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7 Netflix music films you must show your class

Editorial Staff

Documentaries are a great way to learn about events from the past. It’s an avenue that allows for the exploration of many different topics, whatever the interest, whether it be a particular story, era or genre.

With the Canadian Music Class Challenge in rotation, we thought we’d round out a few of our favourite music films, particularly those you can easily find on Netflix. From documentaries that focus on the business of the music industry to those that delve into the political unrest during a particular time — listed below are films that serve as a great teaching tool for students to learn about music. 

20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
Rating: PG-13

The film opens up with the legendary Bruce Springsteen saying, “It’s a bit of a walk, you know, back by the drummer or over here. That walk is complicated.” Not only is he right but that’s the lesson right there. Talent gets you on the stage but it takes a certain kind of ego to be a lead singer at the front of the stage as much as it takes a certain kind of ego to stake your claim to the back. What 20 Feet From Stardom successfully shows is that not only is that walk complicated but that spot up front isn’t for everybody. And thank goodness for that.

— Judith Lynch (@CBCJudith)

Muscle Shoals (2013)
Rating: PG

Muscle Shoals is a little town in Alabama that is home to the Muscle Shoals sound studio, a place that produced some of the biggest hits in popular music. Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Etta James, Wilson PIckett, and the Staple Singers amongst many others all found themselves in this place, working with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section to create musical magic. This film will give students an understanding of how music is made, how the business works, but also they can witness the spark of creativity and artistry that happens when talented people at the top of their game find themselves working together.

— Jeanette Cabral (@JeanetteCabral)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Rating: NR

This documentary tells the story of the great singer, pianist, and civil rights activist, Nina Simone. With a career that spanned from striving to be the first great black female classical pianist, to one of the most important voices in the American civil rights movement. This documentary touches on the importance of Nina Simone’s music in American history, and tells the at times heartbreaking story of her own personal struggles, and oftentimes celebratory tales of perseverance. Complete with Simone’s greatest hits, and a mix of unreleased music, Simone’s story is one that every music class should know, and study.

— Kerry Martin (@OhHiKerry)

Take Me to the River (2014)
Rating: NR

Take Me to the River is all about the soul of American music in Memphis, Tennessee. The documentary centers around the recording of a new album, while telling the story of Memphis, its music and people. The film takes an in-depth look into Memphis neighbourhoods, live concert performances and civil rights unrest, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The unraveling of this musical story is a great tool to talk about how the movements of the past have influenced the next generation.

 — Kiah Welsh (@SimplyKiah)

The Wrecking Crew (2015)

Rating: NR

The Wrecking Crew was a group of unsung musicians known to be the stone cold rock ‘n’ roll professionals of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The film tells their story and how they provided the ‘backbeat, the bottom and the swinging melody that drove many of the number one hits during their time. Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys are just a handful of musicians the crew played for. The documentary takes a look at the stories behind the songs that defined a decade, and sheds light on the "musicians who were responsible for providing a soundtrack for generations."

— Kiah Welsh (@SimplyKiah)

The Get Down (2016)
Rating: MA

The late-1970's were an interesting time in New York City. Economic turmoil had the city on the brink of bankruptcy, and there was no concrete plan for the future. Blackouts, poverty, and segregation between communities led to plenty of hard times, but it also birthed one of the most important genres of music in the past 75 years - Hip-Hop. This series, from Baz Luhrmann, and with guidance from Grandmaster Flash and Nas, chronicles this time in extreme detail, and recounts exactly what it was like to come up and find inspiration for the next generation through the decay of the last one. This show contains coarse language, violence, and nudity, but it also contains dozens and dozens of important lessons about life, and music.

— Kerry Martin (@OhHiKerry)

Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory (2014)
Rating: NR

This documentary is a great exploration of how music can heal the mind. In particular, it follows Dan — a social worker, who has found that music is a powerful tool to help heal individuals who are suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s. With his patients, he finds that personalized music is a great tool to unlock memories. The documentary follows Dan’s mission to find those affected, and to make personalized music a priority when treating patients suffering from those diseases. Not only is it a film that inspires, but it is a reminder that when you think all hope is lost, there’s a solution. Watch the trailer here.

— Kiah Welsh (@SimplyKiah)

More to explore: