The Great Debaters

The Great Debaters

by James Newton HowardJames Newton Howard


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In the Denzel Washington-directed film The Great Debaters, based on a true story, Washington plays teacher and poet Melvin B. Tolson, who led an African-American college debating team during the racially charged 1930s to such success that it was able to compete against all odds with leading white teams at Harvard. For the film, Washington reportedly combed through more than a thousand pre-1935 songs that he felt would accurately reflect the time period as experienced by the students and educators on whom the film is based. Rather than use original period recordings, the soundtrack (except for a couple of bonus tracks by Art Tatum and Marian Anderson) employs contemporary artists such as Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sharon Jones, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who have their feet firmly planted in the legacy of African-American musical history and could deliver performances -- shifting from gospel to blues and jazz to a more rural-based old-timey sound -- that would work within the context of the film yet still appeal to modern audiences. The soundtrack doesn't attempt to replicate the past but rather to absorb it and regenerate the music as something alive in today's world. It largely works, particularly on the tracks featuring Hart and the Chocolate Drops, a modern acoustic string band in the tradition of African-American fiddle and banjo groups of the era of the film's focus. Jones, however, stupendous though she is, is more of a '60s soul singer at heart, and her propulsive vocals on tracks like "Wild About That Thing" and "It's Tight Like That," while intended to reflect the bawdy barrelhouse singers of the pre-WWII South, leave no doubt that they are something of a more recent vintage. Her version of the spiritual "We Shall Not Be Moved," with Billy Rivers & the Angelic Voices of Faith, owes more to electricity than a recording of the '30s would or could. Nonetheless, Great Debaters offers a solid set of performances by a smartly chosen crew, and it succeeds at piquing interest in the film.

Product Details

Release Date: 12/11/2007
Label: Atlantic
UPC: 0075678995606
catalogNumber: 396860
Rank: 209224

Album Credits

Performance Credits

James Newton Howard   Primary Artist
Dennis Irwin   Bass
Daniel Block   Reeds
Jay Brandford   Reeds
Mabon "Teenie" Hodges   Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Musician
Jackie Johnson   Vocals,Background Vocals
Bob Millikan   Trumpet
Harry Peel   Djembe,Musician
Kevin Ricard   Percussion,Washboard,Hand Clapping,Cajon,Musician
Lester Snell   Organ,Piano,Musician
Alvin Youngblood Hart   Acoustic Guitar,Vocals,Guitar (Resonator)
Sharon Jones   Vocals,Background Vocals
Jimmy Madison   Drums
David Berger   Conductor
Wayne Goodman   Trombone
Matt Hong   Reeds
Carl Maraghi   Reeds
Billy Rivers & the Angelic Voices of Faith   Choir, Chorus
Brian Pareschi   Trumpet
Ryan Keberle   Trombone
Steve Potts   Drums,Musician

Technical Credits

Kokomo Arnold   Composer
Lucille Bogan   Composer
Blind Willie Johnson   Composer
Art Tatum   Composer
Irving Mills   Composer
Jimmy Mundy   Composer
Duke Ellington   Composer
David Huntsinger   Arranger
Manny Kurtz   Composer
Larry Paxton   Arranger
Jeff Powell   Engineer
Roger Rhodes   Engineer
Hudson Whittaker   Composer
Kris Wilkinson   Arranger
Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey   Composer
G. Marq Roswell   Arranger,Producer
Alvin Youngblood Hart   Arranger
Sharon Jones   Arranger
David Berger   Arranger,Producer
Bob Weinstein   Executive Soundtrack Producer
Harvey Weinstein   Executive Soundtrack Producer
Scott Barretta   Liner Notes,Ethno-Musicologist
Judy Miller   Media Consultant
Bonnie Huntsinger   Arranger
Traditional   Composer
James Lopez   Marketing
Oscar Zambrano   Engineer
Sheila Richman   Media Consultant

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