Soul Icons on the Big Screen

james-brown-get-on-up-movie.jpgProducing and filming a biopic can be a very taxing endeavor.  Not only do you have all the same worries of any other film, but now you must take the life of some of the world’s most iconic figures and truthfully summarize it in two hours.  With all that compression, there are bound to be mistakes, missteps and the overlooking of various facts.  However, it’s an incredible feeling to see these film done right—films that not only have the ethics to tell the sometimes ugly truth, but do it as entertainingly as possible.

In celebration of the upcoming biopic about the Godfather of Soul James Brown, Get On Up, here are some excellent soul music biopics from years past that made you laugh, cry, dance and sing along.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

One of the most intense biopics (music or otherwise) of the last 25 years, the story of how a young southern girl went from Anna Mae to Tina Turner, and the price she paid to ultimately become an icon, is one of the most riveting onscreen moments for soul and rock music fans ever.  Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne’s portrayals of the tumultuous Tina and Ike Turner were Oscar-nominated and nothing short of outstanding.


Jamie Foxx’s performance as the heavily influential soul music legend Ray Charles is nothing short of incredible, earning Foxx his first nomination and his first win for an Academy Award.  Its portrayal is all at once heartbreaking and joyous, for his story was the truth definition of triumph.

Lady Sings the Blues

While there were certainly questions around how little Diana Ross favored Billie Holiday in the literal sense, you couldn’t deny that Ross’ onscreen portrayal of Lady Day was phenomenal.  It earned her an Oscar nomination and silenced critics who thought she was just a pretty face.  Holiday’s influence and addiction were conveyed clearly and truly shed a light on who she was, especially for younger audiences at the time who knew very little about her.

Cadillac Records

Unlike Dreamgirls, which is still up for debate as to whether or not it is based on/accurately depicts Motown, Cadillac Records truly got to the grit of Chess and its artist like Chuck Berry, Etta James, Muddy Waters and even competitors like Howlin’ Wolf.  While it was not a critical darling, it more than did its job in showcasing the immense talent and bond of these artists and their label head, Leonard Chess.

-Jessica Bennett

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