Miles Davis ‘American Masters’ Premiere Highlights Black History Month on Public Media

February 6, 2020

Miles Davis

Biographies, historical documentaries and black culture is featured across public media locally and nationally during Black History Month, highlighted by the broadcast premiere of the biopic “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” on PBS’ American Masters on February 25 (check local listings). The Grammy-nominated film by Stanley Nelson features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from Davis’ recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews with Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Clive Davis and Wayne Shorter.

Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool, American Masters

Throughout February, WORLD Channel, a public television multicast channel airing in two-thirds of the country and accessible at, also celebrates the 20th anniversary of Firelight Media, which Nelson founded to support diversity in filmmaking. WORLD Channel features a retrospective of Firelight Media films including four of Nelson’s films.  

Streaming of the national and local programming airing on public television and public radio stations is available online and can also be accessed through the PBS and NPR apps. Check local listings for Black History Month programming, including:

StoryCorps features Black History Month on its home page, with an animation of an interview with Carl McNair, telling the story of his brother, astronaut Ronald McNair, who perished on the space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  

“Finding Your Roots,” in an episode titled “Slave Trade”, traces family histories of Questlove, S. Epatha Merkerson and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.  The episode explores how slavery affected family history in unexpected ways. It airs on PBS on February 11 at 8 pm (check local listings).

Hollywood's Architect, PBS SoCal

“Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story” premieres on PBS SoCal at 8 pm tonight and airs on WORLD Channel at 10 pm ET/9 CT February 9 and on local PBS stations (check local listings). The story of Williams, who designed iconic homes and buildings across the country for movie stars and moguls in spite of personal tragedy and racial prejudice, is narrated by Courtney B. Vance and includes interviews with Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch and family friend Quincy Jones.

“AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange,” produced by Black Public Media, is an anthology of life, art and culture in the modern African Diaspora. Season 12, recently named to the New York Times list of “50 TV Shows You Need to Watch This Winter,” airs at 8 pm ET/7 CT Mondays through February 17 on WORLD Channel and on local PBS stations (check local listings).

 “Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land,” premieres on WTIU-TV in Bloomington, Indiana, at 9 pm tonight. Mezzo-soprano and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music professor Marietta Simpson taped this concert, featuring contemporary arrangements of standard Negro spiritual music infused with modern jazz, Latin, and African rhythms, at WTIU’s studio during Black History Month last year.

Texas Southern University-based KTSU is co-sponsoring Black History Houston, a city-wide black history celebration including a Saturday Classic Movie Night series and a free Black History Houston Culture Fest, featuring an R&B and hip hop “Keeping the Music Alive” tribute show, on February 15. KTSU will air daily vignettes spotlighting Houstonians including Beyoncé, Phylicia Rashad, Earl Campbell, Barbara Jordan, Yolanda Adams and Michael Strahan.

Newark-based jazz station WBGO will air special programming by national producers, sharing the history of important musical works and their relationship with civil rights and black culture, from 6-8 pm on Sundays throughout February. Topics include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Max Roach, and Philly Soul Radio. WBGO is also planning live and studio performances and a free concert in Newark featuring trumpet player Marcus Printup.

VuHaus Group, a digital music discovery service featuring live music sessions from public radio stations across the country, will feature artists of color every day of February in the Song of the Day feature on NPR Music Live Sessions.

WXPN and NPR stations are airing “The Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul” (check local listings), a radio documentary exploring the history of black gospel music and illustrating its significant influence on the formation of rock and soul music. The four-part program, the culmination of WXPN’s year-long project of the same name, premiered during Black History Month last year.   

Colorado Public Radio’s Indie 102.3 will focus on black artists in February, with a different artist highlighted every day with a brief narrative and songs airing several times throughout each day. The station’s monthly Local 303 feature will put 12 Colorado black artists in heavy rotation this month.

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a partnership between the Library of Congress and WGBH to preserve historically important public broadcasting content, offers several special black history collections, including raw interview footage from “American Experience” and the landmark “Eyes on the Prize” documentaries. Most materials are available online and include: 

  • Freedom Riders Interviews, 124 interviews from the award-winning 2011 “American Experience” documentary by Stanley Nelson
  • The Abolitionists Interviews, 51 interviews from the 2013 “American Experience” miniseries
  • Africans in America Interviews,  53 interviews from the award-winning, four-part documentary of the same name, which aired on PBS in 1998
  • Eyes on the Prize” Interviews, 127 raw interviews conducted with participants in the American Civil Rights movement, as part of the acclaimed documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965”    

In addition to funding content, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting fosters a public media system that serves diverse audiences and reflects the communities they serve. CPB supports more than 1,500 locally owned and operated public media stations, including public television and radio stations licensed to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. CPB also cultivates a diverse public media workforce by investing in WGBH’s Next Generation Leadership Program, the Firelight Documentary Lab for minority media makers, and the Jacquie Jones Memorial Scholarship Fund to support media projects created by minority filmmakers. Check local listings for additional Black History Month content being produced and broadcast by your local public media station.

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