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Theme Songs: Meet the black music and musicians who serenade us from the small screen

In 2008, The Chicago Tribune explored "The Music Behind 'The Wire" ".

"The Wire" doesn't do much of the traditional TV art, and its unorthodox extends to the opening theme. It's the same old song every season – "Way Down in the Hole", an eerie gospel blues that Tom Waits composed about 20 years ago – but interpreted by a different group or artist.

Initially, a revered African American gospel group, the Blind Boys of Alabama, sang the song. It was Waits himself in the second season. The Neville Brothers of New Orleans did the honors in Season 3. For Season 4, when the focus of the series expanded once again, this time to include male children on the Baltimore Projects trying to say no to drugs and crime, The The series' creators reached out to five Baltimore teenagers – Ivan Ashford, Markel Steele, Avery Bargasse, Cameron Brown, and Tariq Al-Sabir – collectively known as DoMaJe. In the final season, Waits & # 39; 23. Psalm Feelings sung by old country star (and former heroin addict) Steve Earle, who also repeats his recurring role on the series as a recovering junkie working on a 12-step program.

As mentioned earlier, the original series opening was carried out by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

The Blind Boys of Alabama website provides background information.

During the Jim Crow era of the 1940s and 1950s, the Blind Boys toured the south and flourished thanks to their unique sound that blended the tight harmonies of early anniversary gospel with the more passionate improvisations of hard gospel. In the early 1960s, the band sang at fundraisers for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was part of the civil rights movement soundtrack. But over the years, gospel fans began to drift away, following the many singers who had church origins but were now taking up secular popular music. And the blind boys, who turned down many offers to switch to secular music, saw their audience dwindle. The Blind Boys held out, however, and their time came again, beginning in the 1980s with their starring role in the Obie Award winning musical "The Gospel at Colonus," which opened a new chapter in their incredible story. It is almost unbelievable that a group of blind African American singers who toured and won five Grammy® Awards, a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and was inducted into gospel in a time of white toilets, restaurants, and hotels, would go on tour Music Hall of Fame and performing for three different Presidents in the White House.

Few would have expected them to be strong for so many years after their first voice – even stronger than ever – but they have proven to be as productive and musically ambitious in recent years as they were at the beginning. In 2001 they released Spirit of the Century on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, mixed traditional hymns with songs by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones, and won the first of their Grammy Awards. The next year they supported Gabriel on his album Up and accompanied him on a world tour, although a bigger break could have come when David Simon wrote her cover of Waits & # 39; Way Down in the Hole & # 39; chose as the theme song for the first season of HBO's acclaimed series The Wire.

In a classic rock review of all five versions of The Wire's theme, Emma Johnston gives her opinion on the Neville Brothers' interpretation.

The Neville Brothers compete for the third season and bring a hot New Orleans flair to the cold streets of Baltimore with the funniest interpretation of the song to date. An elephant-like organ line drives things forward, while addictive Mardi Gras bottle-and-can percussion spreads an air of wanton celebration that has little to do with spiritual quest and much more to do with earthly joys. Add in a sultry sax section and super-soulful vocals that threaten to topple even Stevie Wonder's position at the top of the R&B pile, and you've got a version that shows off his heavyweight wealth without a bit of humility.

As such, it fits the seasonal theme of corruption in the halls of government power as closely as a financial plug of a seedy MP.

Hear for yourself.

The fourth season of The Wire focuses on schools in Baltimore.

The show's creator, David Simon, turned his attention to the battered Baltimore public school system, which was witnessed by several teachers and, in particular, a group of four young friends. These boys who grow up downtown are in an environment that turns them into addicts or criminals before they grow up. Whether any of them can successfully traverse this minefield is the question that drives this strong season. (…)

This time, a group of teenagers from Baltimore, who go by the name DoMaJe, are singing the opening credits. occurred

This version especially surprised anyone who paid attention to the performances of the first three seasons, performed by musicians far from childhood.

When I finished exploring and refreshing my memories of The Wire's theme song, I was transported back to the past of an 80s television series I'd forgotten: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.

The title track is "Harlem Nocturne," which was written by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers in 1939 and has since become a jazz standard. The radio station WFMU lists 42 versions – this is only an incomplete list.

Here are two of my favorite versions.

Several of the TV series themes feature funky Latin beats. Puerto Rican percussionist Willie Bobo recorded one of them.

Before his untimely death at the age of 49 in 1983, legendary Nuyorican jazz percussionist Willie "Bobo" Correa left an impressive and eclectic discography that spanned 14 records as a band leader, with styles from Afro-Cuba to soul, funk to Brazilian influences , and so forth. He was also accomplished as a sideman, making over 50 appearances with some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century.

The acclaimed Timbalero is perhaps best known for releasing the original version of "Evil Ways," written by his band's guitarist and made famous in 1969 by Santana.

Here is Bobo's popular kojak theme.

Surprisingly, “Suicide is Painless” by M * A * S * H ​​is another title track with Latin American percussion reinforcement on my list. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson recorded a version of it in 1975.

Who would have thought that the theme song from the animated series "Meet The Flintstones" from the animated series The Flintstones would become a jazz standard?

You may have noticed that I haven't shared music from TV series with predominantly black casts and targeted it specifically to black audiences. I did this simply because you'd expect black TV shows to include both black music and musicians. There are a few to choose from, most of which were sitcoms. I'll post a few of these in the comments, but I'd like to highlight a black sitcom theme that comes from an unusual source: actress Ja & # 39; Net Dubois, who was one of the stars on the Good Times series.

YouTuber Pop Goes The Culture TV wrote in February 2020:

Yes, 'Net Dubois, loved as Willona on Good Times, recently passed away. In addition to many films, guest recordings and other roles, Ja & # 39; Net was also the composer and singer of THE JEFFERSONS opening theme. In this archive clip, she tells how she came to write this iconic theme song.

Have fun with this story of Dubois ’self-advocacy – targeting Norman Lear – and how it succeeded … with a little help from mom.

Enjoy both versions of the iconic theme below.

Notes posted by YouTube E included what Dubois described as "personal":

Yes, we move on to the east side

To a deluxe apartment in heaven

Continue to the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie

Fish don't fry in the kitchen

Beans don't burn on the grill

Tried a lot

Just to get up the hill

Now we're in the big leagues

We're on the bat

As long as we're alive it's you and me baby

There's nothing wrong with that

Well, we're moving on to the east side

To a deluxe apartment in heaven

Continue to the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie

When I think of The Jeffersons and what George and Weezy represented – I also think today of why we, as blacks, are resented by such an alarmingly large number of our fellow citizens. The text "finally got a piece of the pie" says to me everything at a time when racists still want to take away the tiny bit that we have won over time.

It is clear that we have to go further. After all, in 2020 Amanda Jones became the first Black woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy for composing a score.for her work on the "Maine" episode of Home, a documentary series that explores the world's most innovative homes. "

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Meet the first black female Primetime Emmy nominee for score composing

Composer Amanda Jones hopes to pave the way for more diversity behind the scenes.https: //t.co/Lh3UfuFYsF#rxa 👁⚙🌩

– the Kinte room (@KinteSpace) October 23, 2020

Jones did not win the Emmy, but she is part of an organization called the Composers Diversity Collective, "(an) organization of music makers who achieve a work environment in the entertainment industry that is as diverse as our society."

Although we often consider television to be primarily "visual," the music that both introduces and ends shows, as well as an acoustic narrative that runs through each particular program, is key to our enjoyment and often stays with us long after we do forgot it dialogues and pictures.

Since a lot of American music is basically black music, this should be reflected and capitalized on in our 35mm film experiences.

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