The sheer size of the United States — with all its geographical subcultures — and the attendant variety of American life helps create and sustain a rich and vibrant culture of music that encompasses many different genres, each of which in its own way seems wholly and inimitably American. One seeking proof need look no further than America’s Music Legacy, a series produced and recorded by 20th Century Home Entertainment from 1983 to 1985, and only now seeing a proper DVD release.
Each of the quartet of titles first seeing release runs two hours, and is comprised of color
and black-and-white archive footage, along with interwoven stills, in
montage format. While other sub-genres will get a date in the public arena later this year, the initial batch of releases spotlights gospel, country and western, rhythm and blues and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. The rock DVD — with cuts from Fabian (who hosts the proceedings), the Coasters, Chubby Checker, Lou Christy and more — is the most surface-level engaging, probably because it presents a history with which almost every American after and inclusive of the boomer generation is familiar. It’s interesting, though, to see different versions of the same song (most notably “Johnny B. Goode,” which finds Bo Diddley laying down filthy licks later in the program), and chart rock’s headstrong course from “primitive” fad to mainstream bottled teenage rebellion.
The rhythm and blues entry shows how the narrative form and rich tradition of jazz, ragtime and old spiritual standards commingled to winning effect, also laying the groundwork for much of today’s hip-hop. And the gospel DVD in particular — hosted by Levar Burton, and including cuts from Andrae Crouch, Marion Williams, Mel Carter and the Walter Hawkins Family — is an eye-opener. For those who have the pleasure of living in or having visited Los Angeles and checked out the House of Blues gospel breakfast, the “good news” uplift of this title, at once Christian-specific and also somewhat secular, will have you hungering for a toe-tapping return. It’s revivalism through communal sharing and witnessing — no tent necessary.
Housed in regular plastic Amaray cases, each America’s Music Legacy title comes to DVD on a region-free disc, presented in Dolby 2.0 stereo. There are no additional “talking head” bonus interviews or anything, which would have been nice inclusions, but given the enormous wealth of material that’s only a small ding in the collectibility of these titles. To purchase the discs, either individually or collectively, click on any of the links above, or visit your online retailer of choice. B (Movies) C+ (Discs)