Black Music Month: Celebrating the Soulful ’70s

Super Fly, by Curtis Mayfield; Black Caesar, by James Brown
Super Fly, by Curtis Mayfield; Black Caesar, by James Brown

What makes the soul, funk and R&B music of the 1970s so unique and powerful? Beyond the fact that it creeps into, nourishes and elevates your mind, body and spirit, it’s the soundtrack of profound change embodying the most prolific and lush period of black cultural expression that we’ve ever experienced. Its beginning was like the clouds parting to bless the universe with radiant musical sunshine.


The penetrating artistic expression was ubiquitous and not simply confined to the radio airwaves. When tuning in to ABC’s detective drama Baretta from 1975 to 1978, we were treated to Sammy Davis Jr.’s haunting exhortations to keep our eyes on the sparrow.

With its 1975 debut, The Jeffersons inspired us when George and Weezie moved on up to that deluxe apartment in the sky. 

And on Good Times, the struggle of the Evans family was a reminder to those of us cramped into high-rise, low-income housing developments situated in the armpits of America’s great cities. It showed the importance of keeping our heads above water and making a better way when we can.

Fighting for our respect and dignity, determined to believe in the beauty and power of our dreams on a daily basis, ’70s funk dripped clean through the instrumental theme-song masterpieces that readied us for Fred and Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son; Coolidge, Thorpe and Hollywood on The White Shadow; and the crotchety and curmudgeonly Detective Fish on Barney Miller.

And of course, where would we be without that weekly journey into “the Hippest Trip in America”? We bore the revolutionary marks of these emerging, transcendent, mesmerizing musical effects with our hair and fashion and by the way we soulfully, skillfully and artistically moved our bodies each weekend when Soul Train aired.  

But those were merely appetizers for some of the most incredible film scores in cinematic history. Convince me that there’s a better soundtrack than the ones James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch and Bobby Womack produced for the movies Black Caesar, Super Fly, Shaft, The Mack and Across 110th Street, and I’ll convince you that Samuel L. Jackson deserved an Oscar for his work in Snakes on a Plane and Deep Blue Sea.


Read more at the Shadow League.

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