Featuring Grammy award winner Bobby Rush, Grammy nominee Shemekia Copeland, award-winner Castro Coleman and a host of acclaimed musicians, Larry Lancit’s Blues on Beale was filmed entirely in the Blues clubs on famed Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, captures the people, the soul and music of the 36th International Blues Challenge, an annual event organized and staged by The Blues Foundation. Starting in the early fall of 2019, Blues Societies from across the globe held local competitions for Blues bands and solo/duo acts. The winners of these competitions qualified to travel to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge in late January 2020. 232 winners of these local contests brought their hopes and aspirations to Memphis to compete for medals, recognition and possible record contracts by performing in 20 clubs along renowned Beale Street, the most celebrated Blues location in the world. The 2020 IBC was perhaps the last major music event staged before Covid-19 put the world on “hold.”
KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “If you love the blues genre of music, Blues on Beale is the perfect documentary for you! If it is not your favorite style of music, or you don’t know much about it, this film written by Cecily Lancit and directed by Larry Lancit (also producers) provides a rich insight on this art form and its place in American history.” See her full review below.
Blues on Beale
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13
If you love the blues genre of music, Blues on Beale is the perfect documentary for you! If it is not your favorite style of music, or you don’t know much about it, this film written by Cecily Lancit and directed by Larry Lancit (also producers) provides a rich insight on this art form and its place in American history. As a music lover, I found this exceptional work beyond entertaining.
Some background: The International Blues Competition on its 36th edition was one of the last events that took place before the lockdown in January, 2020. Over two hundred acts (bands, solo or duo) from around the world got together at the iconic Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee to compete in a challenge organized by The Blues Foundation. Only 16 acts make it to the final and 5 are awarded winners. This documentary covers this competition and intertwines live performances and interviews with the musicians, judges and music experts. The montage brings the audience back to the origins of blues with footage and photos from legends like BB King and Elvis Presley and others that gave birth to this touching music. Stories about those blues pioneers contrast with contemporary artists like Bobby Rush and Shemekia Copeland, making Blues on Beale educational as well as fun to watch.
I am impressed by the talent and the different ethnicities and performers from countries like Croatia and Australia that share the love for blues, despite the fact that it is a secular folk music created by African-Americans early in the 20th century in the South of the United States of America. The producers excel at getting these artists to share their stories. You learn how blues is perhaps the music genre that better connects with the human condition and how it transcends boundaries. Despite the connotation of the word “blues.” this music is uplifting and meaningful. Blues also connects with the audience by telling a story whether is about slavery and oppression, longing for a better job or love.
The editing flows nicely and surprisingly—there’s a good element of surprise. It just feels that the narrative is sometimes redundant and lacks a deeper insight on the venues and idiosyncrasy of the city. Memphis is the perfect location, but feels a bit abandoned in the storytelling. My favorite part is the energy in how they present the information and ignite a spark in the audience. You’ll appreciate the true craftsmanship in the performers and how they don’t follow a trend nor are they part of a marketing campaign.
The message of the film is that music is powerful and transcends gender, race and nationality; it unites people and goes beyond the competitive spirit.
I give Blues on Beale 4 out of 5 stars and recommend for kids 10 to 18, plus adults. Blues on Beale is available now on VOD.
Keywords: Bobby Rush, Shemekia Copeland, Castro Coleman, Shakira S’aida, Janiva Magness, Bruce Iglauer, William R. Ferris, Justina Lee Brown, Larry Lancit, Cecily Lancit, Jeff Garek, Lynne Brenner Ganek, Steve Zink, Nick Romary, documentary, music, Justina, Jamell Richardson