Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc traces the roots of American music through iconic cities like Chicago, Nashville, and New York in the latest IMAX feature film, America’s Musical Journey, dancing into theaters this Friday.
In the latest IMAX release, America’s Musical Journey, audiences are taken on a journey that requires more than a backpack. You’ll need a nice set of headphones and some dancing shoes along the way.
America’s Musical Journey follows Grammy Award-nominated singer and songwriter Aloe Blacc as he traces the roots of America’s music and follows the footsteps of Louis Armstrong through the colorful locales and cultures where America’s music was born. Serving as a virtual tour guide, Blacc travels through such iconic cityscapes as New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Nashville, Memphis, and Miami, exploring the collision of cultures that gave birth to such American art forms as jazz, blues, country, rock ’n’ roll, and hip-hop.
Actor Morgan Freeman narrates the film.
Leading the ensemble are Academy Award-nominated director Greg MacGillivray and his producer son, Shaun MacGillivray. They’ve created an immersive experience of American culture and creativity with a soundtrack that showcases the immense passion for creative innovation in it purest form.
“There’s so many genres and not many kids notice, but there’s been so many new genres over the last hundred years. Jazz, the blues, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop [were] all created over the last hundred years. That’s a pretty small timeframe. [It’s gratifying] to be able to tell that to people around the world, to showcase this story of creativity and inspiration and light a spark for people to care more about the arts,” Shaun says.
The project took six months of research and scripting and was a year in production, and an additional six months of editing. The result is 45 minutes of a seamless, immersive musical journey.
This is hardly their first IMAX rodeo. The father-son duo have extensive experience within IMAX — they’ve worked on many types of IMAX films, from educational topics like space, engineering, travel, and nature to human topics like We, the Marines and the Robert Redford-narrated National Parks Adventure.
The huge format and high resolution of IMAX make for an incredible vehicle for their goal of developing incredible stories.
“This is our 40th IMAX giant-screen film in 40 years and it starts [this month] with America’s Musical Journey. That’s an incredible accomplishment,” Shaun says.
In that long résumé, this is the first time MacgillivrayFreeman Productions has tackled a story about music.
“We found a subject that’s really exciting: being able to tell a story of music, art, and creativity and how our country is relatively young, and how ... this melting pot of people coming from all over ... really sparked ideas and sparked new ways of thinking,” Shaun says. “[Working] with our museums and science centers around the world to be able to showcase that in the film is really inspiring, too.”
Finding a lead character who could embody the MacGillivrays’ ideas didn’t turn out to be too difficult. Soulful singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc — known for hits that include “The Man,” “I Need a Dollar,” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” — was a natural choice.
“We loved his background and we loved his type of music, which really transcends genres,” Shaun says. “The premise of it is he follows in the footsteps of Louis Armstrong.”
Blacc guides viewers through Armstrong’s hometown of New Orleans, then travels to Chicago, New York, and many other locations, introducing musical prodigies along the way.
One of those prodigies is 17-year-old Willow Osborne, who has traveled around the word playing banjo.
Osborne learned to play the banjo from former Dolly Parton bandleader and four-time international banjo champion Gary “Biscuit” Davis. After years of practice and perfecting technique, Osborne became a YouTube sensation (watch her videos here). Her goal is to spread more knowledge about her instrument.
“I was just so excited to be able to go and have the opportunity to show kids and other people a little bit more about music that they may not already know,” Osborne says. “[Being part of this project] I learned a lot about music that I didn’t know, and I’ve been in it for 13 years now. It really made me excited to think about how many kids are going to benefit, and hopefully be encouraged to learn music and be more invested.”
Most recently, Osborne has been finishing the last leg of a U.S. tour and is getting ready for her next semester at Arizona State University, where she studies biological sciences online. America’s Musical Journey is her first experience with film, but she’s already a natural.
“I’ve been on stage my whole life,” she says, “[but] I had no idea what to expect being in front of cameras and the film crew. I was honestly really nervous, but I just went in and I told myself, You just do the best you can. I was amazed — everyone was so kind and wonderful. It was really a lot of fun to be on location with the big IMAX camera. It was a completely different experience for me because I’m used to having a live audience.”
Osborne steals the show during one scene where the camera captures a moment of pure musical joy. While she effortlessly picks at her banjo, massive groups of kids clap, cheer, and dance with exhilaration. The energy is palpable and it’s a standout moment in the film.
“I had a lot of fun,” the banjo prodigy says. “I love playing with kids and seeing the smiles on their faces. They were just all dancing around me. It was really fun. I think the people who see it are going to get a laugh and smile out of it.”
America’s Musical Journey hits the giant screens February 16. Watch the trailer below.
For more information on America’s Musical Journey or to find a theater playing the film near you, visit the film’s website.