Films About Legendary Singers 🎤

by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

Music is certainly in the air with the Montauk Music Festival arriving this month! Now in its TENTH year, it is an event not to be missed! It’s a great chance to see wonderful entertainment, bands, singers and groups that will be performing the entire weekend. Many appearing performers have gotten their start or a career boost at the Montauk Music Festival and have gone on to expanding opportunities. Watching the careers of up and coming performers, it is easy to recall the humble beginnings of the legends of the music world and understand why their life story was made into fascinating films.

When I was little my mother would often take me to the movies with her, even if it were not a Disney presentation. One of these films was on television a few months ago on a channel that features old time classic movies. It was The Eddy Duchin Story, a biography of band leader and pianist Eddy Duchin. It was the highest grossing film of 1956 and starred Tyrone Power as Duchin and Kim Novak as his wife.  Of course, when I was little, I had no idea who this handsome actor was portraying, but the music sequences and the beautiful gowns were fabulous. The film featured tunes such as Manhattan, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, I Can’t Give you Anything But Love, Baby and Besame Mucho, all classic songs of the 50’s.  Another back in time movie, one of my father’s favorite films we saw repeatedly on television, was The Glenn Miller Story. This 1954 film starred James Stewart as bandleader Miller and July Allyson as his wife. The big band era was in full swing and Miller’s hit, Moonlight Serenade, was a huge success and his band became known worldwide and his name is synonymous in the 1930’s and 40’s as the leader of big band music. He played popular and jazz music, performing in ballrooms and hotels across the United States. During WWII Miller enlisted in the army and traveled to Europe, naturally in entertainment for the troop capacity. Tragedy struck when he was on a flight from London to Paris and his plane crashed and was never located. Miller was only 40 years old. Great movie and if you catch it, have a box of tissues handy as James Stewart was terrific in the role. Miller’s musical top hits were Chattanooga Choo Choo, In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Pennsylvania 6-5000, That Old Black Magic, Tuxedo Junction and When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.

Women Singers: Many talented women have had films made of their lives and two of the most popular films were filled with tragedy and hardships surrounding these women. Coal Miner’s Daughter, the life of country singer Lorretta Lynn, made in 1980 starred Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. The story follows Loretta Lynn’s rise from a life of poverty in rural Kentucky to superstar status. At only 13 she married Doolittle Lynn and becomes a busy mother of four, yet managed to have time to write songs and sing at some country fairs and bars. Her husband knows his wife has talent and pushes her into a career, even though she is timid to start such an undertaking.   Moving ahead to 1993 the dramatic, often hard to watch film “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, is about the life of Tina Turner. Starring Angela Basset as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner, her abusive and cruel husband, is hard to imagine how she managed to be so strong and survive once she broke free of their marriage. Any viewer has to cheer for Tina knowing that on her own she reached the pinnacle of success and to this day is still an inspiration in the field of music.

Musical Icons: While their music remains as popular today as it was when the singers first performed them, their life stories on screen depicts how they found this success. One of my favorites is La Bamba, the life of Mexican-American singer, Ritchie Valens produced in 1987, starring Lou Diamond Phillips. It was crushing news when Valen’s plane went down and all onboard perished, including singer, Buddy Holly and other band members in their group.  Valens was only 17 when he died in 1959. Who can resist dancing when hearing the title song of the movie, La Bamba or recall the sadness of unrequited love in Donna another Valens classic?

Acting is always impressive when the stars enables the audience believe they are the character being portrayed. What is even more astounding is when the actor is believable in the singing, too. Instantly two films come to mind that had the actor also perform the songs and that is the 2004 hit Ray, about the life of Ray Charles. Starring Jamie Foxx as Ray, the rhythm and blues musician, and the ups and downs of the singer’s life is a true roller coaster ride for the viewer.  Although Charles went blind at age seven, his rise to fame in the 1950’s and 60’s was a true sign of his overcoming a disability that might have stopped others in their tracks.  Also starring Kerry Washington, the film featured many of Ray’s classics such as Georgia on My Mind, Hit the Road Jack, Unchain my Heart and I Can’t Stop Loving You, among other hits. Ray Charles’s music lives on despite the turmoil of his life’s story and downhill spiral.

One of my absolute favorite films, which I just have to watch if I am tuning passed the station and it is on, is the 2005 film Walk the Line. The film starts with the early life of country music legend, Johnny Cash, from his life in Arkansas to his career with Sun Records. (Same company that signed Elvis Presley) What is fascinating about this film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter is that both performed all the songs themselves. From the on-film chemistry between the two leads and the wonderful music, this film had everything an audience expects. The film featured Cash’s songs Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue and their duet Ring of Fire and other fan favorites. Try to catch these wonderful, informative and entertain biographies for a behind a scene look at each legendary performer’s rise to stardom.