Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart & More : The Great Debaters Soundtrack

The Great Debaters  is a drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school’s first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.  The film showcases four African-American debaters succeeding in the face of adversity, growing stronger with success as well as in defeat. The accompanying soundtrack proves to be every bit as lively and thought provoking as the film.great_debaters.jpg

The soundtrack is comprised of remakes of traditional blues and gospel songs from the 1920s and 1930s, featuring artists including Alvin Youngblood Hart, Sharon Jones, David Berger, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Billy Rivers & The Angelic Voices of Faith.  The most inspiring tracks feature the artists performing in collaborations, especially “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Up Above My Head,” both sung by Sharon Jones with Billy Rivers & The Angelic Voices of Faith.

Jones’ voice is prominent throughout, as she combines with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Teenie Hodges for a number of tracks, including “That’s What My Baby Likes,” “It’s Tight Like That,” and “Wild About That Thing.”  Hart appears most frequently, performing on 10 of the discs 17 tracks.  The songs he sings are reflections of the time period the film is set in, dealing with issues from confrontation between farmers to lynch mobs in the middle of the night, at times unsettling and other times outright disturbing.  When he sings the classic “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” accompanied by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hart delivers a performance that leaves the listener believing his words, that he is indeed a man who accepts responsibility for his own actions.

While the story behind the film proves uplifting in the end, The Great Debaters went through many challenging times.  The songs selected for the soundtrack are from the time period and perfectly accentuate those struggles, making for an excellent score.  Listening, one can feel the strain of the times, and put themselves in the shoes of those whose stories are being told.  In that regard, there is no debating this CD is a smashing success.

The Great Debaters Soundtrack is out now on Atlantic Records.