7 best music documentaries to stream right now

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“The T. A. M. I. Show” was the first major music documentary and concert film. Shot over two days in 1964, it highlighted the background antics of the performers, and had electrifying performances by James Brown and The Rolling Stones, among many other stars. 

It was also notable for featuring musicians and audiences of different races, just months after the Civil Rights Act was passed, outlawing racial discrimination. The groundbreaking doc was even honored with a spot on the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because of its historical and cultural significance. 

After “T. A. M. I.,” music documentaries never looked back. They evolved to not only feature color video and surround sound… but also showcase different kinds of artists, musical events, and scores. Below are a selection of the best music documentaries currently streaming.

'Summer of Soul' (2021)

The Harlem Culture Festival was a six-part concert series that took place over the summer of 1969, in what is now known as Marcus Garvey Park in New York City. Luckily, festival organizers had the foresight to professionally videotape the music fest, clips of which were used in news packages at the time. The footage was rediscovered decades later and restored for use in this doc, and it looks amazing. The picture quality is crisp and full of vibrant colors, and the audio sounds great. 

Clips of the performances and audiences are intercut with local news footage and important events from the time. Interviews with attendees also provide context for its cultural impact and try to adequately describe the energy and experience of being there in person. Even just watching Stevie Wonder smash it on the drums in a sleek suit, and the 5th Dimension perform "Aquarius" in groovy, orange, fringe vests is thrilling. 

Director Questlove’s hard work in bringing this concert to life for modern audiences was rewarded when the doc took home Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. 

Watch on Hulu

'Score: A Film Music Documentary' (2016)

“Score” highlights the music you hear underneath the scene in your favorite movies. It provides a mix of archival and new interviews with several prominent film composers. Some of them are Hans Zimmer, Rachel Portman, Quincy Jones, Bear McCreary, and a large chunk of the famous Newman family. 

What’s really cool is the wide range of composers included all have very distinct styles. Often, they seamlessly sing and or pick up an instrument to illustrate a musical point or reference a previous composition. Even audiences who never paid attention to the “Composed by” section of a film’s credits, could follow along with the doc, making it a great resource for both new and old fans interested in this aspect of production. 

The directors who frequently collaborate with these score masters are also interviewed. For instance, James Cameron speaks about his close working relationship with James Horner, who composed the music for “Titanic” and “Avatar,” two of the director’s biggest hits. This is a bittersweet tribute since Horner had already tragically passed away. A large chunk of the doc is also dedicated to everyone gushing about GOAT John Williams, like Steven Spielberg, for whom he’s designed some of his most iconic themes … which wouldn’t even include “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter.”

Watch on Tubi or Roku Channel

'Hitsville: The Making of Motown' (2019)

Never was a documentary more aptly named because Motown wasn’t cranking out anything but hits! This movie is fascinating. It explores the origins of the venerable record label, whose roots are in Detroit. Founder Berry Gordy was inspired by carmaker Henry Ford’s quality control and assembly line mode of production, so he applied those concepts to crafting pop hits and superstars. 

Everyone strived for greatness. It's riveting to hear the thought processes about how multiple Motown acts could record the same song, each version more popular than the last, or what hoops a group like The Supremes had to jump through before they earned being the biggest stars on the label.

Crooner Smokey Robinson often appears alongside his musical soulmate, Gordy, as they describe the history of the company. They’re so comfortable with each other, it really feels like any two old friends rehashing their best stories. It also helped demonstrate another key to Motown’s success, competitiveness. All the artists collaborated together, but everyone wanted to be responsible for the next hit.

Watch on Paramount Plus with Showtime

'Woodstock' (1970)

Martin Scorsese was one of the filmmakers involved with this baby, so naturally, it’s about four hours long. Thankfully, much of the most seminal music festival of all time was recorded, so new audiences can watch for decades ever after. The Library of Congress later confirmed how important its preservation was by adding it to the National Film Registry.

While it couldn’t show every moment, the documentary still features legendary performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, The Who, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as footage of the concert-goers, which helps capture the cultural atmosphere of the time. 

The original version came out the year following Woodstock. However, subsequent releases of the movie added hours worth of performances. One consistent moment that always remained was the standout rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Hendrix, which became closely associated with the three-day rock festival.  

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple

'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years' (2016)

At one time, the Beatles were the biggest act alive — so big that it became unfeasible for them to even tour. Ron Howard’s documentary takes a look at the years while they could still get away with it, starting at the Cavern Club in 1962 Liverpool to their final concert in 1966. 

The movie was made in cooperation with the Fab Four (or their widows in the case of John Lennon and George Harrison), which definitely gives it a little something extra. The footage has been masterfully restored and it’s interesting to see the musical side of things and how stadium tours, much different than they are today, first got started with the Beatles. The doc also spends time discussing the impact on youth culture. It’s very cool how the filmmakers were able to track down some of their most famous fans, like Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, who shared their experiences about seeing the Beatles live when they were girls. The doc even managed to find newsreel footage of Weaver at a show! 

This is yet another music documentary that demonstrates how politics and art were often linked. Shortly before they played Jacksonville, Florida in 1964, the Beatles threatened to no-show if the audience remained segregated. The Beatles persevered and performed at the city’s first integrated concert.

Watch on Hulu

'The Greatest Night in Pop' (2024)

The “Greatest Night in Pop” refers to January 28, 1985, when some of the world’s biggest pop stars, like Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson came together to record a charity single to help fight African famine. The song was “We Are the World” and it was a big undertaking, not just because they wanted to get the song right, but also because they had to navigate a lot of celebrity egos and schedules to make it all come together.

The doc exposes a lot of funny behind-the-scenes moments. This includes the frequent attempts to entice Prince to participate up until the very end and the late realization that the sound interference they've been hearing for hours was Lauper’s many necklaces and bangles clanging near the mic. 

A definite highlight was Stevie Wonder imitating Bob Dylan’s distinct vocal style in order to teach him his solo. The ‘60s rocker went from deeply uncomfortable looking to at ease and grateful for the assist. 

Watch on Netflix

'20 Feet from Stardom' (2013)

This doc is a ton of fun! The background singers you’ve heard your whole life take center stage, as “20 Feet from Stardom” explores the careers of some of the most iconic vocalists whose names you probably don’t know. While some of the backups eventually branched out on their own, they found varying degrees of success as solo artists. 

A large portion focuses on “Queen of Christmas” Darlene Love who was featured on countless songs from the 1960s, including “He’s a Rebel,” usually with background girl group The Blossoms. Merry Clayton’s career was also prominently referenced. She’s well known for her work on the bridge of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. While they weren’t always credited on tracks, superstars Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger appear to speak on the vital contributions of these talented women. 

The film basically became an instant classic upon its release. It won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and was added to the National Film Registry as soon as it was eligible. 

Watch on The Roku Channel

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Freelance writer

Jenna is a freelance writer who covers TV, film, and all things pop culture. Her work has appeared on Teen Vogue, The Mary Sue, and Women & Hollywood, among other outlets. In her free time, she alternates between watching romcoms, romantic period dramas, and true crime, and is making her way through the list of movies on the National Film Registry.