Cadillac Records is a 2008 musical biopic written and directed by Darnell Martin. The film explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, chronicling the life of the influential Chicago-based record-company executive Leonard Chess, and a few of the musicians who recorded for Chess Records.
The film stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf, and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James. The film was released in North America on December 5, 2008 by TriStar Pictures.
Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant of Jewish descent, starts the record label Chess Records in Chicago in 1950. It opens its doors for black musicians and attracts people such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Walter and Etta James.
Leonard Chess was the co-founder of the 1950s American record label Chess Records, located in Chicago, Illinois. He ran the legendary company with his brother, Phil, through the 1950s and ’60s. The label started selling records from the back of Chess’ Cadillac, and launched the careers of legendary musical personalities such as blues singers and harmonica and guitar players Little Walter and Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, soul legend Etta James and guitarist singer-songwriters Chuck Berry and Willie Dixon.
Originally, Matt Dillon was slated to play the role of Chess, but the role was ultimately given to Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody due to scheduling conflicts with Dillon. Early announcements of the cast also included Columbus Short as Little Walter, Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, and multi-Grammy Award winner Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James. According to director Martin, the role of James was written with Knowles in mind.
As production increased, the roster grew to include Canadian actress Emmanuelle Chriqui as Revetta Chess, Tammy Blanchard as Isabelle Allen, English actor Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf, and comedian Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon. Final line ups of the cast also grew to include rapper Mos Def as Chuck Berry, and Gabrielle Union in the role of Geneva Wade, Muddy Waters’ common law wife.
The American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer Steve Jordan produced the soundtrack to the film. He also picked a group of blues musicians, including Billy Flynn (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Eddie Taylor Jr. (guitar), Barrelhouse Chuck (piano), Kim Wilson (harmonica), Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Hubert Sumlin (guitar), and Bill Sims (guitar) who, along with Jordan on drums, recorded all of the blues songs used in the film.
Knowles recorded five songs for the soundtrack, including a cover version of Etta James’ “At Last” which was released on December 2, 2008 as its lead single. Mos Def, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, and Eamonn Walker recorded songs for the soundtrack, and Raphael Saadiq, Knowles’ sister Solange, Mary Mary, Nas, Buddy Guy, and Elvis Presley also appear on the album. The soundtrack was released in single and double-disc editions.
The soundtrack spent 48 weeks at number one of the Top Blues Albums.
The soundtrack was nominated for three 2010 Grammy Awards in the following categories: ‘Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media’, Beyoncé’s “Once in a Lifetime” for ‘Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media’ and Beyoncé’s “At Last” for ‘Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance’.
The film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 68% based on reviews from 120 critics. Its consensus state that “What Cadillac Records may lack in originality, it more than makes up for in strong performances and soul-stirring music.” Another review aggretator, Metacritic, gave the film a 65% approval rating based on 30 reviews classifying that the film has “generally favorable reviews”.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film 3 stars and stated in his review that “The film is a fascinating record of the evolution of a black musical style, and the tangled motives of the white men who had an instinct for it.” Elizabeth Weitzman of the Daily News awarded the film with 3 stars and wrote in her review, “Writer-director Darnell Martin clearly respects the fact that the history of Chess Records is a worthy subject.” Most critics praised the film for its music, but complained about its script. Jim Harrington of the San Jose Mercury News praised Knowles’ vocal performance and wrote in his review that, “Beyoncé Knowles’ captivating voice and the film’s other pluses can’t outweigh the glaring omissions from the story line for this critic” and “Chess Records deserves, and will hopefully someday get, a better spin than the one delivered by Cadillac Records.”
Barrelhouse Chuck (piano)
Billy Flynn (guitar)
Steve Jordan (drums)
Danny Kortchmar (guitar)
Eddie Taylor Jr. (guitar)
Bill Sims (guitar)
Hubert Sumlin (guitar)
Larry Taylor (bass)
Kim Wilson (harmonica)
Mos Def as Chuck Berry (vocals)
Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James (vocals)
Columbus Short as Little Walter (vocals)
Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf (vocals)
Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters (vocals)
Raphael Saadiq – Solange – Mary Mary – Little Walter – Nas Featuring Olu Dara – Buddy Guy – Elvis Presley – Terence Blanchard
01. Jeffrey Wright: I’m A Man (McDaniel) 3.51
02. Beyoncé: At Last (Warren/Gordon) 3.01
03. Mos Def: No Particular Place To Go (Berry) 2.47
04. Jeffrey Wright: I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man (Dixon) 3.54
05. Beyoncé: Once In A Lifetime (Knowles/Ghost/McFarnon/Dench/Dring/Street) 4.00
06. Raphael Saadiq: Let’s Take A Walk (Saadiq) 2.29
07. Solange: 6 O’Clock Blues (Knowles/Dozier/Ronson/Mann/Sugarman/Steinweiss/Brenneck) 3.37
08. Mos Def: Nadine (Berry) 2.51
09. Mary Mary: The Sound (W.Campbell/T.Campbell/E.Campbell) 3.30
10. Little Walter: Last Night (Jacobs) 2.53
11. Beyoncé: I’d Rather Go Blind (Foster/Jordan) 3.10
12. Columbus Short: My Babe (Dixon) 2.58
13. Nas Featuring Olu Dara: Bridging The Gap (Jones/Dara/Gibbs) 4.01
01. Mos Def: Maybelline (Berry) 2.31
02. Buddy Guy: Forty Days And Forty Nights (Roth) 2.48
03. Beyoncé: Trust In Me (Ager/Schwartz/Weaver) 3.44
04. Soul 7 Featuring Kim Wilson: Juke (Jacobs) 2.49
05. Eamonn Walker: Smokestack Lightnin’ (Burnett) 3.04
06. Mos Def: Promised Land (Berry) 2.31
07. Beyoncé: All I Could Do Is Cry (B.Gordy/Davis/Fuqua) 3.10
08. Elvis Presley: My Babe (Dixon) 2.10
09. Jeffrey Wright: I Can’t Be Satisfied (Morganfield) 2.19
10. Mos Def: Come On (Berry) 2.34
11. Jeffrey Wright & Bill Simms Jr.: Country Blues (Johnson/Morganfield) 3.42
12. Q-Tip Featuring Al Kapone: Evolution Of A Man (McDaniel/Bailey/Jordan) 3.07
13: Terence Blanchard: Radio Station (Blanchard) 2.07