Friday, December 12, 2008

Cadillac Records: Put The Needle On the Record for Columbus Short

The Blues...undoubtedly, the bass line to our musical lives in America, and I don't just mean Black people. It gave birth to rock n roll, contemporary gospel, Hip Hop...we all know the musical story and film, "Cadillac Records" pays homage to it.

Set in 1950s Chicago, "Cadillac Records" is based on the real Chess Record's founder, Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody), and some of the label's legendary artists: Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), Howlin' Wolf (Eammon Walker) .

The story is not unique. That's not a criticism, just honest observation. We all know how enterprising Whites cheated Black musicians out of millions in royalties as "race music" made it's way out of the "Chitlin' Circuit" into mainstream, aka White households.  But "Cadillac Records" attempts to soften the blow by portraying Chess as an entrepreneur that really cared about his artists, not just the bottom line. And to reward them for making him richer by the radio spin, he gave his artists allowances and, of course Cadillacs, to keep them distracted from the books and happily singing.  

Since many have already seen the film, I won't bother summarizing it. Just visit the film's website for that and cast details. But what the website won't tell you is who the REAL stand out star in this film is in my opinion. And as I write this post, I'm regretting not telling this artist just how I felt as we passed each other in the hall at a recent screening. 

"Hey Little Walter, Hey Little Walter, listen. Hey Little Walter, something's gonna getcha Little Walter".

Remember that R&B lyric from Tony! Toni! Tone which now is so fitting for this character in "Cadillac Records"? If you've seen the movie then you know that I'm referring to Columbus Short. I gained a whole new respect for this actor and the immeasurable talent he brought to his role as Little Walter.  But don't get it twisted, that's no diss to Jeffrey and other cast members. We all knew the cast would do well, especially Jeffrey, because he does nothing less in every movie. 

Until "Cadillac Records", I saw Columbus Short as the sexy, dancer turned actor thanks to "Stomp the Yard" and "This Christmas." I had never seen any of his work in theater, so I went into this film expecting Short to play a historic character, not become the character. That's a sign of a true thespian which brings me to Beyonce aka "B" aka "Sasha Fierce".

Beyonce plays a feisty, sexy, Etta James very well. However, not once did I forget it was Beyonce. B's got the goods--the look, the voice, the body, and the sheer determination to do big things in the business of show--note her executive producer credit.  So thanks to her marketability she's everywhere--music, movies, magazines, billboards, blog headlines, perfumes, etc..-- and consequently, so is her signature vocal style. We're constantly reminded who's playing who in and out of this movie.  

Still on the "B" side, if Beyonce can inspire a youngster to put a needle on a record and listen to the original recordings of Etta James and the other artist portrayed in this film, then maybe her ubiquity isn't so much a fault. However, that elite few who bestow Oscars may think differently. 

Lastly, the heart of the film beats to the music it features. From the original musicians and the actors that portray them to current artists like Raphael Saadiq and Nas,  the "Cadillac Records" soundtrack definitely provides timeless music for the young and old.  The Deluxe edition features 2 discs with an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, and Hip Hop. Just press play to hear and download it.

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