Tracing the story of Ella Fitzgerald's life, this documentary film explores how her music became a soundtrack for a tumultuous century. From a 1934 talent contest at the Apollo theatre in Harlem, the film follows Ella's extraordinary journey across five decades as she reflects the passions and troubles of the times in her music and her life. Moving beyond conventional biopic, the film uses images and music to evoke the feel of those times, bringing to life the context of Ella's unique career, featuring interviews from Smokey Robinson, Jamie Cullum, Tony Bennett, Norma Miller and Laura Mvula.
Stewart Copeland explores the drums as the founding instrument of popular modern music. Beats that travelled from Africa via New Orleans and across the world are the consistent force behind musical evolution. Stewart plays with some of the most inspiring drummers of the last 50 years, including John Densmore of The Doors, Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Prince’s musical director Sheila E, New Order’s Stephen Morris and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. He goes dancing in New Orleans, builds his own bass drum pedal and checks out hot new bands on Santa Monica beach.
Suzy Klein explores the use, abuse and manipulation of music in the Second World War - from swinging jazz to film soundtracks and from ballads to ballets. The war, she demonstrates, wasn't just a military fight but an ideological battle where both sides used music as a weapon to secure their vision for civilisation. Suzy reveals how the forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn was taken off air by the BBC for fear her sentimental songs undermined the British war effort. She reveals the war work of two British composers. Walton's Spitfire Prelude became the archetype for a particularly British form of patriotic music. By contrast, Tippett was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector, but his anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time was showcased at the Royal Albert Hall. Suzy examines Olivier Messiaen's haunting Quartet for the End of Time, written in a POW camp. At Auschwitz, Suzy reveals how music was co-opted to serve the Nazis' evil purposes.
In episode two, Whole Lotta Shakin', the rock 'n' roll story continues with the boom in the sound across America and its move into mainstream culture thanks to seminal TV appearances from Elvis, who made his small-screen debut with a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel before his notoriously sexualised performance of Hound Dog that caused shockwaves across conservative America. The programme explores the media's failed attempts to suppress the genre before wholesome Buddy Holly calmed the waters, converting geeky looks into chart success, before scandal again in 1958 with Elvis's conscription to the army and Jerry Lee Lewis's career suicide when he married his 13-year-old cousin.
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to Nigeria, home of some of the most influential African music of the last 60 years. The country's extraordinary polyrhythms have powered highlife, funk and Afrobeat for decades, and can still be heard in modern pop music. Travelling to Lagos and beyond, Rita traces the importance of rhythm in Nigeria's music and discovers the many different musical styles it has created, from Yoruba juju music, to acoustic singer-songwriters and world-class pop.
DJ and broadcaster Rita Ray travels to South Africa, home to distinctive vocal harmonies that have travelled all over the world. Visiting Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, she discovers the extraordinary songs and harmonies that have given this country a voice abroad. They have often carried messages about inequality and injustice at home, resulting in beautiful music with a real sense of purpose. South Africa is a diverse nation, and each tribal group has its own musical traditions.