Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles, the documentary film “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” features an almost all-white group of people (and one black person) in the music industry, in this chronicle of the making of Tom Petty’s 1994 album “Wildflowers.”
Culture Clash: While recording the album, Petty was going through personal problems (such as a failing marriage), he battled with Warner Bros. Records over songs that he wanted on the album, and he fired longtime Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch.
Culture Audience: Fans of Petty are the obvious target audience, but “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” will also appeal to people who like classic rock music and behind-the-scenes stories about making albums.
“Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” has the look and feel of many other documentaries that focus on the making of a specific album. There’s nothing really groundbreaking about this documentary, and it’s not the type of movie that people should feel like they need to see in movie theaters. The documentary is a must-see for Tom Petty’s fans and other people who are inclined to like classic rock. And it could be entertaining to people who are interested in the art of creating songs. Everyone else might think this movie is a little boring.
“Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” chronicles the making of Petty’s 1994 “Wildflowers” album, which he said in many interviews was the best album he ever made. The album was recorded at the Los Angeles recording studios Sound City and Ocean Way Recording. And musically, it was a departure for Petty because it didn’t have as much of the signature jangly guitar sound that’s on his previous albums. Instead, “Wildflowers” included a full classical orchestra and had songs with a more somber or pensive mood than his previously released tunes.
Petty died of an opioid drug overdose at age 66 in 2017. Years earlier, he revealed that he was addicted to heroin from 1996 to 1998. Therefore, Petty’s drug addiction is not an issue that’s brought up on this documentary, since the most serious years of his addiction happened after “Wildflowers” was made. In the documentary, there is some mention in Petty’s own words about how unhappy he was in his marriage to his first wife Jane at the time he made “Wildflowers.” The former spouses were married from 1974 to 1996.
Directed by Mary Wharton, “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” (which premiered at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival) consists primarily of archival footage of Petty in the recording studio that was originally filmed in color but is, for the most part, presented in black and white in the documentary. A prologue in the documentary explains that the archival footage from these “Wildflowers” recording sessions and the subsequent tour were filmed on 16mm film between 1993 and 1995 by Petty’s longtime videographer Martyn Atkins. The footage was discovered in an archive in early 2020.
Also in black and white is more current documentary interview footage of surviving members of Petty’s band The Heartbreakers, as well as music producer Rick Rubin, who all worked on “Wildflowers” and share their fond memories of those recording sessions. The documentary mostly sticks to celebrating Petty’s music and the camaraderie that he had with his band members, Rubin and other people involved in making the album. There is some but not a great deal of insight into the drama that went on behind the scenes with Petty battling MCA Records (his former record label) and starting fresh with Warner Bros. Records, with “Wildflowers” as his first album released by Warner Bros.
“Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” is at its best when viewers get to see how the “Wildflowers” songs were crafted and recorded. There are the hits, of course, such as “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “You Wreck Me” and “It’s Good to Be King.” But there are also several album tracks (including “Harry Green” and “Climb That Hill Blues”) that didn’t make it on to the original release of the 15-song “Wildflowers,” because Warner Bros. disagreed with Petty’s wishes to release “Wildflowers” as a 25-song double album. In 2020, the deluxe package album “Wildflowers & All the Rest” was released with the original “Wildflowers” album, plus previously unreleased studio tracks and live recordings from the “Wildflowers” era.
Even though the Heartbreakers were part of the recording sessions for “Wildflowers,” the album was officially a Petty solo record, and it was the follow-up to his wildly successful 1989 solo debut album, “Full Moon Fever.” Jeff Lynne, the mastermind of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), produced “Full Moon Fever” and the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1991 album “Into the Great Wide Open,” as well as several albums from other artists. Lynne was also a bandmate of Petty’s in their all-star supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, whose other members were George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.
In the documentary, Rubin talks about how he was flatly turned down by MCA when he offered to produce Petty’s second solo album. “I was told that Tom worked exclusively with Jeff Lynne, and there was no chance that I’d ever get to work with him [Tom Petty]. It was a cold brush-off.”
Up until that point, Rubin was mostly known in the music business for working in hip-hop (he co-founded Def Jam Records) or producing rock artists who were younger than Petty, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers. In the late 1980s, Rubin left Def Jam and founded Def American Recordings, later renamed American Recordings. Def American’s biggest successes in the early 1990s were the bluesy rock band the Black Crowes and the thrash metal band Slayer.
And so, by the early 1990s, Rubin wasn’t exactly the first person people had in mind to produce Petty’s second solo album. By his own admission, Rubin says in the documentary that he wasn’t even a fan of Petty’s music until he heard the “Full Moon Fever” album and became obsessed with it.
But three things happened that helped Rubin to become the producer of the “Wildflowers” album.
(1) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers left MCA Records and signed to Warner Bros. Records, the record company for Red Hot Chili Peppers, a funk-influenced rock band had its first major breakthrough success with the Rubin-produced 1991 album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”
(2) Petty, as he says in the documentary, was ready to make some big musical changes.
(3) Heartbreakers lead guitarist Mike Campbell recommended Rubin to Petty, and they all genuinely liked each other from the start. Rubin, Petty and Campbell are all credited with producing the “Wildflowers” album.
As Petty describes it in the documentary’s archival footage: “I love Jeff Lynne dearly, but I thought I should do something else. Mike Campbell suggested Rick. He said, ‘I think you’ll like him.’ So I called him [Rubin] up.”
It’s mentioned more than once in the documentary that Rubin and Lynne couldn’t be more different from each other as producers. Lynne is a multi-instrumentalist and a meticulous recording craftsman who likes to take pieces of songs and build them in layers. Rubin barely knew how to play guitar during the “Wildflowers” sessions, and he prefers to make records with all the band members present at the same time and recording live.
Petty explains Rubin’s producing style in the documentary: “Rick Rubin really loves music, and that’s why I decided to work with him. It’s not because of his technical skill. He plays no instrument, really. He’s learning to play guitar … He’s not a corporate man … In a way, he’s guided me back to a musical place where I feel comfortable.”
In an archival interview from the “Wildflowers” recording sessions, Rubin says, “What I have to offer is as a fan. I can come in and say what I like and what I don’t like. And I don’t necessarily know why, but just trying to be true to [Petty’s] own taste and try to steer it in a direction that feels natural and good to me.”
The documentary also has a more current interview with Rubin, Campbell and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench sitting down together. They further discuss the contrast between Lynne and Rubin as producers. Tench comments, “The records with Jeff are beautiful pop records. And my participation was minimal on both the records. Because, you know, Jeff had an idea, and there’s a keyboard, and he’s going to play it, and that’s great.”
Tench states how Rubin’s style of producing affected the “Wildflowers” recording sessions: “This is almost like taking what you learned from Jeff and setting it free. It’s very focused on song craft and record craft, but there’s also a freedom in it that’s very cool.” Campbell adds that Rubin put more emphasis on live performances in the recording studio and by recording songs as “organic tracks and not one thing at a time.”
Also present for these recording sessions were orchestrator/conductor Michael Kamen (who died of a heart attack in 2003, at the age of 55) and George Drakoulias, a music producer who made a name for himself working as a producer and A&R executive for Def American acts such as the Black Crowes. At the time of the “Wildflowers” recording sessions, Drakoulias was still doing A&R for Def American. Unlike his then-boss Rubin, Drakoulias was a longtime fan of Petty’s by the time Drakoulias was included in the recording sessions for “Wildflowers.”
In the documentary, Drakoulias (who’s described as a “musical contributor” to “Wildflowers”) remembers with a laugh his experiences with Petty during those recording sessions: “He tolerated me. He found me amusing. Tom was a hero, and idol. ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ [the 1979 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album] was the record that really changed my life.”
Also interviewed in the documentary is Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone, a Brit who replaced original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch in the “Wildflowers” recording sessions. Ferrone later became an official member of the Heartbreakers and remained in the band until the group broke up after Petty’s death in 2017. In 1994, Ferrone was living in New York City as a session musician when he got a call about a “top-secret” audition. He didn’t know it was for the Heartbreakers until he arrived at the studio and saw Petty and Campbell there. Just like Rubin, Ferrone was recommended by Campbell to be brought into Petty’s musical inner circle.
Tench comments on how Ferrone was crucial to helping Petty achieve the sound that’s on “Wildflowers,” as exemplified by the bluesy cadence that the drums have on “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” “Ferrone was the key to cracking the code to sound different,” Tench says. In archival footage, Petty says why he decided Ferrone should be in the band: “He played instinctually. He played perfectly the first time through. And I liked him.”
As for Lynch’s ouster from the band, Petty says in voiceover commentary that it was because Lynch wasn’t fully on board with Petty’s new musical direction, and Petty got tired of what he describes as Lynch’s mercurial temperament: “He had a real explosive personality. He could be really sweet and very loving, and then he could be the biggest problem.”
Campbell says of Lynch parting ways with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “We were in a quagmire of disharmony, like a marriage. It happens.” Lynch is shown briefly in archival footage, but he is not in the documentary for any new interviews.
Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein (who died of a heroin overdose in 2003, at the age of 47) is also seen in archival footage. Epstein comments in archival footage: “Tom and I get along real good. I’ve never had one weird moment with him.” Meanwhile, Petty says about Epstein in footage from the Wildflowers” sessions: “I really appreciate him being my friend. It’s so hard to find people like Howie in the world who are so pure of spirit.”
Even though the Heartbreakers played on “Wildflowers,” why was it labeled a solo album from Petty instead of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album? Petty explained it years ago, but it’s repeated in the documentary. As he puts it: “I wanted the freedom. I really wanted to be free of the democratic process, but I think it was time to turn the corner and find another place to go. And that was ‘Wildflowers.'”
Just like on a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, Petty wrote the majority of the “Wildflowers” songs himself, with Campbell getting co-songwriting credit on a few songs. Petty might not be remembered as the greatest singer or guitarist, but there’s no question that he’s considered one of the greatest American rock songwriters in music history. In new interviews in the documentary, Tench and Campbell share their thoughts on Petty’s songwriting talent.
Campbell says, “I’ve worked with a lot of people—good writers and great singers—but I’ve never seen anybody who could do that like he could. He could just pull things out of the air in the moment.” Tench adds, “Tom was a great songwriter. I had always appreciated it and know that this is incredible to be in this band. But you almost take it for granted that Tom is going to come in with a great song.”
Two of the more personal songs on “Wildflowers” is “To Find a Friend” and “Don’t Fade on Me,” which Petty says were about his crumbling marriage. “I was becoming disenchanted in my marriage at the time,” which he says in a voiceover from archival footage. At the time, he says that he didn’t consciously write about this disintegrating relationship. “But when I hear [the ‘Wildflowers’ album], I can see it was working in the back of my mind somewhere.”
Petty and Jane’s daughter Adria Petty, who is an executive producer of the documentary, comments in an interview: “At the time that ‘Wildflowers’ was being written, he was definitely going through therapy for the first time. And that was an interesting door of perception that was opening.”
Adria Petty adds, “I think that feeling of confidence and self-examination at that time made him make a lot of different decisions about his life. He did it slowly, methodically and carefully. And they were painful for him.”
One of the big changes was Tom Petty’s split from MCA. Alan “Bugs” Weidel, the equipment/clubhouse manager for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, says that Petty was “never really happy with MCA. He really wanted to be on Warner Bros., and when that opportunity presented itself, he jumped on it.” The documentary includes new footage of Weidel reuniting with Campbell at the “clubhouse,” where the band’s instruments were kept.
And there’s archival footage of Petty, Rubin and Kamen in a room together and eating a small cake with a Warner Bros. logo on it. As they dig into the cake, Petty remarks jokingly, “We like to record for Warner Bros. because they taste good.” Rubin and Kamen are smiling and they seem amused too.
In a separate footage, Petty is heard saying in a voiceover about parting ways with MCA and moving on to Warner Bros.: “We had a long run at MCA and a very successful one. It just felt like time in life … I really just went to work for people I know. And I trust their instincts.”
However, the disputes that Petty had with Warner Bros. over how many songs should be on the “Wildflowers” album are mostly alluded to but not completely exposed in the documentary. The movie doesn’t show any screaming arguments with record company executives or lawyers. In fact, there are no “suits” shown or interviewed in this movie. And keeping out the corporate types from being in this film is probably the way that Petty would’ve wanted it.
Rather than getting into all the recording contract issues involved with the length of the “Wildflowers” album, the documentary footage puts more emphasis on Petty having a hard time deciding which songs he wanted on the album in the first place. The feeling that the documentary wants to convey is that Petty and the rest of the musical team ended up recording a lot more songs than originally expected because of Petty’s creative output and because they were having such a great time recording the album.
In new interviews for the documentary, Campbell chokes up a little when he says that listening to the songs on “Wildflowers” after Petty’s death is “emotionally hard … but other times it’s joyous. This is a whole plethora of experiences on the record.” Tench adds, “When you lose a great artist, you appreciate them more.”
“Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” shares part of its title with Christopher McKittrick’s unauthorized biography “Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles,” which was published in 2020. In the documentary, it’s mentioned that the “Wildflowers” song “California” best summed up how Petty (who was a Florida native) felt about how California (specifically the Los Angeles area) changed his life. His daughter Adria says that after he moved to California, Petty was able to reinvent himself early in his career and became a success with the Heartbreakers.
People watching the documentary might feel that the black and white imagery makes the movie look dull and washed-out. Others might think having the movie in black and white gives it a classic look. There’s only one part of the documentary where it changes from black and white to color in the middle of the song. And that’s in studio footage of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which was recorded during the “Wildflowers” sessions but was not on the album. Instead, the song (the last Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song recorded with drummer Lynch) was released on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1993 “Greatest Hits” album.
The documentary’s color footage (mostly of the band performing on stage) definitely livens up the movie, but the black and white palette probably gives the movie a more consistent look and the ability to hide some of the color footage’s flaws. One of the constant themes in the movie is how much fun it was to record the album. But for anyone who knows what it’s like to record an album, it’s not the same energy as doing a live performance.
Creativity in a recording studio is captured in stops and starts, so people watching this documentary should not expect the movie to be like a non-stop adrenaline rush. It’s more like a respectful stroll into the dynamics of Petty and his musical team. It’s not going to interest people who like to see band conflicts in music documentaries. But for people who appreciate Petty’s music and talent, this documentary gives a worthwhile peek into his creative process.
Culture Representation: The four-part docuseries “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” features a racially diverse group of people (Latino, white and African American) of mostly people in the entertainment industry, including Demi Lovato, discussing her life and career, particularly from 2018 to 2020.
Culture Clash: Lovato, who is a recovering drug addict, relapsed and had a near-fatal overdose in 2018, and she says that she no longer believes that complete drug abstinence is the best method of recovery for her.
Culture Audience: “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about how celebrities cope with addiction and trauma.
Singer/actress Demi Lovato is well-known for revealing a lot of painful and unflattering aspects of her life, so it should come as no surprise that her four-part YouTube docuseries “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” has a confessional tone to it. The docuseries had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. Among other things, Lovato goes into details about what she experienced before and after her near-fatal drug overdose at her Los Angeles home in July 2018. (She has since moved from that house because of the bad memories.) She also reveals publicly for the first time that she’s a rape survivor and how the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine led to her very quick and ultimately failed engagement to actor Max Ehrich.
Directed by Michael D. Ratner, “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” has much more disturbing revelations than Lovato’s 2017 YouTube documentary film “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated.” There’s a trigger warning at the beginning of “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” because it contains graphic talk of sexual assault, her drug use and eating disorders. She goes into details about what happened before and after her overdose of heroin laced with Fentanyl.
Lovato says that the drug dealer who supplied the drugs also sexually assaulted her and left her for dead. She also reveals that when she was 15, she lost her virginity by being raped by someone she worked with in her Disney Channel days. Lovato doesn’t name either of her alleged rapists, but she says that when she reported her underage rape to adults, nothing happened to her alleged rapist. And she claims that she’s managing her addiction problems by drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. That’s not a good sign that she’s on the road to a healthy recovery.
It’s a big contrast to “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated,” where her most personal revelation was that she’s openly living her life as a member of the LGTBQ community. (The movie had scenes of her discussing her attempts to find love on online dating sites.) Lovato refuses to label her sexuality, and she will only describe herself as “queer” or “not straight.” “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” shows that although Lovato claims to be in a much better emotional place than she was in 2018, she’s still struggling with the idea that her recovery from addiction means that she has to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol.
She admits to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana “in moderation,” even though she’s said in many interviews that she’s an alcoholic and drug addict. Although she talks a lot about the drugs that she’s used and/or been addicted to over the years, in “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” she leaves out any mention of her alcoholism. And that omission is probably because she keeps repeating in the documentary that she’s tired of other people controlling her life and telling her what she can and cannot put in her body.
Ever since former Disney Channel star Lovato first went to rehab in 2010, at the age 18, she has publicly talked about her recovery from a variety of issues, including drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), self-harming (cutting) and bipolar disorder. In “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated,” she repeated the claim that she was clean and sober since 2012. And in 2018, during her “Tell Me You Love Me” tour, she was filming another documentary about herself, until her drug overdose resulted in shutting down production of that untitled documentary, which was permanently shelved.
“Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” has some clips from that never-seen-before 2018 documentary that shows a seemingly happy Lovato on tour. But as is often the case with entertainers who are drug addicts, they are very skilled at hiding dark sides of their lives. In “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” Lovato says of her shelved 2018 biographical film: “In that documentary, I was allowing the cameras to see the tip of the iceberg.”
“Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” opens with Lovato backstage during that 2018 tour, in footage that was taken one month before her overdose. She’s on the phone with her mother, Dianna De La Garza. Her mother gushes, “Demi, that was the best show you’ve ever done! It’s only going to get better from here.” Lovato gives a small smile but there’s some sadness in her eyes.
There’s also a clip from a concert earlier on that 2018 tour, with the footage showing Demi being congratulated on stage by opening acts DJ Khaled and Kehlani for her sixth “sober birthday,” to celebrate her being clean and sober for the past six years. On the surface, Lovato looked healthy and happy. But in “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” she now confesses that she relapsed later that night.
Lovato says, “I picked up a bottle of red wine that night and it wasn’t even 30 minutes before I called someone that had drugs on them … I’m surprised that I didn’t OD that night. I ended up at a party and ran into my old drug dealer from six years before. That night I did drugs I had never done before.”
According to Lovato, she did a dangerous mix of methamphetamine, Ecstasy, alcohol and OxyContin. “That alone should’ve killed me,” Lovato adds. She also confesses that during this relapse that lasted for months, she tried crack cocaine and heroin for the first time.
The first time she went to rehab in 2010, Lovato says that she was addicted to cocaine and Xanax. Years later, when she turned to crack cocaine and heroin (which she usually smoked, not injected), Lovato says in the documentary that she was trying to get the same “upper/downer” combination feeling that she had with cocaine and Xanax. “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” includes a photo identified as Lovato on crack for the first time and a photo of her while she was smoking heroin.
Lovato says she quickly became addicted to crack and heroin, but she was able to hide these addictions from most of the people who were close to her. Her immediate family members are interviewed in the documentary: mother Dianna De La Garza; stepfather Eddie De La Garza; older sister Dallas Lovato; and younger half-sister Madison De LaGarza. All of them say some variation of how Lovato is very good at keeping secrets and pretending that everything is just fine. “There’s a lot that the public don’t know,” says her stepfather Eddie, who is interviewed while sitting on a couch with his wife Dianna.
Demi’s parents got divorced when she was 2 years old. For years, she has been open about how her biological father Patrick Lovato struggled with mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) and drug addiction, and their relationship was fractured for a very long time. Patrick died of cancer in 2013.
In “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” she talks about how she still feels trauma over her troubled relationship with her father, whom she says abused her mother Dianna. Demi also says that she feels terrible about how her father died alone. His body, which wasn’t discovered for several days, was so decomposed that there couldn’t be an open casket at his funeral. Demi says that her biggest fear was that he would die alone, and she says she’s still haunted by guilt over it.
As for what led to her relapse and overdose in 2018, Demi comments: “Anytime you suppress a part of yourself, it’s going to overflow. Ultimately, that’s what happened to me in a lot of areas of my life. And it led to my overdose, for sure.” She adds later in the documentary: “I was miserable. I snapped.”
In addition to the issues of abandonment that she had with her father, Demi says she believes that the beauty pageants she entered as a child also had a negative effect on her: “My self-esteem was completely damaged by those beauty pageants.” Demi says that her eating disorders began as a direct result of the pressure she felt to be thin and pretty for the pageants.
Her mother Dianna says in the documentary about Demi’s childhood traumas: “I didn’t know that she needed to work with a professional to work through some of that.” In a separate interview, Demi says, “I crossed the line in the world of addiction. It’s interesting that it took a quarantine to work on this trauma stuff I’ve never really taken the time to dig deep and do the work on.”
To her credit, Demi doesn’t sugarcoat the very real and permanent health damage that her overdose caused: “I had three strokes. I had a heart attack. I suffered brain damage from the strokes. I can’t drive anymore. I have blind spots in my vision. When I pour a glass of water, I’ll totally miss the cup because I can’t see it anymore. I’ve also had pneumonia, because I asphyxiated, and multiple organ failure.”
What happened the night of the overdose has been reported in many media outlets, but the story in this documentary is told by Demi and some other people who were with her in the 24-hour period before and after her overdose. On the evening of July 23, 2018, Demi had been celebrating the birthday of Dani Vitale, who was Demi’s choreographer/creative director at the time.
Demi, Vitale and some other friends went out to nightclubs before heading back to Demi’s house. (The documentary includes phone footage of Vitale and Demi doing a choreographed dance routine on the rooftop.) Vitale, who is interviewed in the documentary, says that she didn’t know that Demi had been using drugs at that time.
That night, Demi begged Vitale to stay overnight at the house, but Vitale declined because she had to go home and feed her dogs and had to get up early the next morning. However, Vitale says as she was driving away from the house with a friend, she told the friend that she had a strange feeling that something wasn’t right. Ultimately, Vitale says that she didn’t stay because of her other obligations and she didn’t want to treat Demi like a child who needed a babysitter.
Demi says that when she was alone in the house, she called her drug dealer and spent the rest of the night doing drugs with him. The documentary includes blurry video surveillance footage of him leaving her house that morning, a few hours before Demi was found unconscious and the ambulance was called. Police later decided not to arrest him for his involvement in this overdose.
Jordan Jackson, a woman who was Demi’s assistant at the time, was the one who found Demi naked, unconscious and surrounded by vomit in Demi’s bed the next morning on July 24, 2018. “There was one point where she turned blue. Her whole body turned blue. I was like, ‘She’s dead for sure,'” Jackson says in the documentary. “It was the craziest thing I had ever seen.”
When Demi woke up at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, she was legally blind for a short period of time. She didn’t even recognize her younger sister Madison, who chokes up with emotion in the documentary when she remembers that moment: “She looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Who is that?’ That’s something you never want to hear your sister say.”
Cedars-Sinai neurologist Dr. Shouri Lahiri, who sits next to Demi while he’s interviewed in the documentary, remembers that her oxygen levels were “dangerously low and trending down.” Demi also was put on dialysis to clean her blood, and the tubing had to be stuck through her neck. “It was like a horror movie,” as Dianna De La Garza describes it.
Demi is seated next to Dr. Lahiri when he talks about her hospital treatment. He says he didn’t know she why she was famous until about a week after he became her doctor, when he looked her up on the Internet. In the documentary, Dr. Lahiri mentions that he avoided looking up the information earlier because he didn’t want Demi’s celebrity status to affect his medical decisions about her. It’s kind of hard to believe that while she was in the hospital, he didn’t know for the first several days why she was famous, considering all the media coverage about her overdose.
Demi’s stepfather Eddie De La Garza gives a lot of praise to the hospital doctors who helped Demi with her recovery. But no one (not even Demi) is seen or heard in the documentary explicitly thanking Jackson, the person who found Demi and made the crucially important decision to call 911. Jackson admits in her documentary interview that she was afraid that calling 911 would bring a lot of negative publicity for Demi, but Jackson did the right thing and called anyway. Part of the 911 call is played in the documentary, and Jackson is heard asking the 911 operator if the ambulance could not turn on any sirens when it arrived at the house. However, the operator said that there would be ambulance sirens, and 911 operators have no control over that.
Demi says in the documentary, “I’m really lucky to be alive. My doctors said that I had five to 10 minutes [to live before I was found]. Had my assistant not come in, I wouldn’t be here today.” It would’ve been nice for Demi to directly and publicly thank Jackson in the documentary. If Demi did thank her while filming this documentary, it didn’t make it into the movie. And based on the “bare it all” tone of this film, a moment like that wouldn’t be edited out of the film if this thank you really happened while filming.
The documentary also shows that Vitale’s career and reputation were damaged by this overdose, because she was wrongfully blamed for it and wrongfully identified as being a drug buddy of Demi’s. Vitale says she doesn’t do drugs, but she was bullied and harassed by many of Demi’s fans who believed that Vitale was the one who supplied the drugs that Demi took that night. Vitale lost clients because of the overdose scandal. Demi says that her fans who harassed Vitale went too far.
In the documentary, while Vitale is getting her hair and makeup done for the interview, Demi is shown going into the room, hugging Vitale, and telling her that she’s sorry that she didn’t come forward sooner to clear Vitale’s name, but she was still in recovery at the time. Demi also says that she hopes that the documentary will help Vitale set the record straight that Vitale had nothing to do with Demi’s overdose. They seem to be friendly with each other, but it’s clear that Vitale doesn’t want to risk going through this experience with Demi again.
During her interview, Vitale tears up with emotion when she talks about the fallout from Demi’s overdose: “It was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with in my life. I just wanted [Demi] to live … I lost all my teaching jobs. No one wanted to bring their kid to an apparent heroin dealer teacher. I lost all the artists I was working with. No one wanted to deal with the drama … I had to rethink my whole future, all because of someone else’s decision.”
After recovering from her overdose, Demi says she decided she no longer wanted to have a team of people controlling what she ate or people checking up on her as if she would relapse at any moment. As an example, she says that for her birthdays, her previous management team would only allow her to have watermelon cake. After she fired that management team, Demi says one of the ways she celebrated her freedom from other people telling her what to eat was by having three cakes on her birthday.
After getting rid of her previous management, Demi asked Scooter Braun (who’s most famous for being Justin Bieber’s manager) to become her personal manager. Braun, who is an executive producer of “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” is interviewed in the documentary and says that he was skeptical about representing Demi until he met her in person and she won him over. During contract negotiations, Demi says she relapsed and was truthful about it to Braun. Demi says she was sure that after this confession, Braun wouldn’t want to represent her.
But the opposite happened. Braun says that rather than distancing himself from Demi because of the relapse, he wanted to help her. He says his reaction was, “As long as you tell me the truth, we’ll work through it.” Braun also says, “She didn’t need a manager. She needed a friend.”
Demi didn’t get rid of everyone on her business team after the overdose. She gives a lot of credit to her longtime business manager Glenn Nordlinger and head of security/chief of staff Max Lea for helping her through tough times. Nordlinger and Lea are both interviewed in the documentary. Nordlinger says it was his idea to get Demi checked into the Cirque Lodge addiction treatment center in Orem, Utah, for her post-overdose rehab. Demi is seated next to Lea and Nordlinger during some of her interviews, and she often keeps her head lowered, as if she’s still ashamed of what they know about her.
Two other people who’ve remained in Demi’s inner circle and are interviewed in the documentary are Sirah Mitchell (a hip-hop artist) and Matthew Scott Montgomery (an actor), who are each described in the documentary as Demi’s “best friend.” Mitchell is also described as Demi’s “former sober coach.” Mitchell and Montgomery, who were not with Demi on the night that she overdosed, profess unwavering loyalty to Demi. They both say that they knew that Demi was doing heroin and other drugs in the weeks leading up to the overdose, but they say that Demi ignored their concerns and there was nothing they could do about it.
Mitchell and Montgomery seem to be among Demi’s biggest cheerleaders, but they also come across as enablers who will say what she wants to hear so she won’t cut them out of her life. For example, Mitchell and Montgomery make vague excuses for why they’re going along with Demi’s plan to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana as part of her “recovery” from alcoholism and drug addiction. By now, these friends should know that when drug addicts/alcoholics think they can handle drugs and alcohol, that’s still being in the sickness of denial.
As for Demi’s family members, they all say that based on their experiences with Demi, they know that an addict can only truly recover when the addict is willing to stop what’s causing their addiction of their own free will, not because other people are pressuring them to do it. Demi says that the first time she went to rehab, she was forced to go because she was told that she wouldn’t be able to see her sister Madison again if Demi didn’t get rehab treatment. In the documentary, Demi notes the “full circle” irony that after she woke up from her overdose, she literally couldn’t see Madison because of Demi’s temporary blindness.
Demi’s case manager Charles Cook is the one of the few people interviewed in the movie to warn viewers that Demi’s way of handling her addiction is not going to work for everyone. He chooses his words carefully, so as not to offend her, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s conflicted in endorsing Demi’s decision to continue to drink alcohol and use marijuana. Cook and Demi both say that addiction recovery doesn’t have a “one size fits all” solution, and Demi is trying to figure out what works best for her.
The documentary includes interviews with some celebrities who know Demi and have worked with her, including recovering addict/alcoholic Elton John. He is blunt when he comments on addicts/alcoholics who think they can still use their addiction substances as part of their recovery: “Moderation doesn’t work.” However, he praises Demi by saying: “She’s human and she’s adorable and she’s brave.”
Christina Aguilera and Will Ferrell also say good things about Demi. Aguilera says, “She’s just no bullshit when it comes to her spirit and her energy and her laughter.” Lovato and Aguilera teamed up for the duet “Fall in Line,” which was on Aguilera’s 2018 album “Liberation.” The song was also released as a single.
Ferrell says he was inspired to put Demi in his 2020 Netflix comedy movie “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” after seeing her emotionally perform “Anyone” at the 2020 Grammy Awards. The Grammy show was her first high-profile performance after her overdose, and she followed it up with another critically acclaimed performance at Super Bowl LIV, where she sang a powerful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Clips of both performances are in the movie, as well as snippets of her performing on tour in 2018 and in the recording studio. Demi says that she wrote and recorded “Sober” while she was in the throes of addiction to crack and heroin. And she mentions that her song “Dancing With the Devil” is one of the rawest, soul-baring songs she’s ever written about her addiction. Braun says, “In the studio, Demi is in her happy place.”
Demi describes her brief engagement to Ehrich in 2020 as part of their whirlwind and unconventional romance. Most of their courtship happened when they moved in with her mother and stepfather to quarantine with them during the coronavirus pandemic. Demi and Ehrich dated for just six months before calling it quits. After the breakup, he went on social media and gave interviews saying that he was blindsided and treated unfairly by Demi.
In the documentary, Demi says that she and Ehrich probably wouldn’t have gotten engaged so quickly if they hadn’t quarantined together. And although she doesn’t divulge the full details of their breakup, Demi reiterates what she’s already said publicly: She says she found out that Ehrich didn’t have the right intentions in their relationship. The documentary has selfie video footage of a forlorn-looking Demi after the breakup, fretting to the camera that she won’t find anyone to love her.
Demi has this to say about her love life at the time she filmed this documentary: “I feel like I’m too queer in my life to marry a man right now.” She describes her outlook: “Life is fluid, and I’m fluid, and that’s all I know.”*
In addition to dealing with her physical health problems as a result of the overdose, Demi says she has the psychological trauma of being sexually assaulted. She has this to say about the sexual violation from her drug dealer: “When they found me, I was naked, blue. I was literally left for dead after he took advantage of me. I was literally discarded and abandoned.”
“When I woke up in the hospital, they asked if I had consensual sex,” Demi says in one of her documentary interviews. “There was one flash that I had of him on top of me. I saw the flash, and I said, ‘Yes’ [in answer to the question if the sex was consensual]. It wasn’t until a month after my overdose that I realized, ‘Hey, you weren’t in any state of mind to make a consensual decision.’ That kind of trauma doesn’t go away overnight, and it doesn’t go away in the first few months of rehab either.”
Demi reveals that instead of staying away from the drug dealer that she says raped her, she actually contacted him again when she relapsed after her overdose. And she says that when they had sex again, she wanted to be the one in control. Instead, Demi says this “revenge sex” made her feel worse.
And she also says it was history repeating itself because something similar happened with the person she says raped her when she was 15: “When I was a teenager, I was in a very similar situation. I lost my virginity in rape. I called that person back a month later and tried to make it right by being in control. All it did was make me feel worse.”
In the documentary, Demi doesn’t name her alleged rapists, but the drug dealer who admitted he was the one who supplied the drugs on the night of the overdose already gave tabloid interviews after he found out that he wouldn’t be arrested for supplying her the drugs. His name is already out there in the public. And in at least one of his interviews, he claimed that Demi was his sex partner in a “friends with benefits” situation.
As for the guy whom Demi says raped her when she was 15, she drops some big hints about who he is. “I was part of that Disney crowd that publicly said they were waiting until marriage.” She says in the documentary that this virginity image was a lie for her and her alleged rapist, which obviously implies that he was part of that “Disney crowd” too.
Commenting on how she lost her virginity, Demi says: “I didn’t have the romantic first time. That was not it for me. That sucked. Then I had to see this person all the time so I stopped eating and coped in other ways.”
Then she takes a breath and says, “Fuck it. I’m gonna say it.” She says that her #MeToo moment came when she reported the rape to adults (whom she does not name in the documentary), but her alleged rapist “never got in trouble for it. They never got taken out of the movie they were in. I always kept it quiet because I’ve always had something to say. I don’t know, I’m tired of opening my mouth. Here’s the tea.”
Just like many people with #MeToo stories, Demi says she’s going public with her truth to help give other people the courage to do the same. “I’m coming forward with what happened to me because everyone it happens to should absolutely speak their voice.” She also says, “At the end of the day, I’m responsible for my life choices and only hold myself accountable. And the last two years have been about me doing the work to identify and confront those traumas, so I can be my best self and truly be happy.”
The problem with these types of “confessions of a famous addict” is that they usually have the celebrity confessing that they previously put on a fake front of being happy and/or sober in public, but they were really miserable and/or relapsing in private. Then they usually end the documentary by saying they’re doing much better now. But it can be hard for people to believe that, when the celebrity has already admitted that they’re skilled at pretending that their life is better than it really is.
Demi says in the “Dancing With the Devil” documentary that when she made the “Simply Complicated” documentary, she was really miserable and pretended at the time that she happy. Is there eventually going to be another “confession” from Demi where she will say that she was lying in this “Dancing With the Devil” documentary too? It’s a vicious cycle where people aren’t going to know what to believe.
Another problem that people tend to have with these celebrity “tell-alls” is they usually come out at around the same time that the celebrity has a new project to promote. And it makes people wonder how much of this pain is being used to market something that the celebrity wants to sell. Sure enough, the documentary includes studio footage and video clips to promote Demi’s seventh studio album “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over,” which is due out on April 2, 2021, the same week as when this docuseries’ last episode is released on YouTube.
Most addicts and alcoholics don’t get to profit from selling their stories. And there’s a lot of denial going on in the documentary when Demi, who spent years telling the world that she’s an alcoholic, now says she can handle drinking alcohol in moderation. Did she not learn anything in rehab?
Although there are website addresses and hotline phone numbers listed in the documentary as resources for people who want to get more information on how to get help for addiction or surviving sexual trauma, the mixed messages that Demi gives in her “Dancing With the Devil” documentary can actually confuse people. She does briefly acknowledge that she’s luckier than most addicts, because she can afford top-notch rehab treatment and a team of people who can get her whatever she asks for because she’s paying them to do it. But that acknowledgement rings hollow because she’s basically saying, “I know I can afford to go to the highest-priced rehab centers in the world, but I’m going to indulge in my addictive substances anyway, just because I feel like it.”
However, people who are not gullible fans can see the documentary for what it is: It shows the difficulty of overcoming addiction and how celebrities are surrounded by “yes” people who will say what the celebrity wants to hear so that they can stay in the celebrity’s inner circle. If there’s any meaningful takeaway from “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” it’s that if celebrities want to tell the world their truth, they should summon the courage to have people in their lives who will tell them the truth. And when it comes to addiction to alcohol and drugs, they can start with the basic fundamentals of rehab, which is that an alcoholic/drug addict isn’t doing enough real work to get clean and sober if that alcoholic/drug addict is still drinking and drugging.
Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Beyoncé were among the top winners at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, which were presented in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021. The show was originally scheduled to take place at the Staples Center, but due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, performances were held inside an unnamed alternate building, while the awards were given at an outside location directly across from the Staples Center. Trevor Noah hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on CBS and Paramount+.
Swift won Album of the Year for “Folklore,” and she became the first artist in Grammy history to win three Grammys for Album of the Year. It was the only award that she won at the 2021 Grammy ceremony. Swift previously won Grammys for Album of the Year for 2008’s “Fearless” and 2014’s “1989.”
Eilish received two prizes at the 2021 Grammy Awards: Record of the Year (for “Everything I Wanted”) and Best Song Written for Visual Media (for “No Time to Die”). These wins came a year after Eilish swept all four of the General Field categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist) at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
Beyoncé had the most nominations (nine) at the 2021 Grammy Awards. She ended up winning four: “Black Parade” won for Best R&B Performance; “Brown Skin Girl” won for Best Music Video/Film (an award she shares with her daughter Blue Ivy and rapper WizKid); and as a featured artist and co-writer on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Beyoncé won for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. Beyoncé’s Grammy haul brought her total to 28 Grammys in her career so far. Beyoncé now holds the record as the female artist with the most Grammys, breaking the previous record held by Alison Krauss, who has 27 Grammys.
Other winners in major categories included H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” (Song of the Year); Megan Thee Stallion (Best New Artist); Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” (Best Pop Vocal Album); Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” (Best Pop Vocal Performance); and Lady Gaga With Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me” (Best Pop/Duo Vocal Performance).
The performers at the 2021 Grammy Awards included Bad Bunny, Black Pumas, Cardi B, BTS, Brandi Carlile, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Eilish, Mickey Guyton, Haim, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Lipa, Chris Martin, John Mayer, Megan Thee Stallion, Maren Morris, Post Malone, Bruno Mars, Roddy Ricch, Styles and Swift.
The Grammy nominations and awards are voted for by the Recording Academy. The 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony was produced by Fulwell 73 Productions for the Recording Academy. Ben Winston was executive producer, Jesse Collins and Raj Kapoor were co-executive producers; and Fatima Robinson, Josie Cliff and David Wild were producers, Patrick Menton was talent producer, and Hamish Hamilton was director.
Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards:
Record of the Year
“Black Parade” — Beyoncé — Beyoncé & Derek Dixie, producers; Stuart White, engineer/mixer; Colin Leonard, mastering engineer
“Colors” — Black Pumas — Adrian Quesada, producer; Adrian Quesada, engineer/mixer; JJ Golden, mastering engineer
“Rockstar” —DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch — SethinTheKitchen, producer; Derek “MixedByAli” Ali, Chris Dennis & Liz Robson, engineers/mixers; Susan Tabor, mastering engineer
“Everything I Wanted” — Billie Eilish — Finneas O’Connell, producer; Rob Kinelski & Finneas O’Connell, engineers/mixers; John Greenham, mastering engineer*
“Don’t Start Now” — Dua Lipa — Caroline Ailin & Ian Kirkpatrick, producers; Josh Gudwin, Drew Jurecka & Ian Kirkpatrick, engineers/mixers; Chris Gehringer, mastering engineer
“Circles” — Post Malone — Louis Bell, Frank Dukes & Post Malone, producers; Louis Bell & Manny Marroquin, engineers/mixers; Mike Bozzi, mastering engineer
“Savage” — Megan Thee Stallion Featuring Beyoncé — Beyoncé & J. White Did It, producers; Stuart White, engineer/mixer; Colin Leonard, mastering engineer
Album of the Year
“Chilombo” — Jhené Aiko — Fisticuffs & Julian-Quán Việt Lê, producers; Fisticuffs, Julian-Quán Việt Lê, Zeke Mishanec, Christian Plata & Gregg Rominiecki, engineers/mixers; Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo, Julian-Quán Việt Lê, Maclean Robinson & Brian Keith Warfield, songwriters; Dave Kutch, mastering engineer
“Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition)” — Black Pumas — Jon Kaplan & Adrian Quesada, producers; Adrian Quesada, Jacob Sciba, Stuart Sikes & Erik Wofford, engineers/mixers; Eric Burton & Adrian Quesada, songwriters; JJ Golden, mastering engineer
“Everyday Life” — Coldplay — Daniel Green, Bill Rahko & Rik Simpson, producers; Mark “Spike” Stent, engineer/mixer; Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion & Chris Martin, songwriters; Emily Lazar, mastering engineer
“Djesse Vol.3” — Jacob Collier — Jacob Collier, producer; Ben Bloomberg & Jacob Collier, engineers/mixers; Jacob Collier, songwriter; Chris Allgood & Emily Lazar, mastering engineers
“Women in Music Pt. III” — HAIM — Rostam Batmanglij, Danielle Haim & Ariel Rechtshaid, producers; Rostam Batmanglij, Jasmine Chen, John DeBold, Matt DiMona, Tom Elmhirst, Joey Messina-Doerning & Ariel Rechtshaid, engineers/mixers; Rostam Batmanglij, Alana Haim, Danielle Haim, Este Haim & Ariel Rechtshaid, songwriters; Emily Lazar, mastering engineer
“Future Nostalgia” — Dua Lipa — Koz, producer; Josh Gudwin & Cameron Gower Poole, engineers/mixers; Clarence Coffee Jr. & Dua Lipa, songwriters; Chris Gehringer, mastering engineer
“Hollywood’s Bleeding” — Post Malone — Louis Bell & Frank Dukes, producers; Louis Bell & Manny Marroquin, engineers/mixers; Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Austin Post & Billy Walsh, songwriters; Mike Bozzi, mastering engineer
“Folklore” — Taylor Swift — Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, producers; Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, Serban Ghenea, John Hanes, Jonathan Low & Laura Sisk, engineers/mixers; Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters; Randy Merrill, mastering engineer*
Song of the Year
“Black Parade” — Denisia Andrews, Beyoncé, Stephen Bray, Shawn Carter, Brittany Coney, Derek James Dixie, Akil King, Kim “Kaydence” Krysiuk & Rickie “Caso” Tice, songwriters (Beyoncé)
“The Box” — Samuel Gloade & Rodrick Moore, songwriters (Roddy Ricch)
“Cardigan” — Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
Circles Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Austin Post & Billy Walsh, songwriters (Post Malone)
“Don’t Start Now” — Caroline Ailin, Ian Kirkpatrick, Dua Lipa & Emily Warren, songwriters (Dua Lipa)
“On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment” — Ambrose Akinmusire
“Waiting Game” — Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science
“Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard” — Gerald Clayton
“Trilogy 2” — Chick Corea, Christian Mcbride & Brian Blade*
“Roundagain” — Redman Mehldau McBride Blade
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
“Dialogues on Race” — Gregg August
“Monk’estra Plays John Beasley” — John Beasley
“The Intangible Between” — Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band
“Songs You Like a Lot” — John Hollenbeck with Theo Bleckmann, Kate Mcgarry, Gary Versace and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
“Data Lords” —Maria Schneider Orchestra*
Best Latin Jazz Album
“Tradiciones” — Afro-Peruvian Jazz Orchestra*
“Four Questions” — Arturo O’farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
“City of Dreams” — Chico Pinheiro
“Viento y Tiempo – Live at Blue Note Tokyo” — Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymée Nuviola
“Trane’s Delight” — Poncho Sanchez
Field 11 – Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music
Best Gospel Performance/Song
“Wonderful Is Your Name” — Melvin Crispell III
“Release (Live)” — Ricky Dillard Featuring Tiff Joy; David Frazier, songwriter “Come Together” — Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins Presents: The Good News; Lashawn Daniels, Rodney Jerkins, Lecrae Moore & Jazz Nixon, songwriters
“Won’t Let Go” — Travis Greene; Travis Greene, songwriter
“Movin’ On” — Jonathan McReynolds & Mali Music; Darryl L. Howell, Jonathan Caleb McReynolds, Kortney Jamaal Pollard & Terrell Demetrius Wilson, songwriters*
Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song
“The Blessing (Live)” — Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes & Elevation Worship; Chris Brown, Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe Carnes & Steven Furtick, songwriters
“Sunday Morning” — Lecrae Featuring Kirk Franklin; Denisia Andrews, Jones Terrence Antonio, Saint Bodhi, Brittany Coney, Kirk Franklin, Lasanna Harris, Shama Joseph, Stuart Lowery, Lecrae Moore & Nathanael Saint-Fleur, songwriters “Holy Water” — We The Kingdom; Andrew Bergthold, Ed Cash, Franni Cash, Martin Cash & Scott Cash, songwriters
“Famous For (I Believe)” — Tauren Wells Featuring Jenn Johnson; Chuck Butler, Krissy Nordhoff, Jordan Sapp, Alexis Slifer & Tauren Wells, songwriters
“There Was Jesus” — Zach Williams & Dolly Parton; Casey Beathard, Jonathan Smith & Zach Williams, songwriters*
Best Gospel Album
“2econd Wind: Ready” — Anthony Brown & Group Therapy
“My Tribute” — Myron Butler
“Choirmaster” — Ricky Dillard
“Gospel According to PJ” — PJ Morton*
“Kierra” — Kierra Sheard
Best Contemporary Christian Music Album
“Run to the Father” — Cody Carnes
All of My Best Friends” — Hillsong Young & Free
“Holy Water” — We the Kingdom
“Citizen of Heaven” — Tauren Wells
“Jesus Is King” — Kanye West*
Best Roots Gospel Album
“Beautiful Day” — Mark Bishop
“20/20” — The Crabb Family
“What Christmas Really Means” — The Erwins
“Celebrating Fisk! (The 150th Anniversary Album)” — Fisk Jubilee Singers*
Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano)
“Hecho En México” — Alejandro Fernández
“La Serenata” — Lupita Infante
“Un Canto Por México, Vol. 1” — Natalia Lafourcade*
“Bailando Sones Y Huapangos Con Mariachi Sol De Mexico De Jose Hernandez” — Mariachi Sol De Mexico De Jose Hernandez
“Ayayay!” — Christian Nodal
Best Tropical Latin Album
“Mi Tumbao” — José Alberto “El Ruiseñor”
“Infinito” — Edwin Bonilla
“Sigo Cantando Al Amor (Deluxe)” — Jorge Celedon & Sergio Luis
“40” — Grupo Niche*
“Memorias De Navidad” — Víctor Manuelle
Field 13 – American Roots Music
Best American Roots Performance
“Colors” — Black Pumas
“Deep in Love” — Bonny Light Horseman
“Short and Sweet” — Brittany Howard
“I’ll Be Gone” — Norah Jones & Mavis Staples
“I Remember Everything” — John Prine*
Best American Roots Song
“Cabin” — Laura Rogers & Lydia Rogers, songwriters (The Secret Sisters)
“Ceiling to the Floor” — Sierra Hull & Kai Welch, songwriters (Sierra Hull)
“Hometown” — Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
“I Remember Everything” — Pat McLaughlin & John Prine, songwriters (John Prine)*
“Man Without a Soul” — Tom Overby & Lucinda Williams, songwriters (Lucinda Williams)
Best Americana Album
“Old Flowers” — Courtney Marie Andrews
“Terms of Surrender” — Hiss Golden Messenger
“World on the Ground” — Sarah Jarosz*
“El Dorado” — Marcus King
“Good Souls Better Angels” — Lucinda Williams
Best Bluegrass Album
“Man on Fire” — Danny Barnes
“To Live in Two Worlds, Vol. 1” — Thomm Jutz
“North Carolina Songbook” — Steep Canyon Rangers
“Home” — Billy Strings*
“The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project, Vol. 1” (Various Artists)
Best Traditional Blues Album
“All My Dues Are Paid” — Frank Bey
“You Make Me Feel” — Don Bryant
“That’s What I Heard” — Robert Cray Band
“Cypress Grove” — Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
“Rawer Than Raw” — Bobby Rush*
Best Contemporary Blues Album
“Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?” — Fantastic Negrito*
“Live at the Paramount” — Ruthie Foster Big Band
“The Juice” — G. Love
“Blackbirds” — Bettye Lavette
“Up and Rolling” — North Mississippi Allstars
Best Folk Album
“Bonny Light Horseman” — Bonny Light Horseman
“Thanks for the Dance” — Leonard Cohen
“Song for Our Daughter” — Laura Marling
“Saturn Return” — The Secret Sisters
“All the Good Times” — Gillian Welch & David Rawlings*
Best Regional Roots Music Album
“My Relatives” — “Nikso Kowaiks” Black Lodge Singers
“Cameron Dupuy and the Cajun Troubadours” — Cameron Dupuy And The Cajun Troubadours
“Lovely Sunrise” — Nā Wai ʽehā
“Atmosphere” — New Orleans Nightcrawlers*
“A Tribute to Al Berard” — Sweet Cecilia
Field 14 – Reggae
Best Reggae Album
“Upside Down 2020” — Buju Banton
“Higher Place” — Skip Marley
“It All Comes Back to Love” — Maxi Priest
“Got to Be Tough” — Toots & the Maytals*
“One World” — The Wailers
Field 15 – Global Music
Best Global Music Album
“Fu Chronicles” — Antibalas
“Twice As Tall” — Burna Boy*
“Agora” — Bebel Gilberto
“Love Letters” — Anoushka Shankar
“Amadjar” — Tinariwen
Field 16 – Children’s
Best Children’s Music Album
“All the Ladies” — Joanie Leeds*
“Be a Pain: An Album for Young (and Old) Leaders” — Alastair Moock And Friends
“I’m an Optimist” — Dog On Fleas
“Songs for Singin’” — The Okee Dokee Brothers
“Wild Life” — Justin Roberts
Field 17 – Spoken Word
Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling)
“Acid for the Children: A Memoir” — Flea
“Alex Trebek – The Answer Is…” — Ken Jennings
“Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth” — Rachel Maddow*
“Catch and Kill” — Ronan Farrow
“Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)” — Meryl Streep (& Full cast)
Field 18 – Comedy
Best Comedy Album
“Black Mitzvah” — Tiffany Haddish*
“I Love Everything” — Patton Oswalt
“The Pale Tourist” — Jim Gaffigan
“Paper Tiger” — Bill Burr
“23 Hours to Kill” — Jerry Seinfeld
Field 19 – Musical Theater
Best Musical Theater Album
“Amélie” — Audrey Brisson, Chris Jared, Caolan McCarthy & Jez Unwin, principal soloists; Michael Fentiman, Sean Patrick Flahaven, Barnaby Race & Nathan Tysen, producers; Nathan Tysen, lyricist; Daniel Messe, composer & lyricist (Original London Cast)
“American Utopia on Broadway” — David Byrne, principal soloist; David Byrne, producer (David Byrne, composer & lyricist) (Original Cast)
“Jagged Little Pill” — Kathryn Gallagher, Celia Rose Gooding, Lauren Patten & Elizabeth Stanley, principal soloists; Neal Avron, Pete Ganbarg, Tom Kitt, Michael Parker, Craig Rosen & Vivek J. Tiwary, producers (Glen Ballard & Alanis Morissette, lyricists) (Original Broadway Cast)*
“Little Shop of Horrors” — Tammy Blanchard, Jonathan Groff & Tom Alan Robbins, principal soloists; Will Van Dyke, Michael Mayer, Alan Menken & Frank Wolf, producers (Alan Menken, composer; Howard Ashman, lyricist) (The New Off-Broadway Cast)
“The Prince of Egypt” — Christine Allado, Luke Brady, Alexia Khadime & Liam Tamne, principal soloists; Dominick Amendum & Stephen Schwartz, producers; Stephen Schwartz, composer & lyricist (Original Cast)
“Soft Power” — Francis Jue, Austin Ku, Alyse Alan Louis & Conrad Ricamora, principal soloists; Matt Stine, producer; David Henry Hwang, lyricist; Jeanine Tesori, composer & lyricist (Original Cast)
Field 20 – Music for Visual Media
Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Various Artists)
“Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Various Artists)
“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga” (Various Artists)
“Frozen 2” (Various Artists)
“Jojo Rabbit” (Various Artists)*
Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media
“Ad Astra” — Max Richter, composer
“Becoming” — Kamasi Washington, composer
“Joker” — Hildur Guðnadóttir, composer*
“1917” — Thomas Newman, composer
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” — John Williams, composer
Best Song Written For Visual Media Category
“Beautiful Ghosts” (from “Cats”) — Andrew Lloyd Webber & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
“Carried Me With You” (from “Onward”) — Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth & Tim Hanseroth, songwriters (Brandi Carlile)
“Into the Unknown” (from “Frozen 2”) — Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, songwriters (Idina Menzel & Aurora)
“No Time to Die” (from “No Time to Die”) — Billie Eilish O’Connell & Finneas Baird O’Connell, songwriters (Billie Eilish)*
“25 Trips” — Shani Gandhi & Gary Paczosa, engineers; Adam Grover, mastering engineer (Sierra Hull)
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Jack Antonoff — “August” (Taylor Swift), “Gaslighter” (The Chicks), “Holy Terrain” (FKA Twigs Featuring Future), “Mirrorball” (Taylor Swift), “This Is Me Trying” (Taylor Swift), “Together” (Sia)
Dan Auerbach — “Cypress Grove” (Jimmy “Duck” Holmes), “El Dorado” (Marcus King), “Is Thomas Callaway” (CeeLo Green), “Singing For My Supper” (Early James), “Solid Gold Sounds” (Kendell Marvel), “Years” (John Anderson)
Dave Cobb — “Backbone” (Kaleo), “The Balladeer” (Lori McKenna), “Boneshaker” (Airbourne), “Down Home Christmas” (Oak Ridge Boys), “The Highwomen” (The Highwomen), “I Remember Everything” (John Prine), “Reunions” (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit), “The Spark” (William Prince), “You’re Still The One” (Teddy Swims)
Flying Lotus — “It Is What It Is” (Thundercat)
Andrew Watt — “Break My Heart” (Dua Lipa), “Me And My Guitar” (A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie), “Midnight Sky” (Miley Cyrus), “Old Me” (5 Seconds Of Summer), “Ordinary Man” (Ozzy Osbourne Featuring Elton John), “Take What You Want” (Post Malone Featuring Ozzy Osbourne & Travis Scott), “Under The Graveyard” (Ozzy Osbourne)*
Best Remixed Recording
“Do You Ever (Rac Mix)” — Rac, Remixer (Phil Good)
“Imaginary Friends (Morgan Page Remix)” — Morgan Page, Remixer (Deadmau5)
“Praying for You (Louie Vega Main Remix)” — Louie Vega, Remixer (Jasper Street Co.)
N/A: Due the COVID-19 pandemic, the Best Immersive Audio Album Craft “Committee was unable to meet. The judging of the entries in this category has been postponed until such time that we are able to meet in a way that is appropriate to judge the many formats and configurations of the entries and is safe for the committee members.”
Field 27 – Production, Classical
Best Engineered Album, Classical
“Danielpour: The Passion Of Yeshua” — Bernd Gottinger, engineer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
“Gershwin: Porgy And Bess” — David Frost & John Kerswell, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
“Hynes: Fields” — Kyle Pyke, engineer; Jesse Lewis & Kyle Pyke, mastering engineers (Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion)
“Ives: Complete Symphonies” — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
“Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’” — David Frost & Charlie Post, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra)*
Producer of the Year, Classical
Field 28 – Classical
Best Orchestral Performance
“Aspects of America – Pulitzer Edition” Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
“Copland: Symphony No. 3” — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
“Ives: Complete Symphonies” — Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)*
“Lutosławski: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3” — Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Best Opera Recording
“Dello Joio: The Trial at Rouen” — Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck & Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
“Floyd, C.: Prince of Players” — William Boggs, conductor; Keith Phares & Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
“Gershwin: Porgy and Bess” — David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue & Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)*
“Handel: Agrippina” — Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Joyce DiDonato; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
“Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg” — Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip & Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini & Erwin Stürzer, producers (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)
Best Choral Performance
“Carthage” — Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
“Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua” — JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass & Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann & Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus & UCLA Chamber Singers)
“Kastalsky: Requiem” — Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox & Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel & Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke’s; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale & The Saint Tikhon Choir)
“Moravec: Sanctuary Road” — Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather & Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society Of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society Of New York Chorus)
“Once Upon a Time” — Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)
Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
“Contemporary Voices” — Pacifica Quartet*
“Healing Modes” — Brooklyn Rider
“Hearne, T.: Place” — Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods & Place Orchestra
“Hynes: Fields” — Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion
“The Schumann Quartets” — Dover Quartet
Best Classical Instrumental Solo
“Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” — Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
“Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas” — Igor Levit
“Bohemian Tales” — Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrůša, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
“Destination Rachmaninov – Arrival” Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
“Theofanidis: Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra” — Richard O’Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)*
Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
“American Composers at Play” — William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich & Jason Vieaux)
“Clairières – Songs by Lili & Nadia Boulanger” — Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
“Farinelli” — Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico) “A Lad’s Love” — Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley & Ben Russell)
“Smyth: The Prison” — Sarah Brailey & Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)*
Best Classical Compendium
“Adès Conducts Adès” — Mark Stone & Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
“Saariaho: Graal Théâtre; Circle Map; Neiges; Vers Toi Qui Es Si Loin” — Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
“Serebrier: Symphonic Bach Variations; Laments And Hallelujahs; Flute Concerto” — José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
“Thomas, M.T.: From The Diary of Anne Frank & Meditations on Rilke” — Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer*
“Woolf, L.P.: Fire And Flood” — Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer
Best Contemporary Classical Composition
“Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” — Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès & Boston Symphony Orchestra)
“Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua” — Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
“Floyd, C.: Prince of Players” — Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
“Hearne, T.: Place” — Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods & Place Orchestra)
“Brown Skin Girl” — Beyoncé, Blue Ivy & WizKid — Beyoncé Knowles-Carter & Jenn Nkiru, Video Directors; Lauren Baker, Astrid Edwards, Nathan Scherrer & Erinn Williams, Video Producers*
“Life Is Good” — Future Featuring Drake — Julien Christian Lutz, Video Director; Harv Glazer, Video Producer
“Lockdown” — Anderson .Paak — Dave Meyers, Video Director; Nathan Scherrer, Video Producer
“Adore You” — Harry Styles — Dave Meyers, Video Director; Nathan Scherrer, Video Producer
“Goliath” — Woodkid — Yoann Lemoine, video director
Best Music Film
“Beastie Boys Story” — Beastie Boys — Spike Jonze, video director; Amanda Adelson, Jason Baum & Spike Jonze, video producers
“Black Is King” — Beyoncé
“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” — Freestyle Love Supreme — Andrew Fried, Video Director; Andrew Fried, Jill Furman, Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sarina Roma, Jenny Steingart & Jon Steingart, video producers
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” — Linda Ronstadt — Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, video directors; Michele Farinola & James Keach, video producers*
“That Little Ol’ Band From Texas” — ZZ Top — Sam Dunn, video director; Scot McFadyen, video producer
The following is a press release from CBS and the Recording Academy:
CBS and the Recording Academy(R) announced the full lineup of performers for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. Hosted by Trevor Noah, CBS presents the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards live, Sunday, March 14, (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/5:00-8:00 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
The performers include Bad Bunny, Black Pumas, Cardi B, BTS, Brandi Carlile, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Mickey Guyton, Haim, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Lil Baby, Dua Lipa, Chris Martin, John Mayer, Megan Thee Stallion, Maren Morris, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. Artists will come together, while still safely apart, to play music for each other as a community and celebrate the music that unites us.
Additionally, Music’s Biggest Night will pay tribute to independent venues, that have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. From bartenders to box office managers, the people who work day-to-day at the Troubadour (Los Angeles), Hotel Café (Los Angeles), the Apollo Theater (New York City) and The Station Inn (Nashville) will present awards for various categories throughout the night.
The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are produced by Fulwell 73 Productions for the Recording Academy. Ben Winston is executive producer, Jesse Collins and Raj Kapoor are co-executive producers, Fatima Robinson, Josie Cliff and David Wild are producers, Patrick Menton is talent producer, and Hamish Hamilton is director.
About the Recording Academy
The Recording Academy(R) represents the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals. Dedicated to ensuring the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, the Academy honors music’s history while investing in its future through the Grammy Museum, advocates on behalf of music creators, supports music people in times of need through MusiCares, and celebrates artistic excellence through the Grammy Awards — music’s only peer-recognized accolade and highest achievement. As the world’s leading society of music professionals, we work year-round to foster a more inspiring world for creators.
The following is a press release from the Academy of Country Music:
The Academy of Country Music®, Dick Clark Productions, and CBS announced today the nominations for the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards, honoring the biggest names and emerging talent in the Country Music industry. The 56th ACM Awards® will broadcast live from three iconic country music venues: the Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe on Sunday, April 18 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network and will also be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’ upcoming global streaming service.
Kelsea Ballerini and Brothers Osborne appeared live today on “CBS This Morning” to announce this year’s ACM Award nominees for Entertainer of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, Duo of the Year, Group of the Year and Single of the Year. “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent Rachel Smith announced additional nominees on ETonline.com.
Reigning Female Artist of the Year Maren Morris receives six nominations, with “The Bones” nominated for both Song of the Year and Single of the Year. Maren Morris receives an additional nod for songwriter of “The Bones,” her first time receiving a nomination both as an artist and songwriter for Song of the Year. Maren Morris is also a nominee for Female Artist of the Year, marking the 5th time she has been nominated in this category, and for Music Video of the Year for the first time. In addition, Morris is a nominee for Group of the Year alongside The Highwomen.
Chris Stapleton receives six nominations, including his third nomination for Entertainer of the Year. In addition, Chris Stapleton is a nominee for Male Artist of the Year, an award he was nominated for five times prior and won twice. Stapleton also receives a nod for Song of the Year as both songwriter and artist, for Album of the Year as artist and producer.
Miranda Lambert continues her streak as the most nominated female artist in Academy history with 68 lifetime nominations. Lambert is a five-time nominee for the 56th ACM Awards, with four nominations for “Bluebird.” “Bluebird” is nominated for Single of the Year, Video of the Year, and Song of the Year. Lambert received an additional nomination as songwriter. In addition, Lambert receives her 15th nomination for Female Artist of the Year, a category she’s won nine times.
For the first time in ACM Awards history, four Black artists are nominated for awards in a single year including Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton and John Legend.
Producer Jay Joyce receives four nominations, including two Album of the Year nominations for Ashley McBryde’s “Never Will” and Brothers Osborne’s “Skeletons.”
Every Single of the Year nomination features a female artist, and this was the first nomination in this category for three of the six nominees: Carly Pearce, Ingrid Andress, and Gabby Barrett.
Ashley McBryde receives four nominations, including her first for Album of the Year.
Reigning Entertainer of the Year Thomas Rhett receives four nominations, including his second nomination for Entertainer of the Year.
Reigning Male Artist of the Year Luke Combs is a nominee for Entertainer of the Year and Male Artist of the Year, and first-time nominee for Music Event of the Year for his duet with Eric Church on “Does to Me.” In addition to Music Event of the Year, Eric Church is also a nominee for Entertainer of the Year and Male Artist of the Year.
Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton are both nominees for Entertainer of the Year. A win for either artist in that category will also clinch the coveted Triple Crown Award, which consists of an Entertainer of the Year win, plus wins in an act’s respective New Artist (male, female, or duo or group) and Artist (male, female, duo or group) categories.
Ingrid Andress receives three nominations, including her second nomination for New Female Artist of the Year and her first nomination for Single of the Year, with an additional nomination as producer.
HARDY receives three nominations for Songwriter of the Year, New Male Artist of the Year, and Music Event of the Year. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson are also nominated alongside HARDY for Music Event of the Year for “One Beer,” marking Devin Dawson’s first nomination in the category and Lauren Alaina’s second.
Producer Dann Huff receives three nominations, including his 11th nomination for Producer of the Year.
Reigning Group of the Year, Old Dominion, receives two nominations, including their 6th nomination in the Group of the Year category. Band member Matthew Ramsey receives an additional nomination as songwriter for “Some People Do.”
Carly Pearce receives three nominations, including her first for Single of the Year and Music Event of the Year for her collaboration with Lee Brice on “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” and her first for Female Artist of the Year.
55th ACM Awards host Keith Urban is a double nominee in the Music Event of the Year Category for his collaboration with Thomas Rhett, Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, and Chris Tomlin in “Be A Light” and for his duet with P!nk in “One Too Many.” Urban receives an additional nomination for Producer of “One Too Many.” P!nk’s nomination in this category also marks the singer’s first ACM Award nomination.
Gabby Barrett receives two nominations, including her second nod as New Female Artist of the Year and first for Single of the Year.
Brothers Osborne receives two nominations, including their first for Album of the Year. Dierks Bentley receives two nominations, including his sixth nod for Video of the Year and seventh nod for Male of the Year.
Kane Brown earns his first ever nominations in the Album of the Year category for “Mixtape Vol. 1” and Video of the Year for “Worldwide Beautiful.”
Luke Bryan receives two nominations, including his ninth nomination for Entertainer of the Year.
Producer busbee receives two posthumous nominations for Music Event and Single of the Year for “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”
Jimmie Allen received his second nod for New Male Artist of the Year.
On the heels of her history-making performance from the 55th ACM Awards in 2020,
Mickey Guyton receives her second New Female Artist of the Year nomination.
John Legend receives his first-ever ACM Awards nomination for Video of the Year for his duet with Carrie Underwood on “Hallelujah,” while Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton received a nomination for Music Event of the Year for their duet, “Nobody But You,” marking Gwen Stefani’s first ACM Award nomination.
Overall, this year’s nominations include 14 artists and industry creators receiving their first-ever ACM Awards nominations: Tenille Arts, Spencer Cullum, Travis Denning, Kris Donegan, Alicia Enstrom, Jason Hall, Gena Johnson, John Legend, P!nk, Steve Mackey, Gwen Stefani, Benmont Tench, Chris Tomlin and Kristin Wilkinson.
Following is the full list of nominees for the Main Awards and Studio Recording Awards categories.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR Luke Bryan Eric Church Luke Combs Thomas Rhett Chris Stapleton
FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR Kelsea Ballerini Miranda Lambert Ashley McBryde Maren Morris Carly Pearce
MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR Dierks Bentley Eric Church Luke Combs Thomas Rhett Chris Stapleton
DUO OF THE YEAR Brooks & Dunn Brothers Osborne Dan + Shay Florida Georgia Line Maddie & Tae
GROUP OF THE YEAR Lady A Little Big Town Old Dominion The Cadillac Three The Highwomen
NEW FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR Ingrid Andress Tenille Arts Gabby Barrett Mickey Guyton Caylee Hammack
NEW MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR Jimmie Allen Travis Denning HARDY Cody Johnson Parker McCollum
ALBUM OF THE YEAR [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]
Born Here Live Here Die Here – Luke Bryan Producers: Jeff Stevens, Jody Stevens Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville
Mixtape Vol. 1 – Kane Brown Producers: Andrew Goldstein, Charlie Handsome, Dann Huff, Lindsay Rimes Record Label: RCA Nashville
Never Will – Ashley McBryde Producer: Jay Joyce Record Label: Warner Music Nashville
Skeletons – Brothers Osborne Producer: Jay Joyce Record Label: EMI Records Nashville
Starting Over – Chris Stapleton Producers: Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb Record Label: Mercury Nashville
SINGLE OF THE YEAR [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]
Bluebird – Miranda Lambert Producer: Jay Joyce Record Label: Vanner Records/RCA Records Nashville
I Hope – Gabby Barrett Producers: Ross Copperman, Zach Kale Record Label: Warner Music Nashville
I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice Producers: busbee Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records
More Hearts Than Mine – Ingrid Andress Producers: Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis Record Label: Warner Music Nashville
The Bones – Maren Morris Producer: Greg Kurstin Record Label: Columbia Nashville
SONG OF THE YEAR [Awarded to Songwriter(s)/Publisher(s)/Artist(s)]
Bluebird – Miranda Lambert Songwriter(s): Luke Dick, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby Publishers: Emileson Songs; Little Louder Songs; Pink Dog Publishing; Songs of Universal, INC; Sony ATV Tree Publishing; Wrucke for You Publishing
One Night Standards – Ashley McBryde Songwriter(s): Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hayford, Shane McAnally Publishers: Canned Biscuit Songs; Smackworks Music; Smack Blue, LLC; Smackstreet Music; Tempo Investments; Warner Geo Met Ric Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp
Some People Do – Old Dominion Songwriter(s): Jesse Frasure, Matt Ramsey, Thomas Rhett, Shane McAnally Publishers: Carrot Seed Songs; EMI Blackwood Music INC; Smackville Music; Songs of ROC Nation; Teremitry Rhythm House Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp; Smack Hits; Tempo Investments; Warner Gro Met Ric Music
Starting Over – Chris Stapleton Songwriter(s): Chris Stapleton, Mike Henderson Publishers: I Wrote These Songs; Straight Six Music; WC Music Corp
The Bones – Maren Morris Songwriter(s): Jimmy Robbins, Maren Morris, Laura Veltz Publishers: Big Machine Music, LLC; Extraordinary Alien Publishing; International Dog Music; Oh Denise Publishing; Round Hill Songs; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR [Awarded to Producer(s)/Director(s)/Artist(s)]
Better Than We Found It – Maren Morris Director: Gabrielle Woodland Producers: Sarah Kunin, Jennifer Pepke
Bluebird – Miranda Lambert Director: Trey Fanjoy Producer: Heather Levenstone
Gone – Dierks Bentley Directors: Wes Edwards, Ed Pryor, Travis Nicholson, Running Bear and Sam Siske, with animation by Skylar Wilson Producer: David Garcia
Hallelujah – Carrie Underwood and John Legend Director: Randee St. Nicholas Producer: Greg Wells
Worldwide Beautiful – Kane Brown Director: Alex Alvga Producer: Christen Pinkston
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR*(Off Camera Award) Ashley Gorley Michael Hardy Hillary Lindsey Shane McAnally Josh Osborne
MUSIC EVENT OF THE YEAR (Tie Within Category Increased Nominees) [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]
Be A Light – Thomas Rhett featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, Keith Urban Producer: Dann Huff Record Label: The Valory Music Co.
Does To Me – Luke Combs featuring Eric Church Producer: Scott Moffatt Record Label: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville
I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice Producer: busbee Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records
Nobody But You – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani Producer: Scott Hendricks Record Label: Warner Music Nashville
One Beer – HARDY featuring Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson Producers: Derek Wells, Joey Moi Record Label: Big Loud Records
One Too Many – Keith Urban, P!nk Producers: Cutfather, Dan McCarroll, Keith Urban, PhD Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville
STUDIO RECORDING AWARDS
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jarrod Travis Cure Mark Hill Tony Lucido Steve Mackey Glenn Worf
DRUMMER OF THE YEAR Fred Eltringham Evan Hutchings Derek Mixon Jerry Roe Aaron Sterling
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR J.T. Corenflos Kris Donegan Jedd Hughes Ilya Toshinskiy Derek Wells
PIANO/KEYS PLAYER OF THE YEAR Dave Cohen David Dorn Charlie Judge Mike Rojas Benmont Tench
SPECIALTY INSTRUMENT PLAYER OF THE YEAR (Tie Within Category Increased Nominees) Alicia Enstrom Jim Hoke Danny Rader Mickey Raphael Ilya Toshinskiy Kristin Wilkinson
STEEL GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR Spencer Cullum Dan Dugmore Mike Johnson Russ Pahl Justin Schipper
AUDIO ENGINEER OF THE YEAR Jeff Balding Jason Hall Gena Johnson Vance Powell F. Reid Shippen
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR Buddy Cannon Dave Cobb Dann Huff Jay Joyce Joey Moi
IMPORTANT NOTES: Awards counts for artists reflect categories in which they have been recognized as individuals or as part of their duo or group. In some cases, an artist may receive more than one nomination, which factors into their official count.
Award recipients in each category are noted above parenthetically in the Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Song of the Year, Video of the Year and Music Event of the Year.
The 2019 Industry Awards and the 2019 and 2020 Studio Recording Awards will be presented to recipients at ACM Honors™, a special event held annually in August at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
The 56th ACM Awards®, honoring and showcasing the biggest names and emerging talent in Country Music, will feature exciting performances, unprecedented collaborations, surprising moments and more to be announced in the coming months.
The health and safety of the artists, fans, industry, staff and partners involved in the ACM Awards is the number one priority. All guidelines set forth by national, state and local health officials will be closely followed and implemented during the production along with additional safety measures to be instated by Dick Clark Productions and the Academy of Country Music.
For more information, visit ACMcountry.com. You can also like Academy of Country Music on Facebook, follow on Twitter at @ACMawards, follow on Instagram at @ACMawards and sign up for the FREE ACM A-List for more immediate updates.
About the Academy of Country Music Awards™
The 56th Academy of Country Music Awards™ is dedicated to honoring and showcasing the biggest names and emerging talent in the Country Music industry. The show is produced for television by dick clark productions and will broadcast LIVE on Sunday, April 18, 2021 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network, and will also be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’ upcoming global streaming service. R.A. Clark, Amy Thurlow, Barry Adelman, Mark Bracco and Linda Gierahn are executive producers. Damon Whiteside is executive producer for the Academy of Country Music.
NOMINATION FAST FACTS
56TH ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS™ NOMINEES
**Awards presented in 2021 are for works produced in the calendar year 2020**
TOP ARTIST NOMINEE FAST FACTS
This year’s leading nominees are Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris, each with SIX ACM Award nominations.
Maren Morris receives SIX nominations, including her first for Song of the Year with an additional nomination as songwriter, and her first for Video of the Year.
Miranda Lambert, the most nominated female artist in ACM history, receives FIVE nominations, including her 15th nomination for Female Artist of the Year.
Ashley McBryde receives FOUR nominations, including her first for Album of the Year. Reigning Entertainer of the Year Thomas Rhett receives FOUR nominations, including his second nomination for Entertainer of the Year.
Carly Pearce receives THREE nominations, including her first for Single of the Year and Music Event of the Year for her collaboration with Lee Brice on “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” and her first for Female Artist of the Year.
Ingrid Andress receives THREE nominations, including her second nomination for New Female Artist of the Year and her first nomination for Single of the Year, receiving an additional nomination as producer.
HARDY receives THREE nominations for Songwriter of the Year, New Male Artist of the Year, and Music Event of the Year.
Luke Bryan receives TWO nominations, including his ninth nomination for Entertainer of the Year.
Kane Brown receives TWO nominations, including his first for Video of the Year and Album of the Year.
PRODUCER NOMINEE FAST FACTS
Producer Jay Joyce receives FOUR nominations, including two Album of the Year nominations for Ashley McBryde’s “Never Will” and Brothers Osborne’s “Skeletons.”
Producer Dann Huff receives THREE nominations, including his 11th nomination for Producer of the Year.
Producer busbee receives TWO posthumous nominations for Music Event and Single of the Year for “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”
For the first time in ACM Awards history, four Black artists are nominated for Awards in a single year including Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton and John Legend.
For the first time in history, every Single of the Year nomination features a female artist, and this was the first nomination in this category for three of the six nominees. Carly Pearce, Ingrid Andress and Gabby Barrett.
Chris Stapleton receives SIX nominations, including his third nomination for Entertainer of the Year. In addition, Stapleton is a nominee for Male Artist of the Year, an Award he was nominated for five times prior and won twice. Stapleton also receives a nod for Song of the Year as both songwriter and artist, for Album of the Year as artist and producer, and for Music Video of the Year.
Reigning Female Artist of the Year Maren Morris receives SIX nominations, with “The Bones” nominated for both Song of the Year and Single of the Year. Morris receives an additional nod for songwriter of “The Bones,” her first time receiving a nomination for Song of the Year both as an artist and songwriter. Morris is also a nominee for Female Artist of the Year, marking the fifth time she has been nominated in this category, and a first-time nominee for Music Video of the Year. In addition, Morris is nominated for Group of the Year alongside The Highwomen.
Miranda Lambert continues her streak as the most nominated female artist in Academy history with 68 lifetime nominations. Lambert receives FIVE total nominations for the 56th ACM Awards, with four nominations for “Bluebird.” “Bluebird” is nominated for Single of the Year, Video of the Year, and Song of the Year. Lambert receives an additional nomination as songwriter. In addition, Lambert receives her 15th nomination for Female Artist of the Year, a category she previously won nine times prior.
55th ACM Awards host Keith Urban is a double nominee in the Music Event of the Year Category for his collaboration with Thomas Rhett, Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, and Chris Tomlin in “Be A Light,” and for his duet with P!NK in “One Too Many.” Urban receives an additional nomination for Producer of “One Too Many.” P!NK’s nomination in this category mark’s the singer’s first ACM Award nomination.
Reigning Male Artist of the Year Luke Combs is a nominee for Entertainer of the Year and Male Artist of the Year, and receives his first nomination for Music Event of the Year for his duet with Eric Church on “Does to Me.” In addition to Music Event of the Year, Eric Church receives nominations for Entertainer of the Year and Male Artist of the Year.
HARDY receives THREE nominations for Songwriter of the Year, New Male Artist of the Year, and Music Event of the Year. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson are nominees alongside HARDY for Music Event of the Year for “One Beer,” marking Dawson’s first nomination in the category and Alaina’s second.
Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton are both nominees for Entertainer of the Year. A win for either artist in that category will also clinch the coveted Triple Crown Award. Reigning Group of the Year, Old Dominion, receives TWO nominations, including their sixth nomination in the Group of the Year category. Band member Matthew Ramsey receives an additional nomination as songwriter for “Some People Do.”
Lady A receives a nomination for Group of the Year, with singer Hillary Scott receiving an additional nomination for Music Event of the Year with “Be A Light.”
Gabby Barrett receives TWO nominations, including her second nod as New Female Artist of the Year and first for Single of the Year.
Dierks Bentley receives TWO nominations, including his sixth nod for Video of the Year and seventh nod for Male of the Year.
Brothers Osborne receives TWO nominations, including their first for Album of the Year.
On the heels of her history-making performance from the 55th ACM Awards in 2020, Mickey Guytonreceives her second New Female Artist of the Year nomination. Jimmie Allen receives his second nod for New Male Artist of the Year.
Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton received a nomination for Music Event of the Year for their duet, “Nobody But You,” marking Stefani’s first ACM Award nomination.
John Legend received his first-ever ACM Awards nomination for Video of the Year for his duet with Carrie Underwood on “Hallelujah.”
Brooks & Dunn continue their streak as the most nominated Duo in Academy history with 64 lifetime nominations.
The Cadillac Three receives their first nomination for Group of the Year.
Nominations include 14 artists and industry creators receiving their first-ever ACM Awards nominations. Tenille Arts, Spencer Cullum, Travis Denning, Kris Donegan, Alicia Enstrom, Jason Hall, Gena Johnson, John Legend, P!nk, Steve Mackey, Gwen Stefani, Benmont Tench, Chris Tomlin and Kristin Wilkinson.
Culture Representation: The documentary “Billie” features a group of white and black people, who were associated with Billie Holiday, discussing the life of the legendary jazz singer, who died at the age of 44 in 1959.
Culture Clash: Holiday battled drug addiction, and several people who knew her say that she was a target of the FBI.
Culture Audience: “Billie” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a raw and authentic look at Holiday’s life, as told by people who knew her best.
The insightful documentary “Billie” (directed by James Erskine) is a highly unusual non-fiction film because most of it is based on previously unreleased audio interviews that were conducted in the 1970s. Billie Holiday is the subject of the documentary, and there’s expected archival footage of her in her film. But the interviews are by numerous people who knew her best who wouldn’t be able to be interviewed today, because almost everyone is now deceased.
Holiday, who died of heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver at age 44 in 1959, was an iconic jazz singer who was also one of the first African American entertainers to record music speaking out against racial injustice. She was a highly talented and unique star, but she also complicated and deeply troubled. Her highs, lows and everything in between are detailed in the film, but there’s still a sense of mystery about Holiday that remains to this day. (It’s one of the reasons why biopics about Holiday portray her in very different ways.)
The audio recordings in “Billie” come from the archives of New York City-based journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who died by falling from a hotel in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 1978. She was 38. The official cause of death was ruled a suicide, but her younger sister Myra Luftman (who is not interviewed on camera) says in the documentary that Kuehl probably died from foul play because of the research that Keuhl was doing for the book.
Kuehl was an experienced arts journalist who wrote for The Paris Review and The New York Times Sunday magazine. She began working on the Holiday biography in 1971 and interviewed an impressive number of people. (The documentary has lots of images of cassette recorders and reel-to-reel tap machines in operation, to give a visual representation of these interviews.) She was a perfectionist, according to her sister, which is why it took so long for Kuehl to work on the uncompleted book.
According to Luftman, her sister Kuehl was threatened by people close to Count Basie, who became close to Kuehl when she interviewed him for the book. Kuehl was twice-divorced with no children, while Basie was married with children. Although Luftman couldn’t be sure if Basie and her sister had a sexual affair, she thinks those threats might have had something to do with Kuehl’s death.
Kuehl died after attending a Basie concert in Washington, D.C. Luftman says that a big clue for her that it wasn’t a suicide was that Kuehl had a cosmetic face mask on, which was her habit when she got ready for bed. An epilogue at the end of the documentary mentions that because of the destruction of police records, “investigations into Linda’s death made during the film proved inconclusive.”
In the documentary, Luftman explains why her sister wanted to write a Billie Holiday biography: “Even thought they came from totally different backgrounds, I think she really identified with Billie. I think she felt the pain of someone’s struggles. She did not see [Billie Holiday] as the victim, which is the way she had been portrayed.”
Holiday co-wrote her 1956 memoir “Lady Sings the Blues” with William Dufty, and the book became the basis of the 1972 feature film of the same name, starring Diana Ross, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Holiday. The “Billie” documentary gives added depth to Holiday’s memoir, since it includes the perspectives of people who talk about things that Holiday didn’t want to talk about in her book. One thing everyone agrees on is that Holiday grew up rough and grew up fast, which undoubtedly shaped the person she became later in life.
Holiday’s birth name was Eleanora Fagan, and she was born to teenage parents in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915. Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan (a maid) was 13 when she gave birth to Eleanora, and Clarence Halliday (a musician) was 15. Eleanora’s parents got married when she was 3 years old, and she was raised primarily in Baltimore. Her parents split up not long after getting married, and Halliday became an absentee father who remained out of his daughter’s life.
John Fagan, a cousin of Holiday’s, says in the documentary of their upbringing in East Baltimore: “It was a nice community to live. It was a different kind of poor … We were happy with what we had.” Mary “Pony” Kane, a childhood friend of Holiday’s, remembers that Eleanor was foul-mouthed, even as a child. Eleanor’s favorite curse words were “motherfucker” and “cocksucker.”
By all accounts, Eleanor started working as a housecleaner/maid before she was a teenager. She also began hanging out at a brothel, which is where she first heard jazz music. But the time she was 13, she was a prostitute. Her cousin John says, “During them times, she had to survive. She wasn’t like a slut. She just looked fast.”
However, Holiday’s former pianist Memry Midgett says in the documentary that Holiday’s prostitution past haunted her throughout her life. Midgett says that Holiday would “talk for hours about how she started in prostitution when she was 13 years old. At the time, she had her own girls on the street. She was terribly worried about whether or not God would forgive her.”
Skinny Davenport, a pimp who knew Holiday in her prostitution days, describes how the hookers in the neighborhood were treated: “Knock ’em down, kick ’em in the ass. They loved it.” Several people in the documentary describe Holiday as a “masochist” who never knew what it was like to have a healthy love relationship when she was adult. Considering all the trauma that Holiday had when she was a child (she was also raped more than once when she was a teenager), it’s no surprise that she ended up way that she did.
In 1928, Holiday and her mother moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. And by the age of 14, Holiday was singing professionally in nightclubs. In an archival radio interview, Holiday says, “I always knew I could sing, but I didn’t know I could make money out of it, until I was working in a little joint called The Hot Cha.” Pigmeat Markham, an entertainer who knew Holiday in her early days as a performer, remembers that Holiday had “stagefright.”
Detroit Red, a dancer work worked with Holiday at The Hot Cha, remembers: “At that particular time, the only vice she had was smoking [marijuana] reefers.” Later, Holiday became an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine and heroin. Her drug problems led to her multiple arrests at the height of her fame. It’s implied that her addiction issues were inherited, because Sandy Williams, a bandmate of Holiday’s father Clarence, describes Clarence as a “happy-go-lucky guy” who “loved his booze” and was often drunk.
Shortly after she became a professional singer as a teenager, Holiday began working with musician/producer John Hammond, who introduced her to Benny Goodman in 1933. Hammond says of Goodman, “He slept with Billie. I was one of the people who didn’t.” Holiday was the first black singer to work with Goodman in those racially segregated times.
Holiday’s career reached a new level when she began singing for the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie’s saxophonist Lester Young is credited with giving Holiday the nickname Lady Day. Holiday’s mother Sadie (who took an interested in her daughter’s career) was nicknamed Duchess. Along with Count Basie, “we were the Royal Family,” Holiday said in an archival interview. She said of Young, who would become her constant companion: “I returned the compliment and called him the President.”
In a 1972 interview, pianist Jimmy Rowles had this to say about Holiday and Young’s relationship: “They had the funniest way of loving each other. It was brother and sister, but it was another thing … He was one of the strangest people on Earth. He was like a visitor, but she was too.”
Holiday’s time with Basie and his band ended on a sour note when she left. Depending on whom you believe, she either quit or was fired. In the documentary interview, Hammond says, “There was a real problem between Billie and Basie. She wasn’t making enough money. This was one of the principal reasons why she left the band.” Hammond estimates that Holiday’s salary with Basie was $125 a week, at the most.
However, drummer Jo Jones has a entirely different recollection of why Holiday parted ways with Basie. Jones insists: “She didn’t leave the band. She was fired by John Hammond.” Jones says that Hammond fired Holiday because she refused Hammond’s demands to sing blues music.
Kuehl is heard in the interview going back and forth with Jones and Hammond to get their reactions to these conflicting allegations. Jones gets very angry in the interview when he hears that Hammond has denied firing Holiday, while Hammond expresses bewilderment in reacting to Jones’ claims that Hammond fired Holiday.
Meanwhile, Basie doesn’t offer much insight about Holiday in his interview commentary, because he claims he didn’t really know what was going on when she was in his band. (It’s hard to believe he didn’t know.) When asked if the stories were true that Holiday had to darken her skin when performing with Basie and his band, because she was so much lighter-skinned then they were, Basie also claims ignorance about that issue.
Whatever the real reasons for Holiday’s exit from the Count Basie Orchestra, her next career opportunity was one that was groundbreaking but controversial at the time. She was the singer for Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, who were all white. Shaw, bassist Sid Weiss, guitarist Al Arola, guitarist Les Robinson and friend Mae Weiss all mention in their documentary interviews that many racist people back then refused to accept a black female singer performing with a group of white musicians.
On tour, especially in the U.S. South, they encountered a lot of vicious racism. She also got a lot of abuse and harassment from racists they encountered. Holiday was accustomed to being the only woman in a band, but with Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, she felt the pain of racial segregation, since she couldn’t she wasn’t allowed in “whites only” public places with the rest of the band, such as restaurants and hotels. The problems became too much for her, and she quit working with Artie Shaw and His Orchestra.
Being a solo act gave Holiday the freedom to record what’s considered the most important and most controversial song of her career: “Strange Fruit.” Written by Abel Meeropol under the alias Lewis Allan, and released in 1939, the song is a poetically brutal commentary on racial injustice, particularly in describing the lynching of black people in the South. “Strange Fruit” was banned from radio airplay in certain areas, and many venues forbid Holiday from performing the song.
Music producer Marty Gabler says in the documentary that Columbia Records didn’t want to release “Strange Fruit” because of “the social content and because of how unusual it was to do a protest song.” “Strange Fruit” is considered historically important because it was one of the first social justice songs released by a mainstream performer prior to the U.S. civil rights movement. Protest songs became more prevalent in the 1960s, but Holiday was a pioneer.
Cafe Society owner Barney Josephson says that it wasn’t unusual for white customers to walk out of the club and complain if Holiday performed the song. Josephson sums up the usual complaint that he got was: “We came to your nightclub to be entertained. We don’t call this entertainment.” Jazz musician Charles Mingus says “Strange Fruit” was very impactful because it shows that Holiday was “fighting for equality before Martin Luther King. The song she chose exposed discrimination, [by] putting it on stage.”
Jazz/swing singer Billy Eckstine says that one of the biggest racial inequality problems that black artists had to deal with was that their music was being controlled and judged by white people. “Get a load of the critics, the people who judge our music. There never was a black critic in swing music. Because of the power structure, [black people] never had a chance.”
As Holiday’s fame grew, so too did her notoriety for being a drug addict. Several people in the documentary say that New York City doormen (especially on 52nd Street) would regularly supply her with drugs. Joe Guy, a trumpet player in her band, was also one of her main drug connections. Holiday’s boxer dog was used as a way to transport drugs underneath the dog’s collar. Although she was a heavy user of marijuana, alcohol and cocaine, Holiday was most associated with her use of heroin and other opiates.
Several people in the documentary literally say in one way or another, “She loved to get high.” And they talk about how she had an unusually high physical tolerance for drugs that was stronger than men who were physically a lot bigger than she was. Sylvia Syms, a singer and longtime friend of Holiday’s, comments on Holiday’s drug addiction: “She really dug being high, but I never saw anyone with such a capacity.”
It’s mentioned several times in the documentary that Holiday’s well-known drug problem and the controversy over “Strange Fruit” led to a conspiracy to bring her down, with the FBI involved. Jimmy Fletcher, an African American who was a narcotics agent for the FBI at the time, says that Holiday’s agent Joe Glaser worked with the FBI to arrest her in a drug bust “for her own good.”
According to Fletcher, “He [Glaser] confided in me that he wanted to save her. And the only way to save her was to have her knocked out by the government.” George H. White, who was a narcotics agent at the time, says Holiday’s lavish lifestyle also made her a target for the FBI and other law enforcement: “Billie flaunted her way of living.”
A 1947 shootout with cops in Philadelphia led to Holiday’s first arrest for narcotics possession. She was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The documentary includes archival news video footage of Joan Allen, a correctional officer who worked at the federal rehabilitation facility in Alderston, West Virginia, where Holiday served her prison time.
Allen shows the cell where Holiday stayed and describes Holiday as “quiet and certainly no trouble ever. She was a generous person, I’d say, in thought anyway. She never bothered anybody.” And to the best of anyone’s knowledge, Holiday didn’t sing while she was incarcerated.
Even though she performed a historic sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall after she was let out of prison in 1948 (at the time, Carnegie Hall was a venue for classical and opera music, not jazz), the damage to her reputation was done. She lost her cabaret license to perform in New York City nightclubs, thereby limiting her income options. Her second drug bust came in San Francisco in 1949, but she didn’t get any prison time for that arrest.
Dr. James Hamilton, a psychiatrist who interviewed Holiday when she was in prison, had this diagnosis of her. “She’s a psychopath.” While interviewer Kuehl can be heard gasping in shock when she hears this description, Hamilton elaborates that Holiday was “impulse-driven, strong, talented but not a dependable individual.” He noted that he thinks that Holiday’s inability to control her impulses made her psychopathic.
As for Holiday’s love life, several people in the documentary say that Holiday was openly bisexual. In a 1971 interview, Ruby Davis, who was Holiday’s roommate before the singer was famous, says that Holiday’s nickname was Mr. Billie Holiday “because she was seldom seen with fellas … Her mother put it in her mind to be careful [of men] because they’ll always break your heart, just like Billie’s father.”
Harry “Sweets” Edison, a trumpeter in the Count Basie Orchestra comments on Holiday: “She was like a man, but feminine.” John Simmons, who was her bass player and lover, calls her a “sex machine.” Music conductor Ray Ellis also comments on Holiday’s sex appeal: “I was in love with Billie, not necessarily Billie, but somebody. That voice. It turned me on.”
Although Holiday had several male and female lovers, only one woman is mentioned in the documentary as being one of her paramours: actress Tallulah Bankhead. Some people in the documentary allude to Holiday being fond of sex orgies. And it seems that Holiday didn’t want to settle down with anyone who was considered “nice” or “normal.”
Irene Kitchen, one of Holiday’s friends, mentions musician Sonny White, who was briefly Holiday’s fiancé, as “nice, quiet, a very good musician … Her mother and I hoped that she would marry him. Jimmy “Flashy” Monroe [a pimp who became a trombonist in Holiday’s band] broke them up. The next thing I know, she was using coke.”
Monroe would become Holiday’s first husband, whom she married in 1941. By all accounts, he was abusive and a heavy drug user. By the time that Holiday was arrested in 1947, she listed her marital status as “separated.” She and Monroe got divorced the same year.
Her romances didn’t get any better. John Levy became her manager and lover, even though he was married at the time. He reportedly ripped her off. Maria Bryant, a singer and friend of Holiday’s, calls Levy a “dirty, rotten, stinking bastard.”
In 1945, Holiday moved on to Louis McKay, who would become her manager and then her second husband. They got married in 1957. The documentary includes stories of people witnessing McKay (who’s been described as a mafia enforcer) being physically abusive to Holiday. Earl Zaiding, who was Holiday’s lawyer, calls McKay a “pathological liar.”
There were reports that McKay was very controlling and unscrupulous when it came to Holiday’s finances. At the time of her death, she and McKay were separated and not divorced. She had $750 to her name when she died, according to the documentary. Because McKay was still legally married to Holiday when she died, he inherited Holiday’s estate and future earnings.
Milt Hilton, a bass player who worked with Holiday during her last music recording sessions, remembers: “She was in pretty bad shape.” He took many of the widely published photos of her during these last sessions. A frail-looking Holiday is shown holding a glass of alcohol. Other people interviewed in the documentary include trombonist Melba Liston and singer Carmen McCrae.
The documentary doesn’t uncover any new visual footage of Billie Holiday. The songs that she sings in performance clips include “Strange Fruit, “Blues Are Brewin'” (with Louis Armstrong), “Fine and Mellow,” “My Man (Mon Homme),” “I Loves You Porgy,” “God Bless the Child” and “Don’t Explain,” the song that Holiday said represented her the best. There’s also a clip of her role as Endie in the 1947 film “New Orleans.”
Because “Billie” is told in chronological order of her life, the documentary has a very easy narrative to follow. Tony Bennett, who says he briefly knew Holiday, sums up the way a lot of people feel about Holiday: “She told her own story, just by being herself. She had a wild life.” He adds, “I want to know why all girl singers crack up. When they reach the top, something tragic happens.”
Greenwich Entertainment released “Billie” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 4, 2020.
For the first time, South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals will be held online for the 2021 edition of the event, which takes place March 16 to March 20, and has been dubbed SXSW Online. After being cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW is following safety protocols to offer a virtual experience for SXSW attendees in 2021. SXSW is arguably the best-known event in the U.S. that combines music, film, interactive and convergence programming.
Here are some of the anticipated highlights of the festival:
Keynote and Featured Speakers
The lineup of SXSW keynote speakers includes:
Grammy-winning artist Willie Nelson
Politician, activist and author Stacey Abrams in conversation with author N.K. Jemisin
Featured speakers include:
Author James Altucher
Favor president/CEO and H-E-B Chief digital officer Jag Bath in conversation with Inc editor-at-large Tom Foster
Talk show host/comedian Samantha Bee
Oregon congressman and Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Earl Blumenauer with Politico federal cannabis policy reporter Natalie Fertig
Business mogul and Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson
Oscar-nominated film composer Nicholas Britell
Hip-hop artist Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky)
Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr
Electronic dance music duo The Chainsmokers
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban
Interdisciplinary artist Torkwase Dyson
Relativity Space co-founder/COTim Ellis
Dance choreographer Laurieann Gibson
Author/psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb
Schwab executive vice president and chief digital officer Neesha Hathi
Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap
Oscar-wining filmmaker Barry Jenkins
Affectiva co-founder/CEO Dr. Rana el Kaliouby
Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson in conversation with Self magazine editor-in-chief Carolyn Kylstra
Twilio co-founder/CEO Jeff Lawson
Computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee
Grammy-winning rapper and “NCIS: Los Angeles” actor LL Cool J
Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey in conversation with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber
International yoga teacher, actress, writer and entrepreneur Adriene Mishler
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian
Actor, filmmaker, author, and Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas
Sony Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jon Platt in conversation with Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Carole King
Emmy-winning producer, Grammy-winning artist and actress Queen Latifah
Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke
NFL football player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
NFL football player Sebastian Tomich
NBA basketball star Chris Webber
Grammy-winning artist Wyclef Jean
Descriptions courtesy of SXSW:
Alexi Pappas & Bill Hader on Being a Bravey – A conversation with Olympian, actress, and author of the bestselling book Bravey, Alexi Pappas, in conversation with Emmy award-winning actor, filmmaker and creator/star of “Barry,” Bill Hader. Pappas and Hader will discuss their evolving relationship with mental health in their creative, professional, and personal lives, and on the lessons they’ve learned from mentors along the way.
Are We the Smartest Kids on the Block? – A conversation with Harvard University Professor of Science Avi Loeb, and New Scientist reporter Leah Crane about the search for extraterrestrial life, one of the most exciting frontiers in astronomy. With the recent discoveries on the cloud deck of Venus and studies of the weird interstellar object `Oumuamua’, find out how the search for unusual electromagnetic flashes, industrial pollution of planetary atmospheres, artificial light or heat, artificial space debris or something completely unexpected holds the promise of advancing and maturing both science and society.
Beyond the Gender Binary – With increasing recognition of the fluidity of gender, the time has come for a 21st century approach to gender justice. Dividing billions of people into one of two categories “man or woman” is not natural, it is political. Gender diversity is an integral part of our existence. It always has been, and it always will be. The gender binary – the idea that there are only two separate and opposite genders – was built to create conflict and division, not foster creativity and humanity. In this conversation ALOK and Demi Lovato will speak about the status of trans rights in the United States and the power of creative self-expression in the face of gender norms.
Bruce Mau: Designing for the Cluster – Bruce Mau applies his MC24 design principles and his new life-centered approach to confronting the simultaneous cluster cascade of crisis that he calls “The Cluster: Pandemics – Racial and Social Justice – Climate – Food Insecurity – Governance.” In this conversation with philosopher and writer Sanford Kwinter, Mau will demonstrate that all of these global challenges are interrelated and that they have their origin in a fundamental crisis of empathy.
Building Equity In Startup Communities – A discussion about scaling equity throughout the technology, startup, and venture ecosystem to ensure a path to shared prosperity for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous People of Color in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond. Foundry Group and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld, and 100 Black Angels & Allies Fund and Opportunity Hub co-founder Rodney Sampson will discuss their strategies for operationalizing diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup ecosystem, moderated by Business Insider reporter Dominic-Madori Davis.
Can 5G Transform the Live Music Experience? – In the last year we have felt the absence of live music. Artists have stepped up and gotten creative to reach fans virtually with some amazing results – but it can’t replace the impact of live performances. As we look forward to the return of live music, artists have a new platform to help deliver innovative experiences – 5G. The next generation of cellular delivers capabilities that can take the live experience to new levels of immersion and unlock new opportunities for artist creativity. Join Cristiano Amon, President and CEO-elect of wireless leader Qualcomm, and Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki and hear from two visionaries about the future of the live experience in a 5G world.
The Chainsmokers on launching MANTIS VC – Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, are a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of world’s biggest recording artists. Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have expanded The Chainsmokers’ empire into film and television, tequila, philanthropy, and most recently their venture capital firm Mantis. Hear their story on how the duo have evolved their music career into so much more with Andreessen Horowitz Managing Partner Chris Lyons.
A Conversation with Desus Nice and The Kid Mero – A conversation with multi-talented comedians, authors of the New York Times bestseller “God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx,” co-hosts of Showtime’s first late-night talk show “Desus & Mero” and the long-running Bodega Boys podcast, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero.
A Conversation with Noah Hawley and Andrew Bird – Set in Kansas City 1950, Fargo’s fourth installment follows two crime syndicates jockeying to control an alternate economy of exploitation and graft while fighting for a piece of the American dream. Join Noah Hawley (creator / executive producer / director / writer) and Grammy Award-nominated musician Andrew Bird for a not-to-be-missed conversation about how a concert in Austin lead to Bird’s acting debut in “Fargo.” Moderated by Whitney Friedlander. All four installments of the critically acclaimed limited series are currently available to stream on FX on Hulu.
A Conversation with the Russo Brothers and Elizabeth Banks – A fireside chat between visionary directors/producers Anthony and Joe Russo (“Welcome to Collinwood,” “Arrested Development,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Relic,” “Mosul” and “Cherry”) and acclaimed actress, director, writer, and producer Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels,” “The Hunger Games” and “Shrill”). Banks will talk to the Russo Brothers about their new film “Cherry,” as well as the work they are doing with their company, AGBO. “Cherry” stars Tom Holland and is based on the critically acclaimed debut novel by Nico Walker. It will be released in theaters in February and on Apple TV+ in March.
COVID-19: The New Reality – Dr. Michael Osterholm, joined by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, will speak to the SXSW community about what is next in the fight against COVID-19. From the immediate concerns around new variants to the “collateral damage” we face from this pandemic, Dr. Osterholm and Ms. Sarasohn-Kahn will share insights to help navigate public health in 2021 and beyond.
Evolving the Gaming Industry with CouRage & Loaded – Gaming is taking off and bringing new opportunities for creators, brands and entertainment companies. Loaded, the leading management company for some of the world’s biggest professional gamers will host a special Q&A with leading content creator CouRage to examine the state of the today’s gaming industry and how the creator community has evolved the business for the better. The talk with Loaded VP of Talent Bridget Davidson will highlight key learning from CouRage’s successful career, as well as spotlight how brands and other non-endemic companies can work with creators to capture both eyeballs and engagement.
Forging a New Social Contract for Big Tech – Beyond privacy, revised liability laws can hold companies accountable for what they disseminate online. Antitrust actions could check the flow of wealth to the small number of companies that control platforms, aggregators, and algorithms. A lightweight horizontal regulation could add a safety layer to the high-risk applications of artificial intelligence. This discussion features U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar; Denmark tech ambassador Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen; Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager; and President & Co-founder Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris. The session will focus on the role for technology companies in the 21st Century and what a new “social contract” could look like for Big Tech – in both Europe and the United States.
Gene Editing: The Biotech Revolution of our Times – Bestselling author Walter Isaacson has established himself as the biographer of creativity, innovation, and genius. He wrote about Einstein, a genius of the revolution in physics, and Steve Jobs, a genius of the revolution in digital technology. Though the past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet, Isaacson argues we are now on the cusp of a third revolution in science—a revolution in biochemistry that is capable of curing diseases, fending off viruses, and improving the human species. With the invention of CRISPR, we can edit our DNA. CRISPR has been used in China to create “designer babies” that are immune from the AIDS virus and in the U.S. to cure patients of sickle cell anemia. With the life-science revolution, children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study the code of life — and all the moral dilemmas this brings. Isaacson will be joined in conversation with award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and a co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer Katie Couric.
Indigenous Peoples Hold the Key to Saving Earth – For centuries, Indigenous communities have served as guardians of the environment, protecting nature, respecting flora and fauna, and using traditional knowledge and wisdom passed down over generations. They safeguard 80% of biodiversity left in the world, which is key to turning around the climate crisis, as biodiverse areas are major carbon sinks. In this panel, Nemonte Nenquimo, a leader from the Waorani community in Ecuador and founding member of Indigenous-led nonprofit organization Ceibo Alliance and Amazon Frontlines speaks with Julia Jackson, Founder of Grounded.org, to discuss why climate philanthropy must be reimagined to protect the future of our planet, by directing resources to indigenous communities who are at the frontlines of our climate emergency.
Immersive Retail: Connected Shopping in a New Era – A conversation about the acceleration in changes to the retail environment and what major initiatives the retail industry is pursuing to enable the widespread proliferation of AR/VR and 3D content for e-commerce and retail with TechTalk/Studio president and co-founder Kevin O’Malley, IBM Global Business Strategy Partner Silke Meixner, and Unity Head of Industry Verticals, Operate Solutions, Tony Parisi.
Late Night Girls Club: Samantha Bee & Amber Ruffin – Samantha Bee (host and executive producer of the WGA nominated, Emmy Award-winning show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee) in conversation with Amber Ruffin (writer, executive producer and host of WGA Award-nominated series The Amber Ruffin Show). The two will discuss the trials and tribulations of covering politics in today’s unpredictable climate from a unique, comedic point of view. As the longest running correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Bee eventually went out on her own in 2016 with Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The show continues to use political satire to entertain, educate, and empower viewers while keeping the government in check. Ruffin is also an Emmy and WGA Award-nominated writer and performer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and was the first African American female to write for a late-night network talk show in the U.S.
Live Music in Venues: What’s Next? – 2020 was a year of catastrophic impact for the live music industry as the pandemic brought the industry to a screeching halt. A year later, this session brings together independent venue perspectives from across the US., including Troubadour talent booker Amy Madrigali, Iridium director of artist relations & programming Grace Blake, First Avenue Productions president and CEO Dayna Frank and moderated by Pollstar, VenuesNow executive editor Andy Gensler. How have they been able to support developing talent? What’s ahead for their establishment and how they can get back to supporting a full schedule of acts?
Melinda Gates + Kelly Corrigan Talk Big Change – For more than two decades, Melinda Gates has been on a mission. Her goal, as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, she has come to a critical conclusion: when we lift up women, we lift up humanity. In conversation with podcaster, PBS host, and bestselling author Kelly Corrigan, Gates will discuss her bestselling book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” and its stories of the empowered women Gates has met over the years. Gates will talk about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work around family planning, education, and gender equality, and she will call us to action—urging us to drive progress in our homes, workplaces, and communities.
Music’s Limitless Variations – Hear from Lenzo Yoon, the Global CEO of BTS’ label Big Hit Entertainment (hereafter referred to as Big Hit), as he explains how Big Hit was able to see what comes next, as well as prepare for the future at every critical juncture, and share Big Hit’s past, present and tomorrow. Yoon presents prospects and insights on the future of the K-pop industry and, furthermore, on the future of the global entertainment industry.
Ocean Storytelling with James Cameron & Brian Skerry – Join world-renowned filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer at Large James Cameron and National Geographic Explorer and Photographer Brian Skerry on a guided adventure into the deep blue to discuss the upcoming Disney+ original documentary series Secrets of the Whales. Filmed over three years in 24 locations, avid underwater conservationists Cameron and Skerry join forces to deliver an epic, awe-inspiring look at the incredible life and culture of whales and how the world’s largest mammals are facing the challenge of an ever-changing ocean. Moderated by OceanXplorers executive producer Orla Doherty.
The Quest Effect: Inside VR’s Next Chapter – Anyone who has entered virtual reality knows what a transformative experience donning a headset can be. Until recently, that experience was enjoyed mainly by hard-core VR enthusiasts. This year, all-in-one VR has become better, more powerful, and more affordable, expanding and changing the makeup of who spends time in VR. Now, that new group is discovering how great VR can be — not only for games, but also for fitness, media, hangouts with friends, and even real work. Join Mark Rabkin, Vice President of Oculus at Facebook, for a discussion about the future of VR, its changing ecosystem, and what its recent success means for the development of the next computing platform.
STARZ’S “Power” Universe Collides – Join STARZ’S Power Universe co-creator, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson; Power Book II: Ghost cast: Michael Rainey Jr., Mary J. Blige, and Cliff “Method Man” Smith; Power Book III: Raising Kanan cast: Mekai Curtis and Patina Miller; and Power Book IV: Force lead: Joseph Sikora, for the first time ever as the Power Universe collides. Moderated by media personality and bestselling author Angie Martinez, Power stars will discuss: the legacy of the Power Universe, the latest on upcoming seasons, the future and fate of new and iconic characters.
Ted Lasso: Emotion in the Edit – Join producers and members of the Ted Lasso editorial team in a panel discussion on the magic of Bill Lawrence shows (Scrubs, Cougar Town, Spin City) and how editorial is the true partner in landing the jokes, drawing out emotion, and making it feel like you’re spending 30 minutes with your long time pack of friends. American Cinema Editors (ACE) CinemaEditor Magazine writer Nancy Jundi will moderate the panel with representatives from the Ted Lasso creative and editorial team (Bill Lawrence, Kip Kroeger, Melissa McCoy, and A.J. Catoline) to elaborate on the many considerations that go into building and honoring a character across episodes, seasons and a series.
Who Controls the Past: The Tulsa Race Massacre – How is it possible that the 1921 massacre of as many as thousands of Black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was almost erased from US history? And why is it finally penetrating the national consciousness? Featured in HBO’s The Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, this history survived because of the dedicated efforts of Black Tulsans, including the descendants of survivors, who have made it their life’s work to uncover what really happened and make sure we never forget. This session, moderated by Jeffery Robinson from Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, examines the work of activists Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Chief Egunwale F. Amusan, and Kristi Orisabiyi Williams to take control of the historical narrative, and in so doing, to force a reckoning on racial justice in this country and a long overdue conversation on reparations for Black Americans.
Why Do We Fear Innovation? – A conversation featuring actress, author, and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik and historian, philosopher, and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari, moderated by Tech Open Air founder Niko Woischnik. From the printing press to vaccines to artificial intelligence, the introduction of almost any transformative technology has been met with wonder as well as fear and rejection. Many of history’s greatest inventors were considered heretics – the archetype of the mad scientist exists for a reason. Why does the new still scare us? What does it take to build acceptance for transformative ideas? How does the unprecedented scientific progress to deliver COVID vaccines influence this? What role does disinformation play in shaping our fears? How can we ensure innovators consider ethical issues, so outcomes can lead to the betterment of people and the planet? What can innovators learn from artists and creators of fiction? Presented by Leaps by Bayer and Tech Open Air Berlin.
Why The Music Biz is Buzzing About the Metaverse – In the midst of the 2020 global pandemic, one of the biggest concerts ever took place in the virtual worlds of Roblox. Two-time Grammy Award winner Lil Nas X gave a performance debut of his new single ‘Holiday’ and other top hits, dancing and socializing with fans, and attracting over 30 million concert views in this revolutionary music experience. The concert’s unprecedented success was made possible by the Metaverse, a social and technological phenomenon driven by a new generation growing up online and global platforms paving a new way for people to be together, even when they can’t in person. Hear from Maverick Management music manager Zach Kardisch, futurist and CEO of Futures Intelligence Group Cathy Hackl, Roblox Global Head of Music Jon Vlassopulos, and Columbia Records SVP, Experiential Marketing and business development Ryan Ruden about how the Metaverse is shaping the future of music business, today.
Breaking the Sonic Color Line: A discussion about authenticity of voice in media, defeating racial stereotypes in voice acting, the impact of race in audio ads and how the industry can come together and make real change featuring DJ, actress and entrepreneur MC Lyte; Pandora Group Creative Director Roger Sho Gehrmann; and voice-over and television actress Joan Baker.
The Chainsmokers on launching MANTIS VC: Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, are a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of world’s biggest recording artists. Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have expanded The Chainsmokers’ empire into film and television, tequila, philanthropy, and most recently their venture capital firm Mantis. Hear their story on how the duo have evolved their music career into so much more.
A Conversation with Icons Queen Latifah and LL COOL J: From the mic to the big screen, award-winning rappers, actors and producers Queen Latifah and LL Cool J have been major forces in the entertainment industry for over three decades. Queen Latifah executive produces and stars as the first female Equalizer, Robyn McCall, in the reimagining of the series Equalizer, and LL Cool J stars as Special Agent Sam Hanna on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” Join them for a lively, in-depth conversation about their illustrious careers in music, television and movies (in front and behind the cameras), the cultural resonance and timeliness of their series, and much more.
From Moonlight to The Underground Railroad: Barry Jenkins & Composer Nicholas Britell: A conversation with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins and with Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning composer Nicholas Britell (Succession), where they will discuss the joy, delicate nuances, challenges and unexpected discoveries from their work together. The pair will talk about their unique creative process in building a singular audiovisual identity with a specific focus on their upcoming Amazon Original limited series, The Underground Railroad, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. Jenkins and Britell first collaborated on Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. During the making of Moonlight, the duo formed an inimitable rapport that brought them back together again for If Beale Street Could Talk. The Underground Railroad will stream in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide on Amazon Prime Video in 2021.
Hi, I’m Dave: Hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the best TV shows of 2020, FXX’s DAVE is based on the life of Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), and centered on a neurotic man who’s convinced himself that he’s destined to be one of the best rappers of all time. The critically-acclaimed first season explored ambition, mental illness and masculinity in the world of hip-hop. Join co-creator/executive producer/writer/star Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), co-creator/executive producer Jeff Schaffer, executive producer Saladin Patterson and series star GaTa for DAVE’s first panel at SXSW. Season 1 is available on FX on Hulu; season two will premiere on FXX in 2021.
How GenZ Duets the News on TikTok: Hear about tactics publishers are using to build relationships with young audiences on TikTok, and the content that moves audiences to action with The Washington Post video producer Dave Jorgenson; NowThis politics producer Ian McKenna; and content creator Jackie James.
Leading Safely + Motivating Empathetically: Learn how the hospitality industry have changed their tactics to adapt to the ever-changing health and wellness regulations and lead, motivate and engage their employees, colleagues and communities; eaturing Blackberry Farm Vice President of Food & Beverage Andy Chabot; Food & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis; executive chef and Cúrate Bar de Tapas and La Bodega by Cúrate co-owner Katie Button; and award-winning chef and activist Marcus Samuelsson
.Making Emotional Connections With Volumetric Video: Hear from three seasoned creatives on the most effective way to make emotional connections through volumetric video with writer, director, and new media artist Illya Szilak; Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios creative director Jason Waskey, and producer and Atlas V co-founder Antoine Cayrol.
RIP Live Shows? Concerts in the Time of COVID: A conversation about the ways the live/touring industry are trying to stay afloat, what’s working, what isn’t, and what still needs to be done to save the music we love, featuring Driift general manager Adam Shore; Panache Booking and Panache Management founder Michelle Cable; and Paradigm Talent Agency Executive, Wilder Records founder and Home School co-founder Tom Windish.
There are normally about 2,000 artists who perform at SXSW every year. However, due to nightclub closures, the performance lineup has been reduced for 2021. Some of the announced artists who will be performing virtually include Indigo Sparke, Place to Bury Strangers, Francisca Valenzuela, Squid, Grrrl Gang, Darkoo, Samantha Sanchez, Holy Fuck, Astrid Sonne, NAYANA IZ, and Jealous
Showcases and presenters include AfroFuture Sounds (British Underground & DAJU Presents), Hotel Vegas & Hotel Free TV, Damnably, EQ Austin, Jazz re:freshed Outernational, FOCUS Wales, Roskilde Festival, Taiwan Beats, Close Encounter Club, Sounds from Spain, M for Montreal, Flipped Coin KOREA, Carefree Black Girl, New Zealand Music, KUTX The Breaks, Dedstrange, Fierce Panda x End of the Trail, Brazil Inspires the Future, and ÅÄÖ…Sounds Swedish.
Movie and TV Premieres
SXSW has a wide variety of feature-length and short films. In 2021, the SXSW Film Festival has music documentaries as its opening, centerpiece and closing films. “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” is the opening film, the Charli XCX quarantine chronicle “Alone Together” is the centerpiece, and “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” is the closing film.
Here are some of the more high-profile feature films that will have their world premieres at the festival: The psychological thriller “Here Before,” starring Andrea Riseborough as a woman questioning reality. The drama “Language Lesson,” starring Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass as a Spanish teacher and her student who become friends. And the superhero action flick “The Spine of Night,” starring Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel and Joe Manganiello. Documentary world premieres include “United States vs. Reality Winner”; “Introducing, Selma Blair”; “WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn”; “Hysterical,” about female stand-up comedians;
TV shows that will have episodes premiering at SXSW 2021 include Starz’s “Confronting a Serial Killer,” showrunner Po Kutchins and director Joe Berliner’s chronicle of the relationship between serial killer Sam Little and author Jillian Lauren; HBO Max’s “Made for Love,” starring Cristin Milioti as a divorcée who’s out for revenge; and the third season of Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and Amazon Prime Video’s thriller series “Them.”
With 11 nods, the ABC comedy series “Black-ish” has the most 2021 NAACP Image Awards nominations. Following closely behind with 10 nominations is the Netflix musical movie “Jingle Jangle: Christmas Journey.” The Netflix dramatic film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and the Pixar Animation Studios film “Soul” received nine nominations each. Also getting several nominations are Beyoncé (eight nominations) and the HBO comedy series “Insecure” (seven nominations). Beyoncé’s nominations total includes her nods for her Disney+ “Black Is King” music film (which she starred in and co-directed) and for being a featured performer on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage (Remix).”
The following is a press release from the NAACP and BET:
Today, the full-list of nominees for the 52nd NAACP Image Awards were announced today in a special virtual event on NAACP Image Awards’ Instagram channel hosted by Tony-award winning actress and singer Anika Noni-Rose, actress and singer Chloe Bailey, actress Erika Alexander, actor, dancer, and choreographer Nicco Annan, and actor and singer TC Carson. NAACP Image award-winning and Emmy-nominated talk show “The Real”, kicked-off the announcement revealing nominees in 15 categories ahead of the virtual event. The winners will be revealed during the two-hour LIVE TV special airing on BET and will be simulcast across ViacomCBS Networks including CBS, BET Her, VH1, MTV, MTV2, and LOGO on Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8/7c.
With the rise in usage of streaming services this year, Netflix leads the nominations across the motion picture and television categories with 48 total nominations followed by HBO who received a total of 25 nominations. Beyoncé received the most nominations of any artist in the music recording categories with six, and RCA Records leads with the most nominations across record labels with 12 nominations. For the literary categories HarperCollins Publishers lead with nine nominations.
NAACP additionally announced the nominees for the Special Awards categories which include Entertainer of the Year and Social Justice Impact. Nominees for the Entertainer of the Year award include D-Nice, Regina King, Trevor Noah, Tyler Perry and Viola Davis. Nominees for the Social Justice Impact award include April Ryan, Debbie Allen, LeBron James, Stacey Abrams and Tamika Mallory.
“We are excited to recognize and celebrate this year’s nominees, who at times throughout this unprecedented year have provided moments of levity, brought our communities together, and lifted our spirits through culture when we needed it the most,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.
“BET shares the NAACP’s commitment to engage and empower our community, and we are proud to serve as partners on the 52nd Annual Image Awards,” said BET President Scott Mills. “The NAACP Image Awards uniquely honors our culture and community, recognizing those who help tell our stories through music, TV, movies, and literature. It is a distinct privilege for us to amplify the incredible work of the NAACP—and the best and brightest creative minds in the entertainment industry—across our ViacomCBS properties.
The NAACP Image Awards honors the accomplishments of people of color in the fields of television, music, literature, and film and also recognizes individuals or groups who promote social justice through creative endeavors.
One of the most iconic annual celebrations of Black excellence, the NAACP Image Awards draws a crowd of the biggest and brightest stars in Hollywood. Previous years’ attendees include Rihanna, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Michael B. Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Marsai Martin, Viola Davis, Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington, Anthony Anderson, Sterling K. Brown, Loni Love, Sheryl Underwood, Mandy Moore, Halle Berry, Common, Dwayne Johnson, Audra Day, John Legend, Lena Waithe, Tracee Ellis Ross, David Oyelowo, Laverne Cox, Octavia Spencer, Issa Rae, Trevor Noah, Yara Shahidi, Danai Gurira, Jacob Latimore, Jill Scott, H.E.R., Jay Pharoah, Jemele Hill, Josh Gad, Loretta Devine, Sylvester Stallone, Meta Golding, Michael Smith, Tyler James Williams, Ava DuVernay, Chadwick Boseman, and many more.
Voting is now open to the public to determine the winners of the 52nd NAACP Image Awards by visiting www.naacpimageawards.net – Voting close on Friday, March 5, 2021. Winners will be revealed during the 52nd NAACP Image Awards telecast. Non-televised award categories will be announced virtually March 22-26, 2021. For all information and the latest news, please follow NAACP Image Awards on Instagram @NAACPImageAwards
Following is the complete list of categories and nominees for the 52nd NAACP Image Awards:
SPECIAL AWARD CATEGORIES
Entertainer of the Year
Social Justice Impact
TELEVISION + STREAMING CATEGORIES
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Last O.G. (TBS)
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson – Black-ish (ABC)
Cedric The Entertainer – The Neighborhood (CBS)
Don Cheadle – Black Monday (Showtime)
Idris Elba – In the Long Run (Starz)
Tracy Morgan – The Last O.G. (TBS)
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Issa Rae – Insecure (HBO)
Folake Olowofoyeku – Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS)
Regina Hall – Black Monday (Showtime)
Tracee Ellis Ross – Black-ish (ABC)
Yara Shahidi – Grown-ish (Freeform)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)
Deon Cole – Black-ish (ABC)
Jay Ellis – Insecure (HBO)
Kenan Thompson – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Laurence Fishburne – Black-ish (ABC)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jenifer Lewis – Black-ish (ABC)
Marsai Martin – Black-ish (ABC)
Natasha Rothwell – Insecure (HBO)
Tichina Arnold – The Neighborhood (CBS)
Yvonne Orji – Insecure (HBO)
Outstanding Drama Series
All Rise (CBS)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Power Book II: Ghost (Starz)
This Is Us (NBC)
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
Jonathan Majors – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Keith David – Greenleaf (OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)
Nicco Annan – P-Valley (Starz)
Regé-Jean Page – Bridgerton (Netflix)
Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (FOX)
Brandee Evans – P-Valley (Starz)
Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Simone Missick – All Rise (CBS)
Viola Davis – How To Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Clifford “Method Man” Smith – Power Book II: Ghost (Starz)
Delroy Lindo – The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
J. Alphonse Nicholson – P-Valley (Starz)
Jeffrey Wright – Westworld (HBO)
Michael Kenneth Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Compton Cowboys – Walter Thompson-Hernandez (HarperCollins Publishers)
We’re Better Than This – Elijah Cummings (HarperCollins Publishers)
Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Autobiography
A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team – Arshay Cooper (Macmillan)
A Promised Land – Barack Obama (Crown)
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice – Deborah Draper (Simon & Schuster)
The Dead Are Arising – Les Payne, Tamara Payne (W. W. Norton & Company)
Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player – Willie O’Ree (Penguin Canada)
Outstanding Literary Work – Instructional
Do Right by Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Space – Valerie Harrison (Temple University Press)
Living Lively – Haile Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers)
The Black Foster Youth Handbook – Ángela Quijada-Banks (Soulful Liberation)
The Woman God Created You to Be: Finding Success Through Faith–Spiritually, Personally, and Professionally – Kimberla Lawson Roby (Lenox Press)
Vegetable Kingdom – Bryant Terry (Penguin Random House)
Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry
Homie – Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry – John Murillo (Four Way Books)
Seeing the Body – Rachel Eliza Griffiths (W. W. Norton & Company)
The Age of Phillis – Honorée Jeffers (Wesleyan University Press)
Un-American – Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press)
Outstanding Literary Work – Children
I Promise – LeBron James, Nina Mata (HarperCollins)
Just Like a Mama – Alice Faye Duncan, Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Simon & Schuster)
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice – Nikki Grimes, Laura Freeman (Simon & Schuster)
She Was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm – Katheryn Russell-Brown, Eric Velasquez (Lee & Low Books)
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver – Gene Barretta, Frank Morrison (HarperCollins)
Outstanding Literary Work – Youth/Teens
Before the Ever After – Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin Random House)
Black Brother, Black Brother – Jewell Parker Rhodes (Hachette Book Group)
Dear Justyce – Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers)
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning – Jason Reynolds (Hachette Book Group)
This is Your Time – Ruby Bridges (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2 million activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP. NOTE: The Legal Defense Fund – also referred to as the NAACP-LDF was founded in 1940 as a part of the NAACP but separated in 1957 to become a completely separate entity. It is recognized as the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization, and shares our commitment to equal rights.
BET, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS Inc. (NASDAQ: VIACA, VIAC), is the nation’s leading provider of quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs television programming for the African-American audience. The primary BET channel is in 90 million households and can be seen in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, sub-Saharan Africa and France. BET is the dominant African-American consumer brand with a diverse group of business extensions including BET.com, a leading Internet destination for Black entertainment, music, culture, and news; BET HER, a 24-hour entertainment network targeting the African-American Woman; BET Music Networks – BET Jams, BET Soul and BET Gospel; BET Home Entertainment; BET Live, BET’s growing festival business; BET Mobile, which provides ringtones, games and video content for wireless devices; and BET International, which operates BET around the globe.
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedic film “The Forty-Year-Old Version” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white, Latino and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A struggling African American playwright decides to reinvent herself as a rapper a few months before her 40th birthday, and she has to come to terms with her definition of “success” versus “selling out,” as she deals with racism and sexism.
Culture Audience: “The Forty-Year-Old Version” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories of self-identity from an African American perspective.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is a comedic film that skillfully shows a mid-life crisis that has never before been portrayed on screen: Just a few months before she turns 40 years old, a struggling New York City playwright, who’s looking for a new way to express her creativity, decides that she wants to become a rapper. It’s a career move that’s risky and outside her comfort zone not only because hip-hop isn’t generally welcoming of female rappers but it’s a music genre that also has incredibly difficult barriers for beginner rappers who are over the age of 30. Radha Blank makes a captivating feature-film debut as the star, writer, director and one of the producers of “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” a semi-autobiographical movie that strikes the right balance of showing uncomfortable truths with whimsically raw comedy.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is entirely in black and white, which gives the movie a somewhat timeless look. This creative choice might also draw comparisons to filmmaker Spike Lee’s 1986 feature-film debut “She’s Gotta Have It,” which was also entirely in black and white. Both movies are comedies with an independent-minded woman as the main character. And although the overall tone is comedic, both movies also have underlying serious social commentary about how relationships are affected by gender roles and race.
In “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” Blank portrays a playwright named Radha, who is about to turn 40 in a few months, and she feels like her life is imploding. She’s grieving over the death of her beloved widowed mother. Radha is also having financial problems and is trying not to get depressed that she hasn’t lived up to her expected potential.
Years ago, Radha received a “30 Under 30” prize by an influential theater organization, to signify that she was considered a promising playwright under the age of 30. And now, all these years later, Radha can’t even get a workshop of her latest play. To pay her bills, Radha teaches an after-school class on dramatic writing at a local high school. But even in that job, she’s not appreciated, because some of the teenage students in her small class (which has eight students) don’t really want to be in her class and show little to no interest in theater.
Radha’s latest play that she’s hoping to get produced is called “Harlem Ave,” which is set in New York City’s predominantly black neighborhood of Harlem. She describes the play as being about “a young man who inherited a grocery store from his parents and struggles to keep the business afloat with an activist wife.” Radha wants the play to be reflective of the real Harlem, by having a predominantly black cast.
In the hopes of getting “Harlem Ave” in regional theater, Radha meets with a pretentious acquaintance named Forrest Umoja Petry (played by Andre Ward), who owns the local OUmoja Theatre, an off-Broadway venue whose specialty is African American stage productions. Forrest, who founded the theater in 1988, doesn’t really take Radha that seriously. Instead of discussing the play with Radha, he makes her meditate with him in his office that he likes to fill with burning incense.
Radha’s best friend Archie (played by Peter Kim), an openly gay Korean American, is an aspiring theater producer. It’s later revealed in the movie that Radha and Archie have been best friends since high school. They were each other’s prom dates back then, when Archie was still closeted to most people and afraid to tell his family about his sexuality. Archie is staunchly loyal to Radha, but he disagrees with her “I’ll never sell out” mindset when it comes to getting her plays financed. Radha wants to be a success, but only on her terms.
Archie excitedly tells Radha that he’s scored an invitation to a black-tie party that will be attended by a powerful, Tony-winning producer named J. Whitman (played by Reed Birney), who could be a likely investor in “Harlem Ave.” Archie wants Radha to be his “plus one” at the party, which Archie thinks will be the perfect opportunity for Radha to pitch her play to Whitman. Radha is very reluctant to go to this party and tells Archie: “J. Whitman only does black ‘poverty porn’ plays. I’d rather do a workshop with Forrest and his stinky-ass ancestors than suck up to J. Whitman!”
But after some pleading from Archie, Radha eventually agrees to go to the party. The soiree is upscale and filled with a lot of well-to-do “theater patron” types, who are usually over the age of 60. It’s the type of party where Archie and Radha stand out because they’re relatively young by comparison, and they’re two of the few non-white people at the party.
Sure enough, Radha gets a chance to talk to Whitman, so she tells him about “Harlem Ave.” Whitman says he would be interested in investing, but he thinks the play should be about “gentrification.” It’s really code for saying, “There needs to be white people as main characters in the play, in order to sell it to a predominantly white audience.”
Radha thinks it’s demeaning for Whitman to suggest that she change her play in this way, but she doesn’t say it out loud to Whitman. Instead, she politely tells him that she doesn’t want to change to focus of her play. She’s ready to end the conversation, but a tone-deaf Whitman adds insult to injury and tells Radha: “I still need a writer for my Harriet Tubman musical.”
This racial condescension enrages Radha, who then lunges at Whitman and begins strangling him. It’s played for laughs in the movie, but the scene demonstrates how infuriating people like Whitman can be, because they think of themselves as “open-minded liberals” but they believe in the same racist stereotypes as close-minded conservatives. Radha is unapologetic for her outburst, but Archie is horrified. Archie tells Radha that he wants to smooth things over with Whitman, but Radha tells Archie not to bother.
Publicly, Radha is defiant. Privately, she’s wracked with self-doubt. In her small and dumpy apartment where she lives alone, she cries in despair and wails: “I just want to be an artist! Mommy, tell me what to do!”
Just then, Radha hears rap music playing nearby. She has a silent “a-ha” moment and suddenly feels inspired to write rap lyrics. The next day, Radha tells Archie that she’s going to try something new with her life: She wants to make a rap mixtape and see where it’ll take her in a possible career as a rapper.
Archie is incredulous and thinks Radha shouldn’t give up her career in theater. But Radha has already made up her mind. Whitman has decided to forgive Radha for physically attacking him, but he tells Archie that he should be a theater producer and that Archie shouldn’t be wasting his time with Radha, whom Whitman calls a “washed-up writer.”
Radha hears about a home recording studio in Brooklyn that works with aspiring rappers, so she goes there to see if she can find a producer who can make the music for her lyrics. When she goes to the cramped, smoke-filled apartment, she’s the only female in a roomful of guys in their 20s. A sullen-looking 26-year-old, who goes by the name D (played by Oswin Benjamin), is the producer/engineer operating the recording equipment. He barely acknowledges Radha in this first meeting.
The entire meeting is awkward because it’s obvious that these guys don’t take Radha seriously. When one of them asks Radha what her rap name is, she’s taken aback and makes up a name on the spot: RadhaMUSPrime. It’s a play on words of the “Transformers” robot hero character Optimus Prime.
Radha has the money to pay for a recording session. D seems reluctant to work with her though, because it’s obvious that he thinks she’s a joke. That is, until Radha starts rapping her song “Poverty Porn,” a scathing rebuke of greedy people who make money in entertainment by exploiting African American poverty. When D sees her perform and hears the lyrics, he shows signs of being impressed with Radha’s talent.
“Poverty Porn” is told from the point of view of the exploiter who would rather make entertainment showing African Americans as poor and down-trodden instead of showing the reality that most African Americans are not poor but are middle-class. The lyrics of the chorus include: “You regular blacks are just such a yawn. Yo, if I want to get on, better make me some poverty porn.”
Radha’s experience with Whitman is the obvious inspiration for “Poverty Porn,” but the lyrics suggest that Radha has had a lifetime of these racist experiences in trying to be a successful playwright. Later in the story, Whitman lets it be known that he still wants to be the lead producer of “Harlem Ave,” but only if Radha makes the changes that he wants. The offer comes when Radha is at a low point in her confidence and financial stability, so she has to make a choice on whether or not she will “sell out” and do the play with Whitman in charge.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” also has a subplot about two of Radha’s students who clash with each other almost every time that they’re in class together: a tough-talking butch lesbian named Rosa (played by Haskiri Velazquez) and a foul-mouthed diva named Elaine (played by Imani Lewis), who is sought-after by many of the boys in the school. Rosa has a crush on Radha and doesn’t try to hide it. For example, Rosa makes gushing comments about Radha such as, “She’s like Queen Latifah and Judge Judy rolled into one!”
Meanwhile, Elaine is often disrespectful to Radha and acts like being in Radha’s class is a waste of time. One day, Elaine insults Radha by calling her a failed playwright. Rosa jumps to Radha’s defense and gets in a brawl with Elaine. Rosa and Elaine are both punished by the school, but the two teens still act like enemies when they’re together in the classroom. Much later, Radha sees something in the school hallway which explains why Elaine is acting the way that she does.
As Radha spends more time with D to write and record her rap songs, she and D become closer, even though their personalities are almost polar opposites. Radha is talkative and high-strung. D is quiet and laid-back. There’s also their age difference and the fact that they have very different social circles.
Even though Radha is trying to be a rapper, she comes from the intellectual theater world, while D has more of a “street life” background. Both Radha and D have a strong sense of identity as African Americans, but their respective upbringings and educations have taken them on different paths. Their relationship is a situation where hip-hop really did bring them together.
Much of the absurdist comic relief in the story comes from recurring appearances of neighbors as a sort of “Greek chorus” who make funny and sometimes rude remarks separately to the camera, as if they’re speaking to or about Radha. These outspoken neighbors are an elderly African American woman (played by Jackie Adam), who’s called Snazzy in the film’s credits; a young Dominican woman (played by Cristina Gonzalez); an elderly Korean vendor (played Charles Ryu); and two of Radha’s students named Waldo (played by Antonio Ortiz) and Kamal (played by T.J. Atoms). When they’re asked what they think of Radha turning 40, the young woman replies, “When a single woman turns 40, she’s like fruit in the ground for the bugs to eat.”
There’s also a scene-stealing homeless man named Lamont (played by Jacob Ming-Trent), who hangs out near Radha’s apartment building and lets her know that he watches all the comings and goings that happen to and from her home. During a pivotal conversation that Radha has on the street when she asks someone for help with her career, Lamont who’s watching nearby shouts: “Give the bitch a chance! Her desperation is making me nauseous! Although technically, you’ve got to eat something to throw up.”
Because “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is a low-budget film, it’s fairly obvious that many of the cast members are not professional actors. Some of the cast members deliver their lines better than those whose acting is a little rough around the edges. But that’s part of the movie’s charm, since it looks like many of the people in the movie are really playing versions of themselves and aren’t doing a slick acting job. Of the main cast members, Blank and Kim fare the best in scenes that show the genuine and sometimes volatile friendship between Radha and Archie.
One of the best things about “The Forty-Year-Old” version is how it authentically reveals layers to the story without making it too cluttered. Viewers will get poignant glimpses into Radha’s family life and how her mother’s death affected her. Radha’s brother Ravi (played by Blank’s real-life brother Ravi Blank) wants her to help him decide what to do with their mother’s possessions, but Radha has been avoiding his phone calls. When the siblings eventually meet up, they have a heart-to-heart conversation that’s a standout scene in the movie.
It’s revealed in the story that Radha and Ravi’s parents were both artists but had to take day jobs to support the family. The siblings’ mother was a painter who worked as a teacher, while their father was a jazz drummer who worked as a plumber. Radha is single with no children, so she doesn’t have the family financial obligations that her parents had. However, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” shows that one of her underlying fears is not being able to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional and respected artist.
At an age when most people are settled down and secure in their careers, Radha is restless and insecure in her chosen profession. What makes this story stand out is how she takes a bold risk to “blow it all up” to start over in hip-hop, which is a male-dominated and often-misogynistic industry. It’s a risk that most women in the same circumstances would never take. But “The Forty-Year-Old Version” accurately shows what happens when artists follow their instincts, despite any massive obstacles and naysayers in their way.
Thanks to her tour-de-force work in front of and behind the camera, Blank makes “The Forty-Year-Old Version” a truly unique gem of a film that feels very personal yet relatable to anyone who knows what it’s like to be underestimated or discriminated against simply because of race, gender or other physical characteristics. There are plenty of examples of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination in the film.
However, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” isn’t too heavy-handed about showing this bigotry, and Radha isn’t wallowing in a self-pity party. She just gets on with what she has to do. But there are also moments when Radha has to decide if she should listen to “rational” advice or follow what’s in her heart.
And any decision to go against the grain and listen to her inner voice requires her to be extremely vulnerable when it would be much easier to go along with what she’s pressured to do by other people. There’s a telling moment in the movie where Radha, who usually wears a head wrap that completely covers her hair, decides to take off this head wrap, and it’s symbolic of her shedding a self-protective shell and showing her true self.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is also an incisive commentary on artistic integrity and how it’s often at odds with financial offers that artists can get. At some point, artists who expect to be paid for their work must ask themselves: “Is this monetary offer in line with my values? If it isn’t, is it worth compromising my integrity for what I would be paid? And how much control of my work do I want to give to other people?”
The music of “The 40-Year-Old Version” is a mixture of mostly hip-hop and jazz, which perfectly exemplify the two artistic worlds that Radha inhabits in the story: the rough, street-oriented world of rap and the more refined, traditional world of theater. In addition to “Poverty Porn,” original songs with Blank’s lyrics include “This Is 40,” “F.Y.O.V.,” “Mamma May I,” “”Pound Da Poundcakes” and “WMWBWB,” which stands for “White Man With a Black Woman’s Butt,” a reference to a scene in a movie when Radha sees a white man with a very round and large bottom.
Other songs that are part of “The Forty-Year-Old Version” soundtrack include Queen Latifah’s “Wrath of My Madness,” Babs Bunny’s “I Want In,” Nai Br.XX’s “Adventure Time,” Quincy Jones’ “Love and Peace” and several tunes from jazz artist Courtney Bryan. Radha says in the movie that her song “F.Y.OV.” can stand for things other than “Forty-Year-Old Version,” such as “Find Your Own Voice,” “Find Your Own Vision” or “Fill Your Own Void.” They are all perfect descriptions of the movie’s overall impactful message.
Netflix premiered “The Forty-Year-Old Version” on October 9, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1927, in Chicago and briefly in Barnesville, Georgia, the dramatic film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A tough-talking blues diva and her rebellious cornet player have conflicts and power struggles with each other, while they both have constant battles with white racism and the emotional scars that this bigotry has left on them.
Culture Audience: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will appeal primarily to August Wilson fans and people interested in well-acted movies about African American experiences.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” triumphs as one of the rare movies adapted from a celebrated play that can actually claim to be better than the play, thanks to powerhouse performances by Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. The movie version of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is based on August Wilson’s play that debuted on Broadway in 1984, takes place mostly in a small recording studio, but the deep emotional impact and the breadth of social issues experienced and conveyed by the characters go beyond the confines of that studio. The story is set in 1927, but the story’s themes are universal and timeless.
Directed by George C. Wolfe with a screenplay written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” begins in Barnesville, Georgia, where blues singer Ma Rainey (played by Davis) is giving a foot-stomping, rousing performance to an enthralled audience in a tent. She’s sweating profusely, as she does in every scene in the movie, and caught up in the rapture of giving a raw and passionate performance for the adoring crowd.
When she’s off stage, Ma isn’t the fun-loving, “good time gal” that she might appear to be when she’s on stage. Ma is a middle-aged diva who’s feeling the pressure of being considered a “has-been” as her former protégée Bessie Smith is almost certain to surpass Ma in popularity. It’s an ageism problem faced by many entertainers, especially women, who are at the mercy of fickle audiences and industry people who might end up moving on to someone who’s considered younger, more contemporary and more attractive.
Ma has earned the nickname the Mother of the Blues, and she’s not about to give up her reign at the top that easily. She uses her clout and her unique talent as reasons to do and say what she wants, including showing up late, berating her employees, and making people kowtow to her sometimes-unreasonable demands. It’s clear that Ma’s way of asserting her power is to counterbalance the humiliation and pain of racism that she experiences as a black woman in America, where white supremacy was legal in the form of racial segregation and other Jim Crow laws.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” references the Great Migration, a period of time (1916 to 1970) in U.S. history where millions of black people relocated from the states in the South to states in other parts of America. These areas outside of the South were often viewed as presenting better opportunities for people of color, but these areas certainly were not immune to racism. When Ma travels to Chicago for the one-day recording session that’s the majority of this story, it represents her own personal parallel to the Great Migration.
Where Ma goes, drama usually isn’t far behind. Upon arriving in Chicago during a sweltering summer, she gets into a dispute on the street when she’s accused of pushing down a white man. A cop (played by Joshua Harto) who’s called to the scene is inclined to arrest her, but Ma uses her clout, loud voice and her “take no crap” attitude to get the cop to back off.
Ma, who lives openly as a lesbian (as did the real-life Ma Rainey), is traveling by car to the recording studio. Accompanying her are her much-younger lover Dussie Mae (played by Taylour Paige) and Ma’s teenage nephew Sylvester (played by Dussan Brown). As gruff as Ma is to most people in her life, she shows tremendous loyalty to the few people who are closest to her, especially Sylvester.
Dussie Mae is an attractive young woman whose relationship with Ma is fairly new and is more like a “trophy girlfriend” than a soul mate to Ma. Throughout the movie, it’s implied that Dussie Mae is somewhat of a gold digger. Dussie Mae goes through life using her looks and sex appeal to get people to financially support her—not because she’s mean-spirited but because she’s too unsophisticated to doing anything else with her life.
Ma, as usual, is running late on her way to the studio, where she is scheduled to record the song “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” When Ma and her two-person entourage (Dussie Mae and Sylvester) finally get there, Ma takes charge and sometimes gets into subtle and not-so-subtle power struggles with the men who’ve been waiting for her at the studio. These power struggles have many different layers that exemplify issues of gender roles and racial discrimination.
The six men in the recording studio who experience Ma’s mercurial range of emotions during this challenging day are:
Levee (played by Boseman), the charismatic, foul-mouthed cornet player who’s the newest and most arrogant member of Ma’s band.
Cutler (played by Colman Domingo), the band’s trombone player who is very loyal to Ma and considers himself to be the most experienced and skilled in dealing with her mood swings.
Toledo (played by Glynn Turman), the band’s pianist who is the most likely to be the jokester in the group.
Slow Drag (played by Michael Potts), the band’s bass player who is the quietest and most laid-back member of the group.
Irvin (played by Jeremy Shamos), Ma’s longtime manager who often has to be a peacemaker when she decides on a whim to throw situations into chaos.
Sturdyvant (played by Jonny Coyne), the manager of the recording studio who grows increasingly impatient with Ma’s diva antics.
In the scenes in the recording studio, Irvin and Sturdyvant (who are white) are often together in a booth that overlooks the recording room where they can watch through a glass window what’s happening down below with the Ma and the rest of her African American colleagues. Irvin and Sturdyvant usually leave the booth to go into the recording studio when there’s a problem that affects their time and money invested in this recording session. And there are several interruptions to the recording session for this reason.
The higher location of the booth and its separation from the main recording studio room are obvious metaphors of the spoken and unspoken racial barriers that exist between the people in this recording session, where racism is a festering wound that has impacted the characters on a personal and societal level. Ma and her colleagues are all too aware that even though Ma is the star in this room, she still has a subservient role to the white men who control the music industry. It’s a role that she expresses with a lot of emotional pain, bitterness and defiance throughout the story.
At one point in the story Ma says with heavy resentment: “They don’t care care nothin’ about me. All they care about is my voice.” She adds, “If you colored and you can make them some money, then you all right with them. Otherwise, you just a dog in the alley.” And later in the story, Ma reveals that even though Irvin has been her manager for the past six years, the only time he invited her to his home was so she could perform for his “white friends.”
There are also issues over gender roles that permeate the story. When Ma arrives at the recording studio, she finds out that all the men who’ve been waiting for her have already decided that she will record a new, more upbeat version of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” with the arrangement written by Levee. Ma refuses and declares that she is going to record the original version of the song. She also insists that her nephew Sylvester is going to do a short spoken intro to the song, even though he’s a stutterer.
Ma literally and figurately throws her weight around as she has diva tantrum after diva tantrum. At one point, she shouts: “I make more money for this outfit than anyone put together!” And when she finds out that the Coca-Cola that she requested in advance isn’t in the studio, she refuses to start recording until she gets her Coca-Cola.
All of the members of her band are very compliant except for Levee, who constantly challenges Ma’s decisions and tries to assert himself as a visionary musician whom Ma needs if she wants to get more respect for her music. Early on in the story, Tyree tells Cutler: “I ain’t like you, Cutler. I’ve got talent. I know how to play real music, not none of this jug band shit.”
Levee shows flashes of vanity (he brags about his shiny yellow shoes and is aware of how good-looking he is) and hubris (he thinks all of his ideas should be immediately accepted), but underneath that cockiness is someone who’s got deep-seated emotional pain and trauma. During the long stretches of time that the musicians in the band are waiting for Ma, Levee slowly opens up about his past and reveals secrets that explain why he acts the way that he does.
At one point, Levee is teased by the other members of the band when they see Levee acting in a very deferential way to Irvin and Sturdyvant. The band mates try to make Levee feel like he’s an “Uncle Tom,” which triggers Levee into losing his temper and then revealing a defining incident from his past that permanently changed his outlook on life. He tells this story in a harrowing monologue that’s one of the best scenes in the film.
Ma and Levee’s clashes with each other aren’t just about music. An observant Ma notices that Levee has been looking at Dussie Mae in a way that makes it obvious that he’s attracted to her. Dussie Mae flirts back when Ma isn’t around. And it doesn’t take long for Levee to ramp up his sexual advances toward Dussie Mae, even though the other band members warn Levee that Dussie Mae is “Ma’s girl.”
Levee’s disagreements with Ma over her musical direction, as well as Levee not even trying to hide that he’s interested in making moves on Ma’s lover, put him in a precarious situation where he might or might not be fired from the band. As time goes on during the day and Ma goes back and forth about whether or not she’ll complete the recording, Levee is going through his own insecurities and turmoil. At times, he also clashes with Cutler, especially when it’s revealed how Levee feels about God and religious beliefs.
Under the assured direction of Wolfe, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” not only has a top-notch cast but the movie also excels in costume design, production design and music. The stage/play version of the story takes place in the winter, but the filmmakers made the astute decision to change the season to summer during an oppressive heat wave. It gives the movie more of a “pressure cooker” look and tone that’s an accurate reflection of the simmering tensions that permeate throughout the entire story.
Davis and Boseman give award-worthy performances in this movie that goes beyond personality conflicts and ego posturing. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (which was Boseman’s last movie; he died of colon cancer in August 2020) is also a story of the shared trauma of racism and how even the strongest of souls are tested by this insidious societal cancer. Viewers who are sensitive about hearing racially derogatory names should be warned that the “n” word is said many times in this movie, usually when uttered by Levee.
Even though the movie is called “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the character of Ma has a lot less screen time than Levee does. If Ma is the heart of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” then Levee is the soul. Levee and Boseman’s heartbreaking performance represent anyone who has survived trauma inflicted by other people but struggles with the damage that can be inflicted by self-destruction.
Netflix released “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in select U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2020. The movie premiered on Netflix on December 18, 2020.