Black Music in America: From Then Until Now is a documentary that doubles as a time capsule. The 30-minute film examines over 400 years of African American history from an early ’70s perspective, allowing for a glimpse of an era when the contributions of Black music to American culture were only beginning to be more thoroughly acknowledged—and just before the explosion of hip-hop.
Commissioned by the Learning Corporation of America in 1970 and subsequently archived at the Library of Congress, it was filmed and broadcast at a time when music documentaries weren’t as easily accessible, before the proliferation of a more serious historicization of popular music.
Though progressive restoration and digitization of similar resources has made more material available in the decades that followed, in 1971, Black Music in America provided what was—for many—the first essential look at a rich cultural heritage. The documentary features the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Count Basie, Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong (shown during his 1957 visit to Ghana), a very young Irene Cara as a cast member of 1970 musical The Me Nobody Knows, and what is believed to be the only filmed footage of Bessie Smith.