Black Music Month In Focus: Taking The TV Theme Song To The Next Level

This is part of The Shadow League’s Black Music Month In Focus series celebrating the vibrating musical excellence within our wide cultural tapestry.

There arent too many people who watched television in the ’70s and ’80s that wont sing along with the lyrics of the Good Times theme song or Threes Company, or feel melancholy when the Taxi theme song plays.

THEME SONG: Good Times

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Television theme songs werent just a device to introduce the show and create a memory for the viewer, they also served as community connectors in the old three-channel universe, and later generational connectors when we watched them in re-runs.

The new trend in today’s television moves beyond theme songs to create memories of shows. Now shows, particularly those with black casts and creators, are creating full soundtracks –the equivalent of film scoresfor sitcoms. The soundtracks are available to buy and in some cases are equally as popular as the shows themselves.

WGNs Underground, created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, a period drama about the Underground Railroad and the harrowing experiences of enslaved people on the run towards freedom in the North, has a soundtrack composed by Raphael Saadiq and Laura Karpman. John Legend is an executive producer for the show. 

Kanye West – BLKKK SKKKN HEAD (Explicit)

Music video by Kanye West performing BLKKK SKKKN HEAD (Explicit). 2013: Def Jam Recordings, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

The soundtrack features an electic mix of music ranging from modern fare like Kanye Wests Black Skinhead and The Weeknds Wicked Games, alongside tunes like Johnny Cashs I Got Shoes and classical music like Chopins 24 Preludes for Piano. The prevailing opinion is that having rap music for a period piece set in the late 19th century would be out of place, but the soundtrack doesnt distract, it helps to move the story along and lends to the texture and suspense of the show.

The Weeknd – Wicked Games (Explicit)

Music video by The Weeknd performing Wicked Games (Explicit). : XO&co., Inc., under exclusive license to Universal Republic Records, Inc., a division of UMG Recordings, Inc. Buy Now! iTunes: Amazon:

Saadiq is all over television, also working on the soundtrack for HBOs Insecure, written and starring Issa Rae with Solange Knowles as a music consultant. 

“You get the opportunity to be thematic, you have to make things connect with the characters,” Saadiq told a radio reporter about the difference between composing for television and creating his own albums. 

Luke Cage – Soundtrack

The show Luke Cage is the Marvel comic book character come-to-life for Netflix. The score is composed by musician Adrian Younge who scored the film Black Dynamite and former Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The score was mixed at Saadiq’a studio and was created into an original soundtrack album released on vinyl and digitally. 

The album ranges in music from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings to Faith Evans, Raphael Saadiq, The Delfonics and Method Man. 

Rodney Jerkins is one of the composers for Fox’s hit television series Empire. For the first season of the show the soundtrack topped at number 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart. The show also introduces new artists and new music on the show. 

Donald Glover – Whatever I did (Atlanta FX)

CONTEXT: This song IS NOT from Gambino’s upcoming Album ‘Awaken My Love’, this is from his TV Show ‘Atlanta’. The song is sung by Donald, but is performed by ‘Atlanta’s’ black version of Justin Beiber, thus the reason why the song does not sound like anything Gambino has created before.

Childish Gambino/Donald Glover even goes as far as introducing his own new music on episode 5 of the hit comedy show Atlanta on FX.

Television is proving to be the new venue that is replacing traditional radio avenues for musicians and artists to stretch out their musical talents and introduce new music. And as usual, Black creators, musicians, producers and artists are at the vanguard. 

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