'By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem' Review: How music inspired change in Black America
Episode 1 titled 'Mecca' in the four-part docu-series gives a comprehensive look at how music became a tool of expression in Harlem
Spoilers for 'By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem' Episode 1 'Mecca'
Harlem was the cultural capital of Black America in the 1960s. But with rising social issues in the form of racism and poverty, and add the civil rights movement to boot, music was seen as a form of expression. It was non-violent, soothing, enjoyable, and resonated with the community's struggles in the decade. Music became a voice for the oppressed and in many ways, an outlet to escape or cope with the inequality and injustice that prevailed in those times.
'By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem' dubs the place as a Mecca where music by some of the best artists of the day was regarded as a celebration of black music. King Curtis' Harlem Nocturne, Chubby Checker's 'Twist', the Apollo Theater in New York that saw performances by Martha Reeves and her Vandellas and the Marvelettes and Bobby's Record Shop receive more than honorary mentions in the pilot episode of the docuseries executive produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker.
From Ilfenesh Hadera, Whitaker to Giancarlo Esposito who play pivotal lead roles in 'Godfather of Harlem', there are fond memories of how they grew up in a place that in many ways had a renaissance of its own. "Music spoke about how the Blacks wanted to see the world," notes 'Chic' star, Nile Rodgers. The one factor that became the glue between the upper, middle, and lower classes was the shared love of music. And from a personal viewpoint, it does appear the 60s Harlem was not the only place that saw music was celebrated.
The influence can be seen in shows like 'The Chi' that blends in some quality music that was actually released during this period. The series is a coming-of-age drama revolving around the people in the south side and music plays a key role in their expressing of emotions. 'Mecca' also speaks about the incredible achievements of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and the first African-American to be elected from New York to Congress was a driving force back in the day.
While the focus is on the music, the episode also brings in the people's point of view when it came to truly support Dr. Martin Luther King. Footage of a few citizens not in agreement with King's peace ideology can be seen, but then the massive respect and adoration he garnered from all parts of the world are showcased. Coming back to the theme, music, quite simply became its own language for people to survive the tumult. The opener ends with the soulful and impactful "It's All Right" by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.
'Godfather of Harlem' Season 1 was a smashing success. As far as gangster dramas go, the EPIX original that traced the life and times of Harlem's cult-name mob man, Bumpy Johnson, was a runaway hit. Adding to this was a star-studded cast and a gritty, and gripping plotline that gives every reason for the show to return for a new season. And EPIX has produced another piece of content while we await the new season. And this docu-series—objective and compelling, is worth tuning into.
'By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem' will premiere on Epix on Sunday, November 8, at 10/9c.