Given the overwhelming achievement of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize winning White House musical bio-drama about Alexander Hamilton—the virtually forgotten U.S. Founding Father and progenitor of the nation’s financial system—, many may be so willing to forget the watershed moment the show is having on Broadway at the moment. The allure of hip-hop on the Great White Way seemed mystifying as countless shows before Hamilton—Runaways, Holler If Ya Hear Me and Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk—all sort of fizzled out, even if they drew acclaim. Perhaps that’s because hip-hop has been viewed as a fad rather than a moment, or in the case of Hamilton, a revolution.
That’s because Hamilton is more posh than it let’s on. While music lovers are currently experiencing the third wave of hip-hop—where different variations of snap, crunk, drill, trap, noir&B currently dominate the charts—Hamilton stands out because it not only references 1980s Golden Age rap and 90s hip-hop, it even alludes to the contemporary alternative rap which has been paved by Kanye West, Drake, B.O.B, Future, Frank Ocean and Big Sean. Lyrically even, Miranda tips his hat to American musical theatre shows past and present from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific to Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.
In honor of that show, here is a list of some of the best songs out there inspired by Broadway music theatre.
“Westside Story” by the Game
Album: The Documentary (2004)
When it was released, Pitchfolk hailed The Game’s studio debut album was “the best West Coast street-rap album since DJ Quik’s 2002 LP Under tha Influence,” which is still quite a bold statement. Nevertheless, it’s leading single, “Westside Story” confused many considering there’s a 1957 Broadway musical about two rival street gangs in the midst of a turf war on NYC’s Upper West Side called West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robins. This forgotten Gangsta rap gem strove to be the L.A. equivalent of 50 Cent’s “In da Club,” but perhaps it would have done better as a mambo.
“Heartless” by Kanye West
Album: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
According to a rare interview with MTV News, Kanye West noted that “Heartless” was written to be “Broadway-esque,” even releasing a live a cappella version of the synthpop R&B ballad to boot. The song is one of West’s most covered songs, with artists like Jazmine Sullivan, Melanie Fiona, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Kris Allen and The Fray. The song was also parodied on “South Park.”
“Hard Knock Life” by Jay-Z
Album: Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)
Produced in collaboration with The 45 King (the man behind Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” and Eminem’s “Stan”), Jay-Z’s show tune satire “Hard Knock Life” should have been the single that lampooned his career. For starters, it’s inspired by one of the most beloved, revived and parodied productions in American musical theatre: Annie, based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. Secondly, the song was released barely two years after two of the biggest hip-hop wordsmiths of all time—The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur—were both killed in drive-by shootings. While “Hard Knock Life” remains one of Jay-Z’s most iconic songs, however, its lyrical content doesn’t have the nuance or the polysyllabic wordplay that many other songs in the rapper’s repertoire are chock-full of. Thirdly, with the teen-pop revival at the time, music listeners were craving something a little sexier, and sandwiched between massive hits “Can I Get A…” and “Money, Cash, Hoes,” “Hard Knock Life,” felt… orphaned on the sidelines (pun intended). Lastly, with a movement of neo-soul artists such as Maxwell, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Angie Stone and Erykah Badu heating up—not to mention a giant mastodon on the charts called The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—an upbeat hip-hop lullaby anthem about the ‘hood felt kind of out of place. Nevertheless, it triumphed and the song hit #15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Rich Girl” By Gwen Stefani ft. Eve
Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (2004)
Released off of 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby., her critically-acclaimed 80’s dance-funk electro-pop debut, Gwen Stefani provided fan service for those who followed her during her tenure with No Doubt with the reggae song, “Rich Girl.” Produced by hip-hop legend Dr. Dre (the man behind Straight Outta Compton, The Chronic, Doggystyle, Eminem’s career), the iconic ska-punk goddess tapped hip-hop duchess Eve to feature. The ladies collaborated three years prior on the 2001 Song of the Year single “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” and took home a Grammy Award in 2002 for “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration,” which was a brand new category at the time. This time around, they collaborated on a remake of Louchie Lou & Michie One’s 1993 song “Rich Girl,” which itself interpolated “If I Were a Rich Man” from Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s classic 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. Polarizing critics, music listeners loved it and the song eventually peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard charts.
“Wind It Up” By Gwen Stefani
Album: The Sweet Escape (2006)
Released two years after her mega-hit solo debut, on paper, “Wind It Up” had all of the key ingredients to generate another hit parade like her last album. It had a team of trendy and multifaceted producers with the Neptunes. It had loads of originality, thanks to the unorthodox addition of yodeling and a change in musical direction towards alternative hip-hop. But it also shared a gimmick with the inclusion of a popular musical theatre show tune and rendering it into an urban contemporary club banger. Needless to say, an interpolation of “The Lonely Goatherd” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1959 music The Sound of Music was not the way to go. Perhaps she should have selected “Do-Re-Mi” instead?
“Spend the Day” by Obie Trice ft. Drey Skonie
Album: Bottoms Up (2012)
Okay, this may be cheating as the song was released in Nigeria in 1977, but Fela Kuti’s “Sorrow Tears and Blood” was featured in the hit Afrobeat jukebox musical Fela! on Broadway, so that has got to count for something! Obie Trice sampled the tune to bring more depth into his unique brand of Midwest hip-hop.
“Zambony” by K-OS
Album: Yes! (2009)
Canadian alt hip-hop rapper k-os opened his critically acclaimed fourth album, Yes!, with a sample of “Morning Hymn and Alleluia” nun chorus from The Sound of Music.
“Roc-A-Fella Billionaires” by Freeway
Album: Free At Last (2007)
While not as huge as some of celebrity friends and fellow artists like Beanie Sigel or Lil’ Wayne, with Freeway’s sophomore album, Free at Last, he proved he could stand with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Scarface, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss and super producers Cool & Dre. On the vibrant rap track “Roc-A-Fella Billionaires,” Freeway and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z took the cabaret classic “Big Spender” from the 1966 Bob Fosse-directed musical Sweet Charity by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. The song peaked at 64 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
“Love Hater” by OutKast
Album: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
Certified diamond and 11 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is without a doubt one of the greatest double albums of all-time and by 2003, funk-rap duo OutKast had reached a zenith levels of superstardom unheard of for most hip-hop groups. While the phenomenal “Hey Ya!” and the clubland chart topper “The Way You Move” were making their rounds on the dance floor, fans got to tune into some sweet jams like the jazz-influenced “Love Hater” which sampled another Sound Of Music standout, “My Favorite Things.”
“My Favorite Things” by SWV
Album: A Special Christmas (1997)
Before the reality television shows and constant break-ups, Sisters with Voices were a force to be reckoned with and this smooth jazz affected hip-hop soul rendition of the Sound Of Music jam “My Favorite Things” is for grown folks only.
Protected: Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech
Jazmine Sullivan: The Next Singer-Songwriter To Write A Broadway Musical?
We recently caught up with Jazmine Sullivan at The HeLa Project, a multimedia exhibition inspired by the HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Like the rest of us, Jazmine is in awe of the under-told story of Henrietta Lacks and her instrumental role in modern medicine. We further asked about why she got involved with the project and she said: “Anyway I can give light to an extraordinary woman like that, I’m there.”
Some of the integral women in bringing this story to light have their roots in Broadway: Tony Award-winning producer Oprah Winfrey, who not only stars in the film, but also credited as executive producer, and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry, who portrays the title character.
We wouldn’t be Broadway Black if we didn’t keep it real.
Let’s be honest, we can’t get enough of 11-year-old Jazmine singing “Home” like she wrote the piece, so we got to asking, and it turns out Jazmine wouldn’t mind putting her pen to paper to create a musical for the Broadway stage.
She said performing on Broadway isn’t in the plans for the near future but, “You never know! I love writing and creating characters!”
God!? Oprah!?!? Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey?!?! Who’s going to snatch this up?
Until then, it sounds like we have some new music to expect. What kind of musical would you like to see from Ms. Sullivan? Sound off below in the comments!
Audra McDonald Starstuck By Beyonce At Beauty and The Beast Premiere
What happens when two queens meet? Can the world truly handle all of their queendoms once together? Does the world suddenly explode? The answers to these questions–TBD. But when Audra McDonald met Beyoncé at the Beauty and The Beast premiere last weekend, the Broadway star proved she’s no different from us– minus the whole six Tony Awards thing.
In a sit-down interview with People magazine, the Shuffle Along star recalls meeting Queen Bey at the LA premiere.
“I was headed [sic] out a certain exit and she was coming in, and I saw Blue Ivy, and I was like, ‘That’s Blue Ivy, maybe she’s here with, I thought it was her nanny,” she explains. “And I looked up and I went, ‘Queen!’ And then she said, ‘Nice to see you.’ And I went ‘Queen!’ I have never been goofier because I was just so starstruck.”
Surely THE Queen of Broadway Audra McDonald can handle meeting Queen Bey– obviously not– admitting she could only manage to say “Queen” to her about “three times” and not much else.
“I’m a grownup, I’m 46. I’m a grownup, I should have been able to handle it,” she says. “But it’s Beyoncé and I couldn’t handle it. I’ve met presidents but I was much more freaked out about Beyoncé.”
Us too Audra, us too.
Catch Beauty and the Beast in theaters now.
Selma, The Musical: An Unheard Song
In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council set their sights on Selma, AL as the stomping ground for voter registration reform. Twenty-four years later, Selma The Musical took the stage at New Federal Theater to tell the story of the civil rights leaders that inspired its very existence. Tommy Butler, the show’s creator, wrote the book, music and lyrics and then turned to his community to help tell the story.
This 1978 musical not only put black history in the spotlight, the creative team itself featured makers of history. Cornelius A. Tate, Selma’s musical director, has a long list of Broadway credits. This list includes the infamous Hair, a show that gave him the title of being the first Black musical director on Broadway. The accomplishment is well deserved considering Tate led the cast of Selma through a demanding score that cast a light on the pain and injustice throughout Black history.
Selma is unapologetic in its critique of race relations during the Cvil Rights Movement. It uses the same painful language that ran ramped alongside hoses and hounds in Alabama streets. This musical served as a wake-up call. It shook the critics of its day and introduced new performers to voice the frustrations of inequality. Tommy Butler, the shows creator, starred in the musical alongside a collective of newcomers. Denise Erwin, Susan Beaubian, Carton Williams and Ernie Banks led the cast in songs calling for justice, equity and peace. A cry we can still hear from our community.
Selma The Musical was a show that asked the obvious in the most honest way it knew how. The voices who deny the existence of injustice will call Selma “unfinished” and “archetypal.” I invite you to reflect on the events that brought this musical to fruition, the limitations we are still overcoming, and the necessity of telling the difficult stories in our history. The show’s original cast recording can be found on Apple Music. New Federal Theater, where the show saw its debut, continues to release productions that question the justice and equity that is denied to Black people in America. You can view their upcoming projects.
Who Should Play Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard Musical on Broadway?
Known around the world as “The Voice,” soul-pop icon Whitney Houston’s birthday was on Tuesday, August 9, and the legendary singer would have been 53 years old. Multiple music journalists and social media luminaries celebrated by compiling lists of her most memorable songs or iconographic promotional music videos. In 2009, Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female act of all time. So, it’s no surprise that seven years later—four years after her tragic death—the public still grieve her death and showbiz insiders are trying to make bank. That may include a Broadway musical revue of, arguably, the singer’s masterpiece. It may also include a Hunger Games style casting battle royale between divas.
The day prior of what would’ve been Whitney Houston’s 53rd birthday, various mainstream news outlets announced the musical adaptation of the vocal titan’s first major film project, The Bodyguard, gearing up for its first U.S. national tour, with Deborah Cox cast in the revamped role of Rachel Marron. Cox, 42, the chart-topping Canadian R&B singer-songwriter and actress who recently ended her celebrated stint as international dance legend Josephine Baker in a Broadway bound musical at Florida’s Asolo Repertory Theatre in May, isn’t estranged to Houston or her body of work. In 2000, Cox recorded the 2000 single “Same Script, Different Cast” with Houston. In 2014, Cox re-created several tracks of Houston’s commended discography for a controversial and commercially panned 2015 Lifetime biopic, Whitney, though the new vocals received raves by top critics. Now set to perform the musical theatre adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Oscar-nominated film when it premieres at Paper Mill Playhouse, not only does Cox have big shoes to fill in playing the role that Houston made emblematic, but Cox is also having to compete with the popularity of other singers who have played the role across the pond. One in particular being Tony winner Heather Headley.
In 2012, Headley made her London stage debut in the West End production of The Bodyguard, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Written by Alexander Dinelaris, when the show began previews at the London’s Adelphi Theatre, Headley was one of the best things about it. Sound familiar? Headley replaced award-winning actress-singer Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple to critical acclaim and a prolonged standing ovation, with many noting the diva’s stage presence and theatrical complexity. Headley, 41, who earned a Tony Award in 2000 for her performance in Aida, was presented with a Sardi’s portrait on the day before Houston’s birthday. Prior to that, Headley originated the role of Nala in Broadway’s The Lion King — her Broadway debut in 1997. Headley also appeared with Il Divo on Broadway for a limited concert run in 2014, where she sang various numbers from The Bodyguard soundtrack to audience applause.
When Headley left the West End production of The Bodyguard, British soul diva Beverley Knight replaced her and was nominated for Best Takeover in a Role at the Whatsonstage.com Awards as a result. In July, Knight, 43, returned in a limited six-month run of The Bodyguard on the West End. Alexandra Burke, who won the fifth season of “The X Factor” in the U.K., would replace Knight in the original production before it shuttered and she embarked on a nationwide tour; Burke, 27, became the longest leading cast member to play the part. Which means, the Grammy Award-nominated Cox may have to finesse her acting prowess if producers intend for a Broadway run.
The tour for the jukebox musical kicks offs at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse this November before making stops in more than 20 U.S. cities. This is apropos considering Houston is a native of New Jersey. But what does it mean of the multigenerational, cross-cultural sisters eager to play the role on Broadway?
While Cox may transfer to Broadway after a few workshops of the Broadway bound Josephine musical in the future, it is unknown when that could be. Of all of the actresses who have played the role of Rachel, her opulent mezzo soprano ringers truer to Houston’s velvety and plush vocals. Headley, however, is a Broadway diva, one who has finally returned to Broadway and is giving a performance of a lifetime in a what many assumed to be a thankless part. Knight, outside of music fans, is largely unknown in the states, but has the grit and the experience that coincides with the level of stardom that Rachel has. And Burke, who is seen in many ways as a “Beyoncé of Britainia” by the press, has the youth and the fiery energy needed to play the part.
Who do you think should play the role? Let us know in the comments.
Get You a Fave That Can Do Both: Broadway Stars Get Political
Photo by Christopher Boudewyns for Broadway Black
These past weeks have been a phenomenal expression of talent and tenacity. From Audra McDonald and Cynthia Erivo snatching souls on Twitter, to Broadway for Black Lives Matter taking us to church, to the best DNC that has graced our country, we’ve been blessed.
Now, we all love a strong belt and a clean 8-count, but when an artist flexes their mental chops for the movement, that’s when they strike gold.
Ben Vereen and Broadway’s finest took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to pay homage to the lives taken in Orlando’s Pulse shooting. Their rendition of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” brought the crowd to their feet and put compassion at the forefront of politics if only for a moment. But ,Vereen was not there to simply lend his voice in song.
In partnership with ARTSPEAKS, Vereen advocated for arts education funding at both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Vereen sat down with Huffington Post to expound on his stance, “I’m not saying everybody’s got to be a song and dance man or an artist, or whatever aspect that we separate ourselves from,” he said. “We need our creative thinking people in politics, in corporations to think on the up, rather than the down.”
Vereen’s outspokenness sparks a discussion on the ability of artists to be political thinkers as well. We know this to be true! We stanned as six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald took Bill O’Rielly on the dragging of his life and educated him on the historic tumultuousness of slavery. Tracie Thoms, of Rent and the upcoming Falsettos revival, is known for her outspokenness on issues regarding social justice. She is one of many that contributes to the education and expansion of the black community, simply by being aware and ensuring those around her are as well.
This past Monday, marked the first ever Broadway for Black Lives Matter. This event, for and by Broadway, invited the biggest names in the business to have an honest and productive conversation on bringing change to the social and political climate in America.
The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective conceived an event that changed the lives of everyone in attendance. With the help of Amber Iman, Adrienne Warren, Britton Smith, and dozens of top Broadway talent, we found strength in numbers and power in politics. Norm Lewis, a panelist and longtime Broadway veteran, called for the investment of black money in black banks, the annual revaluation of police, and noted the loss of respect in the justice system. He spoke with the eloquence and passion of a young Cornel West. His tenacity does not stand alone.
The voices of Broadway are talented, to say the least; they have healed us, inspired us, and now they are encouraging us to be our best and brightest selves. The mind of artists is poignant, we are capable of rond de jambes and revolutions. Don’t count out the kid in the back with a paintbrush or song; the first thing to wow you may be their art, but it won’t be the last.
About Broadway Black:
BroadwayBlack.com is dedicated to highlighting the achievements and successes of African-American theatre artists on and off the Broadway stage. For so long, our voices have been skimmed over inside and outside of The Great White Way. However, we know we have experiences to share that are essential. BroadwayBlack.com serves as a collective of things we all care for. It is a platform for all things Black theatre. Created for the child in all of us who looked up to the stage searching for the faces that looked like ours. Celebrating the dedication of those who hand over their life to give all they have to the stage, shining light on those that continue our journey, & paying tribute to those who blazed the way for our story to be told, seen, and heard on The Great Way.
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