My Favorite Documentaries for Music Class During African-American History Month

Today, I'm writing about two of my favorite music documentaries my middle school music students enjoyed watching during African American History Month. The two movies are Keep on Keeping’ On and Thunder Soul. These films provide a great platform for meaningful discussions in the instrumental music class. To help facilitate the discussions, I would give the students a few guiding questions to answer during the movie. Below is a brief summary of each film along with links to helpful educational resources and guiding questions that can be used when viewing the documentaries with your students.

Thunder Soul

An aspiring musical journey that follows the career of a high school band leader from Houston Texas, Professor Johnson, who transformed the school’s struggling music program into a world-class jazz band. Thirty-Five years later, students from the Kashmere High School Stage Band, return to play a tribute concert for their beloved 92-year-old band leader. Thunder Soul combines archival footage of the students in action along with footage from the band members recent reunion. Themes present in the film include: multiple perspectives, identity, citizenship, change, continuity, culture, community, individual societies, economic decisions, power, governance, global connections, role models and the value of arts education. Helpful guiding questions might include:

  • What is the subject of the film?

  • Whose story is told in the documentary?

  • What are the common bonds among the people in the film?

  • What changes do the people in the film experience?

  • What are the consequences of those changes for people in the documentary?

For a teachers resource guide go to: Thunder Soul Teachers Resource Guide


Keep on Keeping On

An amazing story of a 93 year old jazz legend Clark Terry, unlikely friendship with a with a 23 year old blind piano prodigy, Justin Kauflin. Justin who struggles with stage-fright is invited to compete in a prestigious jazz competition, while Clark starts to go blind as the result of diabetes. While both men confront the greatest challenges of their lives, a remarkable story unfolds -a student striving against all odds and a teacher who continues to inspire through the power of his music. Themes present in the film include: optimism, friendship through blindness, devotion to oneself and the gift of having/being a mentor to another. For a teachers resource guide go to: