The Five Heartbeats, the 1991 movie written and directed by—and also starring—Robert Townsend (Keenan Ivory Wayans was a co-writer) is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. For my money, The Five Heartbeats is the greatest fictional Black music group of all time, and that is indisputable. Sure, there are other fictional groups that put it all on the table (DJay from Hustle and Flow, The Dreamettes and then Deena Jones & The Dreams from Dreamgirls, etc., Sparkle in...Sparkle) but the Harlem quintet really are the GOATS. Since you asked, here are 8 reasons why.
For starters, he told you motherfuckers what time it was. He told us that can’t nobody sing like Eddie King, Jr (played by Michael Wright). He said this while he was on crack. Do you know badass you have to be to tell other people that they can’t sing like you—in this case, Flash from Flash & The Ebony Sparks and eventually Flash & The 5 Horsemen—when you are wearing an old sparkly outfit from decades past and clearly strung out but have folks like me say to the screen, “He right tho!” Or to sing a song so well and with so much passion that you give a woman an orgasm simply by kissing her just because of your singing? And here’s the kicker, straight from Robert Townsend’s mouth: Eddie wasn’t even originally the lead singer, the nigga Bobby who got shot in the leg was the lead. We never heard from him again and then Duck (Donald “Duck”Matthews played by Townsend) had to join the group. He was so good he ran on stage after jumping through a window and being shot at. This after dealing with a father who constantly told him he wasn’t shit. The only person with a “better” origin story than that is Miles Morales.
The pivotal moment in the movie is when the group is performing at a talent contest and the piano player and host set them up for immense failure at the whim of Bird from the Midnight Falcons. And it works at first, except The Heartbeats frustration bubbles over to the point where Duck pushes the piano player off the bench, turns the auditorium into church and then Eddie takes the crowd to church. Everybody else gets in where they need to and they turn the acapella performance into the stuff of legend. If that happened in 2020, it would have gone viral and Puffy would have tried to sign them before they left the auditorium.
From the beginning of the movie, he was writing songs and directing traffic on stage and producing in real-time. By the end of the movie he has plaques all over the walls and has allegedly become one of the greatest songwriters. He was such a good producer he was solidly convincing at playing Shy Brother with his brother, J.T. Matthews, played by none other than Leon. Plus, none of us would have known it at the time, but a young Duck Matthews is clearly the haberdashery inspiration for Russell Westbrook.
Alright, here are the things this group went through: egos; racism; drinking and drugs (mostly all Eddie); fame; women; a murdered manager in Jimmy Potter (also because of Eddie); Duck’s fiancé cheating on him with his brother, JT, one of the worst brothers of all time; on stage fights; losing a lead singer in Eddie because of the drama; The Five Heartbeat’s universe version of Suge Knight in Big Red (more or him next) who had their manager murdered over Eddie’s contract; among other things. And yet, by the movie’s end, they were all able to stand side-by-side and reminisce on the old times, together, like they were supposed to.
Well, everybody except Jimmy, but the principals of the group were all still standing and seemingly as healthy as they could be. And that counts for something because usually, somebody dies, ya know, in the group. I mean, he hung Bird out of a window for not respecting his office hours.
Even though they had a legendary improv moment in “A Heart Is a House For Love,” the version they were singing at first was a monster. They had hits. And not just hits, but the kind that has the dancery going up on a Tuesday.
7. Choirboy saved up enough money to build his father a church and direct the choir AND bring Eddie and Baby Doll (Eddie’s long time girlfriend and eventually wife) along, basically saving Eddie’s life.
Effectively, they actually made some money and they still all loved each other enough to look out when they could. You could see in various moments how much they cared about one another as people. Eddie might have been the one to fall the hardest, but he also loved his bandmates.
Ebony, Jet, Rolling Stone, TIME, Newsweek. They covered all of those magazines. They made it to American Bandstand. They headlined tours. They grew mustaches. They bought houses. They didn’t complain about money. They won awards. They had #1 hit records.
I’m just saying. I’ve got nothing but love for The Five Heartbeats, the best to never really do it.