Continuing on with our focus on Black composers, we are watching a movie that I had not seen!
Green Book is inspired by the true story of African American pianist Don Shirley and his driver/bodyguard Frank Vallelonga. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Handbook, a guide for African American travelers published by Victor Hugo Green from 1936-1966. The book was a guide to services and places relatively friendly to African Americans.
I chose this movie because of the development of the soundtrack. Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin), while out at dinner with Peter Farrelly, was asked for advice about choosing songs for the film. He wanted songs from the 1950s and 60s era that were relatively unknown. Plant provided him with a few songs that helped build a soundtrack that avoided “rote nostalgia.”
Composer Kris Bowers was inspired by his grandparents’ travels between California and Texas, making him familiar with the film’s plot. Bowers, a pianist, practiced 8-9 hours a day to match Don Shirley’s (the main character) style. Then, Bowers practiced with Mahershala Ali (who plays Don Shirley in the film) so he could be filmed playing the music in the movie! Bowers was also the “ghost pianist” for Ali, for those close-ups on the hands playing the piano. During editing, the color of Bowers’ hands were corrected to match Ali’s skin tone.
The songs I chose to highlight are Kris Bowers’ original composition, Blue Skies; and Don Shirley’s recording of The Lonesome Road.