Almost every film soundtrack is a collaborative effort that features recordings by various artists from one or more genres. The Blank Panther: The Album, birthed from the film of the same name, brought together established and emerging acts, including Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jorja Smith, The Weeknd and more. Ultimately, the soundtrack won a heap of awards, most notably a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards earlier this year.
Rewinding five years ago next week, Think Like a Man Too, the sequel to the 2012 romantic comedy, made its screen debut in theaters. Unlike the picture’s predecessor soundtrack, which featured guest appearances from an all-star cast of R&B/hip-hop artists like Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Hudson, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, John Legend and Ludacris, the successor featured all new music from one single artist: Mary J. Blige.
Released on June 17, 2014, via Epic Records, the Think Like a Man Too soundtrack was heavily written and produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart with additional liner notes from Pharrell Williams, DJ Camper, Jerry Wonda, Jazmine Sullivan, and many more. The album featured Blige’s remake of Shalamar’s “A Night to Remember” and her top 30 radio single “Suitcase,” produced by Mark J. Feist.
Despite the album’s promotional hiccups, Blige still came out a winner. The music innovator joined an elite crowd of Black acts to perform recordings for an entire movie soundtrack.
Soul pioneer Isaac Hayes helped carried the creative torch for Black single-act soundtracks in the summer of 1971 when he contributed compositions for the Blaxploitation film, Shaft.
Interested in starring as the Black hero of the Gordon Parks-directed film, along with composing the film score, Hayes was later told actor Richard Roundtree would be taking the lead role. Still, Hayes remained steadfast in his work to craft the sounds that ultimately shaped the sound of the entire motion picture, as well as Black music for years to come.
“Gordon Parks sat down and talked to me about the character, because I’d never scored a movie,” Hayes recounted to NPR in December 2000. “He said, ‘Isaac, just remember, when you write this music, zero in on the lead character, on his personality. He’s a roving kind of character. He’s relentless, and your music has to depict that.’ So that’s when I got the idea for these high hats, you know, and made—the guitar and all that stuff and everything else followed.”
The 15-track collection contained 12 instrumentals that spanned in styles from rich soul to sonically dramatic jazzy pieces. The Stax Records-released soundtrack also featured three vocal performances, including “Theme from Shaft,” the film score.
In the process of creating this masterpiece, Hayes unintentionally made history. Noted as a trailblazing body of work, the soundtrack is the very first double album of original recordings to be issued by an R&B/soul artist.
As the film climbed to the top of the box office, so did the soundtrack. In November 1971, the album topped the Billboard 200 chart for one week while the LP’s star track peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks.
With the award season on the horizon, Hayes and the Shaft soundtrack became the first-time recipient of many awards, including the three Grammy Awards, two of which were presented to Hayes.
Hayes career-defining moment came at the 44th Annual Academy Awards in 1972. The soul singer took the stage to perform the “Theme for Shaft,” which later won Best Original Song that evening. His victory made him the first Black act to take home this songwriting award, or any Academy Award in a non-acting category at that time. Beyond this groundbreaking feat, Hayes is observed as the first Best Original Song winner to both write and perform the winning song. At the time, Hayes also became the third African American to win an Academy Award.
Over the years, Hayes’ “Theme of Shaft” has received a generous amount of love from all spectrums of the entertainment world. The record has also racked up more honors, including a covenant place in the Library of Congress in 2014.
With Black Music Month in high gear and a fifth Shaft film now in theaters, we have compiled insightful facts about 13 other film soundtracks that were composed, produced, and/or performed as a lead artist/band by a single Black act.
If there is anything to know about Curtis Mayfield, he’s one of the most important Black cultural musicians in the world of film. Superfly, a 1972 Blaxploitation film, honed in on the drug-ridden climate of Harlem. Along with starring in the picture as himself, Mayfield used his cultural influence to shed light on the world at large instead of glorifying the gun violence and street crime from the film.
Fact: Noted as one of the first R&B concept albums, this soul-stirring work is one of the few films of that time to outsell the movie itself.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
In 1972, Diana Ross made her silver screen debut in the Billie Holiday biopic, Lady Sings the Blues. Instead of lip-syncing the material, the icon utilized her own vocal gifts to take on Lady Day’s classics for the Gil Askey-produced double-album soundtrack.
Fact: Lady Sings the Blues is reported as Ross’ best-selling album, selling over 2 million copies in the U.S.
Trouble Man (1972)
Fresh off the heels of What’s Going On, his successful politically charged 1971 album, Marvin Gaye created the music for director Ivan Dixon’s 1972 Blaxploitation film Trouble Man.
Fact: Similar to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, Trouble Man outperformed its companion film. The title track is also one of Gaye’s 18 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 7 in 1973.
Black Caesar (1973)
Less than three months after releasing his 1972 album, Get on the Good Foot, James Brown turned to his next project: the soundtrack for Black Caesar, a 1973 gangster drama that starred Fred Williamson and Gloria Hendry.
Fact: Playing off the Godfather of Harlem moniker for Black Caesar, Brown crowned himself the Godfather of Soul, which stuck with him for the rest of his career.
Gladys Knight & The Pipes
By the mid-’70s, Curtis Mayfield had already made quite a name for himself as the go-to musician for curating film scores and soundtracks for Black motion pictures.
Fact: For the 1974 romance drama Claudine, starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, Gladys Knight and The Pips lent their soulful voices for the official soundtrack. “On and On,” the lead single from the album, marked the group’s last top 10 R&B single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No.5 in 1974.
The Staple Singers
Let’s Do It Again (1975)
Following the success of his work on the Claudine and Superfly soundtracks, Curtis Mayfield was once again at the beck and call of the Black film world for another motion picture album. This time he wrote the music for the 1975’s Let’s Do It Again and selected The Staple Singers as the performers for the film score.
Fact: The Staple Singers scored their second and last major hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the title track. The song peaked at No. 1 in the winter of 1975.
With a title as supreme as the Queen of Soul, it was hard to believe that the Sparkle soundtrack was Aretha Franklin’s first. It didn’t matter though. She and Curtis Mayfield, who wrote and produced each of eight songs, gave us all something we could feel.
Fact: While Franklin released multiple solid albums in the ‘70s, they didn’t reach RIAA certification status. However, the Sparkle soundtrack marked the soul vocalist’s first time striking gold with an album since 1972’s Amazing Grace.
Car Wash (1976)
Norman Whitfield, a former Motown songwriter and producer, crafted the perfect soundtrack for the 1976 comedy Car Wash. Instead of going after established acts in the industry, the musician brought emerging funk group Rose Royce on board for the project that is also known as their debut album.
Fact: At the 19th Annual Grammy Awards in 1977, the Car Wash soundtrack won Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special. Whitfield received the trophy.
Purple Rain (1984)
In 1984, Prince was in high demand. Two years had gone by, and his fans were feening for a new album since they were accustomed to receiving one each year after his 1978 debut For You.
Serving as his sixth studio LP, Purple Rain is also the soundtrack for the film of the same title that starred the Minneapolis rocker. The one-of-kind album features his band The Revolution and includes a cinematic moment more glorious than his on-screen character.
Fact: Beyond the deserving Grammys and an Academy Award, Purple Rain was a hit on the charts. The work sold a staggering 1.5 million copies in its first week and went on to debut at number one on the Billboard 200. The LP topped the popular albums chart for 24 weeks.
Jungle Fever (1991)
For his first music project since 1987’s Characters, Stevie Wonder took the lead as the prodigy behind the funk/soul soundtrack for Spike Lee’s 1991 film, Jungle Fever. In line with the film’s taboo theme of interracial romance in urban America, the music for the disturbing picture embedded relevant sociopolitical narratives, as well as awakening and contemporary backdrops for the mainstream radio.
What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)
Angela Bassett’s astonishing portrayal as Tina Turner’s jaw-dropping 1993 biopic, What’s Love Got to Do With It, is one of the most iconic cinematic moments in history. Learning the lines of this dynamic spirit known as the Queen of Rock & Roll was probably the less challenging part of the role that required her to dance and lip-sync the words of Turner’s classic tunes. At least Bassett didn’t have to actually sing the lyrics of the songs.
Fact: Contrary to urban myths, Turner re-recorded several songs for the soundtrack. “I Don’t Want to Fight,” the album’s newest addition, peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1993, marking her last top 10 entry on this chart.
Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album (1995)
Thanks to Babyface and Waiting to Exhale, the soundtrack brought together the incredible voices of female R&B divas from both the new and old school. Responsible for the ingenious compositions and stellar production of the ladies-first soundtrack, Babyface spoke to the lives of working Black women everywhere.
Fact: Babyface’s contribution for soundtrack stars Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, and Whitney Houston, who played a leading role in the film, earned him great success. With a total of 12 Grammy nominations, Babyface ties with Michael Jackson as the second most nominated artist in one night.
The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
It’s hard to go wrong with Whitney Houston starring in and contributing recordings to a blockbuster film. Contrary to soundtracks for The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale where she only performed her vocals, she contributed production support to the gospel standards for The Preacher’s Wife.
Fact: The soundtrack is the best-selling gospel recording of all-time, with six million copies sold worldwide.