HOLLYWOOD, CA-  A while back, I decided that I only wanted to see shows that made me feel good. Black Movie Soundtrack III fit the bill: a joyous celebration of music and film that lit up the Hollywood Bowl and kept the audience dancing. Host Craig Robinson presided over the evening, introducing a wide array of film clips spanning 80 years of highlights from Black actors and musicians. It was, as Robinson enthusiastically told the crowd, “two hours of undiluted black excellence.”

Conductor Vince Mendoza and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra accompanied a lineup of legends from different eras: El Debarge, Dionne Farris, Chaka Khan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Raphael Saadiq, Charlie Wilson, BeBe Winans, and even a surprise appearance by Snoop Dogg. I had expected the evening to focus on soundtrack music from those artists, but it was encyclopedic — covering everything from a glorious 1943 Cab Calloway dance number to a tribute to John Singleton, all accompanied by film clips of every major Black actor you could think of.

The audience gasped and cheered through Calloway’s “Jumpin’ Jive,” watching the film clip of the Nicholas Brothers performing what the people seated next to me accurately called “the most incredible dancing [they had] ever seen.” The evening spanned all genres and included clips and music from Blaxploitation films, which Robinson described as an “iconography [that] persists because they were the first truly kick-ass Black characters on screen.” Robinson and co-producer Reginald Hudlin introduced song after song, genre after genre, in a show that had no lulls.

There were more incredible moments than I could count. BeBe Winans sang a gorgeous rendition of “The Greatest Love of All,” honoring its history both in The Greatest and as a Whitney Houston song.  Raphael Saadiq’s performance of a medley during the Singleton tribute included a heartbreakingly beautiful section of The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” Meshell Ndegeocello rocked out on her guitar during each of her numbers, and Chaka Khan showed why she was a legend.

No review of this show could leave out the show-stopping appearance by Dionne Farris, who entered in what looked like a straight-from-the-runway cocoon but expanded into massive glowing wings that were lit from within. She was a badass hybrid of Tinker Bell and Catwoman.

And I’ll own that the moment I had most eagerly awaited was “Rhythm of the Night.” Yes, in an evening filled with more amazing performers than I could count, I was there primarily for El DeBarge. I was personally sad that “Who’s Johnny” wasn’t included, but there was room for only so many songs in the evening and perhaps not everyone shares my love of cheesy 80s robots.

A tribute to Prince has become a tradition at Black Movie Soundtrack. To quote Robinson: why in all three events? “Because it’s Prince!” Chaka Khan’s “Purple Rain” was luminous, and Wilson’s segment of the tribute was beyond description. How can you capture a star who outshines the other stars? A supernova?

The highlight of the show, hands down, was Charlie Wilson. I had passed on seeing him in concert previously, and wow do I regret that decision. From the moment he stepped onto the stage, surrounded by incredibly talented musicians, he blew them all out of the water. Uncle Charlie lit up the stage and electrified the audience, making you forget that the other legends were even there. I have been to more concerts than I can count, and Wilson may be the best live performer I have ever seen. If he has a show near you, buy a ticket. Buy it yesterday, and then buy tickets for your friends. He’ll blow your mind.

In an evening that was already full-to-bursting with talent and positive energy, a surprise Snoop Dogg cameo near the end of the night brought down the house. Everyone jumped to their feet and danced along to “Deep Cover,” and the only thing wrong with his performance was that it was too short. The audience wanted more Snoop.

In the end, the show moved into the present day with a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” performed by Farris and guest musician Massamba Diop alongside interspersed clips of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.  All the musicians joined together for a rousing finale performance of “Lean On Me” that doubled as a tribute to “Black Godfather” Clarence Avant. There was so much talent and warmth on one stage, and my neighbors summed it up as they walked out: “That was the best night!” I missed out on the first two editions of this series, but I won’t make that mistake again. Black Movie Soundtrack IV can’t come soon enough.

Follow Hollywood Bowl on Facebook, Instagramand Twitter.


CAST: Black Movie Soundtrack III – Hollywood Bowl – 9-25-19

Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Vince Mendoza, conductor

Host: Craig Robinson

With Special Guests:

El DeBarge

Dionne Farris

Chaka Khan

Meshell Ndegeocello

Raphael Saadiq

Charlie Wilson

BeBe Winans

(Unannounced appearances by co-producer Reginald Hudlin and special musical cameo from Snoop Dogg)