records, Dreamgirls and 2019's The Lion King.
Compilations remain prevalent and popular. The 2015 sports drama Creed is supercharged by hip-hop and R&B tracks from Meek Mill, Jhené Aiko, Donald Glover, Future and Vince Staples, while neo-soul grooves from Lucky Daye, H.E.R. and Robert Glasper reinforce the story of Black love on The Photograph's soundtrack. The soundtrack for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spans genres, with songs by E-40, Burna Boy, and Rihanna that showcase the vast world of Wakanda.
Scores of memorable Black film soundtracks have been released since Van Peebles inextricably linked film and soundtrack in the early ‘70s. The following selections are just a sample of the essential titles that have left an indelible mark on both Black music and cinema:
"My only responsibility was to make sure [director Gordon Parks] didn’t hand me my head on a platter," Isaac Hayes once said about this iconic 1971 theme song. "It was my first movie gig and I wanted to make sure I did it right."
And the Oscar and GRAMMY Award-winning singer did just that. From the energetic clinking of the hi-hats to the exquisitely slow, nearly three-minute build toward the sound of Hayes’ silky-smooth baritone, the theme to Shaft delivers on all levels — both as a theme for the hippest, no-nonsense private detective in the game, as well as a stand-alone jam that went hard as hell at the disco.
The Shaft soundtrack — a double album by Hayes recorded specifically for the film — also features a mix of orchestrated instrumental tracks that have inspired generations of Black artists. The award-winning composition has been sampled hundreds of times since its release; Erykah Badu ("Bag Lady"), Dr. Dre ("Xxplosive") and Adina Howard ("If We Make Love Tonight") have all put their spin on "Bumpy’s Lament."
Music From the Motion Picture Purple Rain
Nearly 40 years after its release, the 1984 film that launched Prince into mega-stardom continues to attract new audiences — thanks in great part to its transcendent soundtrack. Created in collaboration with his backing band the Revolution, Prince’s game-changing studio album spent 24 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. It birthed a string of Top 10 hits, including "Let’s Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," "When Doves Cry," and the title track, "Purple Rain."
Blending elements of funk, rock, synth pop, and R&B, the iconic album attracted a wide cross-section of fans and has become a hallmark of ‘80s music. And none of it would be possible without Prince’s desire to break from convention — he wanted the world’s attention. So he went to work forming a backing band of young musicians from different identities who could help him capture the rock 'n’ roll energy of ‘80s mainstream acts like Bob Seger. After carefully developing stage personas, rehearsing nonstop, and cultivating the right sound, Prince compiled their tracks — alongside a few songs from Apollonia 6 and the Time — and the rest is history.
The high-energy, genre-blending album was met with acclaim and earned the singer three GRAMMYs and an Academy Award for Best Original Score Song. But perhaps most importantly, Prince’s willingness to experiment gave the green light to a host of artists from different genres who followed in his path, including Beck, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, U2, Cyndi Lauper, Dave Grohl and more.
Music From Do the Right Thing
Throughout his successful decades-long career, renowned film director Spike Lee has seamlessly weaved music into his narratives to elevate and highlight emotional themes. Whether he’s deploying a rare acapella recording of Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On?" during a pivotal scene in Da 5 Bloods or using Sam Cooke’s 1963 song "A Change is Coming" in a montage before the civil rights leader’s assassination in Malcolm X, Lee understands the emotional power of music and how to leverage it in his work.
And while it’s difficult to pick a true stand-out in a filmography bursting with memorable musical moments, the soundtrack for Lee's 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing is arguably among the most noteworthy because of Public Enemy’s "Fight the Power" — a head-bopping call to action that introduced the group into the mainstream.
Back in the late ‘80s, when Lee was searching for an anthem for his upcoming indie film about racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood, he reached out to Public Enemy to ask them to do a hip-hop-infused spin on the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." But they were not interested.
"I opened the window and asked him to stick [his] head outside. ‘Man, what sounds do you hear? You’re not going to hear ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in every car that drives by,’" Public Enemy co-founder Hank Shocklee told Rolling Stone. "We needed to make something that’s going to resonate on the street level. After going back and forth, he said, ‘All right, I’ll let you guys go in there and see what you guys come back with.’"
So the influential hip-hop group hit the studio, first nailing down the name of the record — inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song of the same name — then working on the instrumentation and lyrics. After sending Lee a rough version of the track, he suggested that they add saxophone and jazz great Branford Marsalis was brought in. Public Enemy added three of his sax solos to the song, and Lee was so taken with the track that he used it in the movie 20 separate times.
While the soundtrack also features high-energy party songs from ‘90s R&B staples like Guy and Teddy Riley, the Experience Underground (best known for "Da Butt") and a soul-searching ballad from Al Jarreau, Public Enemy’s groundbreaking protest track remains the perfect embodiment of the movie’s central message and energy. "Fight the Power" fused two traditional Black music forms, jazz and hip-hop, to create an empowering, thought-provoking song that highlights the socio-political issues that the Black community continues to face nearly 40 years later.
Above the Rim (The Soundtrack)
Basketball and hip-hop go together like ice cream and cake. And this soundtrack for the 1994 sports drama about a New York high schooler caught between two worlds showcases the power of this perfect pairing. Off the strength and long-lasting impact of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s "Regulate" alone, this all-star compilation executive produced by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight has become a foundational Black movie soundtrack.
And while the tale of Warren and Nate’s incredibly tense night out may be the album’s most successful track, it’s part of an elite roster of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B acts, including SWV, The Lady of Rage, Al B. Sure, Tha Dogg Pound (featuring rising star Snoop Dogg), H-Town and the film’s star Tupac Shakur.
Released by Death Row Records and Interscope, the star-packed compilation hinted at the emerging rivalry between East and West Coast rappers. Yet audiences from both coasts fell in love with the record, which sold more than two million copies and ascended to the top of the Billboard R&B charts. The soundtrack’s success helped cement Death Row — and the gangsta rap genre — as a force to be reckoned with in the mainstream.
Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album
Based on the best-selling Terry McMillan novel of the same name, Waiting to Exhale is a romantic drama that follows a close-knit group of Black women as they navigate challenging relationships, careers and family issues. Starring Whitney Houston, Loretta Divine, Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon, the film is among the most revered in the Black movie canon due to its authentic portrayals of Black sisterhood, relatable relationship issues and empowering themes. So when it was time to develop the film’s sound, it was important that the music uplift the story — but it did so much more than that thanks to the golden ears of Houston and GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer Babyface.
In a recent appearance on the "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Babyface revealed that Waiting to Exhale director Forest Whitaker had originally asked Quincy Jones to write and produce the soundtrack. However, Jones declined and told the actor-turned-director to reach out to Babyface, who he thought was a better fit for the project.
In collaboration with Whitaker, Babyface and Clive Davis, Houston — who had final approval on the roster of featured artists — helped select an inspired mix of emerging stars, established acts and legendary songstresses: SWV, CeCe Winans, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, For Real, Sonja Marie, Brandy, Shanna, Chanté Moore, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, and of course, Houston, who was featured on three tracks: "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" "Count on Me" and "Why Does It Hurt So Bad?"
Much like the film, the timeless compilation — which topped the charts and scored multiple top-10 hits along with a GRAMMY and an American Music Award — is a highly celebrated work of art created by Black women that continues to resonate with music fans everywhere.
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Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Watch: Babyface Performs A Soaring "America The Beautiful" Ahead Of Super Bowl LVII
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds kicked off Super Bowl LVII with the annual pre-kickoff performance of "America the Beautiful." Watch it below.
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds kicked off Super Bowl Sunday with the annual pre-kickoff performance of "America the Beautiful."
Brandishing an acoustic guitar emblazoned with the American flag, the 12-time GRAMMY winner strummed along as he sand, "O beautiful for spacious skies/ For amber waves of grain/ For purple mountain majesties/ Above the fruited plain!" even adding an impressive key change for the second half of the song.
The 1895 patriotic standard written by Katharine Lee Bates and church organist Samuel A. Ward was first performed at Super Bowl VIII in 1967 by Charley Pride, who also sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" that year. Three years later, "America the Beautiful" was actually performed in place of the national anthem by Vikki Carr — which marks the only time in NFL history that the game didn't include the latter.
However, "America the Beautiful" didn't officially become an annual staple of the pre-game festivities until 2009. Artists who've performed the song in recent years have included Leslie Odom Jr., Chloe x Halle, Yolanda Adams, H.E.R. and Jhené Aiko.
This year, Babyface's number was preceded by Sheryl Lee Ralph belting out "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Colloquially known as the "Black national anthem," the spiritual prayer of thanksgiving has been added to the lineup of Super Bowl musical moments since 2021, when Alicia Keys became the first artist to ever perform it ahead of kickoff.
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