They Were On A Mission From God



A tribute to our friend and loved one, Wendy Posson, who left us at the age of 50 last month. The Blues Brothers was hands down her favorite film, and we are celebrating one of cinema’s most outrageous, most diverse and most amazing musical movies in her memory.

NOTE: This program contains language some may find objectionable.

On paper, it looks so ridiculous that it is a miracle the film was made at all. Take two white television actors, one of them from Canada, both whom had performed on a comedic sketch show and moonlighted as Blues musicians. The story was written by star Dan Aykroyd, a man with no script writing experience, and many of the actors were not well-known. Adding to this, it featured Black musicians who’s careers had been sidelined by the Disco, Adult Contemporary and Hard Rock genres.

Cab Calloway singing his Jazz classic Minnie The Moocher, which was the oldest song in the film.

By the way, it is a buddy flick about ex-cons who have a religious epiphany along the way; they’re also chased by the police, a psychotic ex-girlfriend, a touring music group and Nazis. They would also wreck more cars than any other film in history and destroy many of the glass windows in an entire indoor mall. Making it even more ridiculous: the film would feature not just Blues music, but 1960’s Soul, early Rock and Roll, 1930’s Jazz, TV themes, Muzak, 1950’s Italian Romantic Pop songs, Gospel, Classical, Opera, and of course, both kinds: Country and Western.

Aretha Franklin, who not only sang and danced in the film, she also had an extended speaking part.

Filmed over much of the summer of 1979 and released in the spring of 1980, the flick had everything working against it, including cost-overruns and delays due to the drug habits of many involved. Now considered one of the greatest comedies and buddy flicks in history, it took a great deal of time to build its audience to the classic status it holds today.

It did perform well at the time, but wasn’t the blockbuster the studio, Universal, had hoped for. Not only did it carry an “R” rating due to language and violent scenes, limiting its viewership, one major west coast theatre chain, Mann, refused to show it. According to a 2013 article in Vanity Fair, the chain did not want Black people coming into white neighborhoods to see it, and they also didn’t believe white audiences would want to see a film with so many older Black performers.

(l-r) Actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belishi as Elwood and Jake respectively. They led the Blues Brothers band in actual singing parts.

So, to review: The Blues Brothers was a religious buddy comedy road flick with R rated dialogue and numerous car chases, the few named stars high on cocaine, gun violence, a script that had to be edited to a third of its length and completely reformatted, a soundtrack with older Black performers out of step with current musical trends that also features Nazis as characters and a major theatre chain that won’t show it due to systemic racism. It’s a miracle, seriously, we are even talking about this release at all.

Ray Charles was the only veteran performer in the film who at the time had a recent charted single.

According to director John Landis, it was the first U.S. film to outperform overseas than it did at home. Box office receipts bear this out, as The Blues Brothers did more than twice its domestic take in international markets. The film received a second life in heavily edited television broadcasts, home video and via midnight showings where the audience would participate, much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Bluesman John Lee Hooker’s career became much bigger after his appearance in the film, even winning several Grammy awards.

What this film did do well was bring the featured performers back to the mainstream in a very big way. It also helped kickstart a Blues music revival in the United States, one that continues to this day. 40 years later, it also acts as time capsule of sorts: all of the featured performers are either dead or no longer performing. Landis wanted to capture the essence of what made these artists great by putting them into everyday situations that were completely relatable. Unlike Ken Burns’ serious and academic view of the Blues, Landis knew that by making it personal, it would remain timeless.

James Brown had a non-traditional speaking and performing role role as the Reverend Cleophus James, a Baptist preacher in a pivotal scene in the film.

Though impossible to believe, even the Catholic Church has taken a warm and revisionist view of the film. Earlier this year, the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, announced the movie as recommended viewing for Catholics everywhere because of its underlining theme of spirituality. A mission from God? The Pope seems to think so.

There will be no services for our dear departed. However, if you wish to make a donation to Planned Parenthood in her honor, you can do so at the following link by credit card or via PayPal at the Planned Parenthood donation page or by phone, toll-free, at 1-855-789-7723.

First Part

  • Film Dialogue: 106 Miles to Chicago, 1980, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (Elwood Blues and Jake Blues), The Blues Brothers film
  • Somebody Loan Me a Dime, 1974, Fenton Robinson, Somebody Loan Me a Dime
  • Film Dialogue: Filthy Mouths and Bad Attitudes, 1980, Kathleen Freeman (Sister Mary Stigmata, a.k.a. “The Penguin”), The Blues Brothers film
  • She Caught The Katy, 1980, The Blues Brothers, The Blues Brothers soundtrack album
  • Film Dialogue: We Got Both Kinds, 1980, Dan Aykroyd and Sheilah Wells, The Blues Brothers film
  • Boom Boom, 1980, John Lee Hooker, The Blues Brothers film
  • Peter Gunn Theme (instrumental), 1980, The Blues Brothers, The Blues Brothers soundtrack album
  • Quando, Quando, Quando, 1980, Murph and The Magictones, The Blues Brothers film
  • Film Dialogue: Armada Room, 1980, Murphy Dunne, The Blues Brothers film
  • I’m Walkin’, 1957, Fats Domino, Here Stands Fats Domino
  • Film Dialogue: Illinois Nazis, 1980, Dan Aykroyd, Charles Mountain and John Belushi, The Blues Brothers film
  • Ride of the Valkyries (excerpt), 1970, Wagner, conducted by William Steinberg/performed by the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra, Selections From Der Ring des Nibelungen and Film Dialogue: I’ve Always Loved You, 1980, Eugene J. Anthony, The Blues Brothers film
  • Hold On, I’m Comin’, 1966, Sam & Dave, Hold On, I’m Comin’
  • Film Dialogue: Diner Scene, 1980, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Matt Murphy and Aretha Franklin, The Blues Brothers film
  • Think (full-length version), 1980, Aretha Franklin with The Blues Brothers, The Blues Brothers soundtrack album

Second Part

  • Film Dialogue: Tunnel Scene, 1980, John Belushi and Carrie Fisher, The Blues Brothers film
  • Shake Your Moneymaker, 1961, Elmore James, 7″ 45 RPM single A-side
  • Film Dialogue: Mrs. Tarantino, 1980, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Toni Fleming, The Blues Brothers film
  • Anema e Core (Until), 1954, Ezio Pinza, 10″ 78 RPM single A-side
  • Film Dialogue: Bob’s Country Bunker and Gimme Some Lovin’/Rawhide/Stand By Your Man/ Rawhide (reprise), 1980, The Blues Brothers, The Blues Brothers film
  • Minnie The Moocher, 1980, Cab Calloway, The Blues Brothers soundtrack album
  • Film Dialogue: How Much for the Girl?, 1980, John Belushi, The Blues Brothers film
  • Let The Good Times Roll, 1946, Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five, 10″ 78 RPM single A-side
  • Film Dialogue: Mission From God, 1980, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (background song: Muzak version of Just The Way You Are, performed by Murph and The Magictones), The Blues Brothers film
  • The Girl From Ipanema, circa late-1960’s, Muzak version, performed by the Muzak Orchestra
  • Shake A Tailfeather (with dialogue), 1980, Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers, The Blues Brothers film

Finale

  • Film Dialogue: Go To Church, 1980, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, The Blues Brothers film
  • The Old Landmark (interpolates The Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah by Handel)(full-length version), 1980, Alonzo Atkins (choirmaster), James Brown (The Reverend Cleophus James) and The Southern California Community Choir (featured soloist: Chaka Khan), The Blues Brothers film

Love to you all.

Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Video Promo Producer and Writer

All images: From The Blues Brothers film, directed by John Landis. © 1980 Universal / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz.

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