I had a wonderful experience last night at the California African-American Museum. As part of their celebration of June as Black Music Month, the museum and a group of its sponsors put together a panel discussion called “Shaping the Sound of Television: The Black Music Directors.”
Patrice Rushen did a terrific job of moderating the panel. You know her from her big hit record “Forget Me Nots” (which was also used for as the theme for the hit movie “Men In Black”), but she is eminently qualified since she was the first female musical director for many of the top entertainment award shows including The Grammys, The Emmys, The People’s Choice Awards and HBO’s Comic Relief V.
On the panel were the people we see conducting the bands and orchestras on some of television’s most popular programs:
Michael Bearden – Current music director for “Lopez Tonight”; former music director for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour and associate producer and composer for the film “This Is It”
Ray Chew – My good buddy from New York who was the long time music director for “Showtime At the Apollo” and now fronts the band for “American Idol”
Rickey Minor – He left “American Idol” to take one of the most coveted music director jobs in the business, leading the band on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”
James “Big Jim” Wright – The Grammy winning musical director of “The Mo’Nique Show”, which is quietly providing a great outlet for live performances
Greg Phillanganes – When he’s not on the road with the biggest names in the business, he spends his down time as music director for the Grammy Awards and most recently he lead the band for “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular”
Harold Wheeler – This classy gentleman was only the second African-American to serve as music director for the Academy Awards and has been the musical director of the hit show “Dancing With the Stars” since it debuted.
The discussion was lively and intelligent and since it was being filmed for the museum’s archives, I can only hope that at some point the rich content will be made available to the general public.
In the meantime, check out some of the other public programs that CAAM has to offer during Black Music Month including their Apollo Theater Photo Exhibit, lectures, art workshops, demonstrations and the “Films At CAAM” series.