5 Great Music Documentaries Now on Netflix

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

Göran Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975 compiles some amazing 16mm footage of Black Power activists and musicians filmed by Swedish TV in the 1960s and 1970s. The film is a moving exploration at the bonds between activists like Stokely Carmichael,Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver and other Black Panthers. Remarkably, the footage was languishing in the basement of a studio in Sweden before Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover brought it back to life. Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu are involved to provide their own context to the film footage. The film is not an introduction or comprehensive history of the movement, but it is essential viewing for our own troubled time.

Orion, The Man Who Would Be King

In 1997 Elvis Presley died. Or did he? Sun Records knew the truth, that Presley had succumbed to a drug overdose, but the record company witnessed the grief of the King’s adoring fans and hatched a diabolical plan: what if they could find a man who sounded like Elvis and pass him off as the real thing? That’s exactly what they did to Jimmy Ellis, who happened to have a voice that made him Elvis’ doppelgänger. They called their creation Orion, dressed him up like Elvis and required him to wear a mask at all times. Jeannie Finlay’s documentary is a fascinating look at identity, emotion and fame. The strange tale of the way Sun Records exploited Orion and Elvis is must-watch.

Ain’t In It For My Health

Levon Helm was the legendary drummer with The Band who had a legendary feud with Robbie Robertson and then launched an incredible second career as a Grammy-winning solo artist. Jacob Hatley captured Helm’s renaissance in this documentary, which explores Helm’s comeback from throat cancer, the birth of his first grandchild, his return to music and his weekly Midnight Ramble gigs (which included the likes of Billy Bob Thornton and Chris Robinson). Hatley’s documentary follows Helm on the road and at home on his farm, all leading up to his second cancer diagnosis, which would eventually take his life.

Muscle Shoals

Documentaries don’t get much better than Freddy Camalier’s Muscle Shoals, which details the birth and rise of the recording scene in in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It’s incredible that so much life-changing music came from a humble small town. The documentary is more than just a chronicle of a great time in music. Camalier explores the era when the great music was being made, particularly the Civil Rights Movement and its struggle in Alabama. The film comes to center on Rick Hall, founder of Fame Records, and the drama and pathos of his life. The documentary is truly spellbinding.


Little Girl Blue

Amy Berg’s Little Girl Blue somehow manages capture the story of Janis Joplin in a  new way. Rather than gathering musicians and experts for talking head clips about the meaning of Janis’ music, Berg lets the performances do the talking. Berg received the cooperation of the Joplin estate, which gave her access to her diaries, music, her siblings and other family and friends. This gives the documentary more emotional heft than the many other projects about Joplin. Cat Power is also featured, reading from the letters and diaries Janis wrote during the height of her fame.