"Celebrate the Soul of American Music," a two-hour syndicated special airing tonight (KTLA Channel 5 at 8), is a surprisingly entertaining, fast-moving variety show structured like a tribute to veteran black artists from all genres.
The show, taped earlier this month at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, honors performers from all phases of popular music--from country to jazz to rock 'n' roll--including Dizzy Gillespie, Little Richard, the Dells, Etta James, Charley Pride, Ella Fitzgerald and the Shirelles. All, except Fitzgerald, are present to receive awards. The hosts are Diahann Carroll, Philip Michael Thomas and Dionne Warwick.
In each segment, a retrospective of the veteran artist's career is followed by a performance of the artist's music by some contemporary star. Performers like Robert Townsend, Mel Torme and Al Jarreau host the retrospectives.
But the heart of the show is the performances, which are generally outstanding. Singers such as Oleta Adams, Dianne Reeves and En Vogue have a chance to show off their versatility by performing material they don't normally sing.
The tribute to the late Sarah Vaughan features possibly the show's best performance: Reeves singing, Vaughan-style, "Tenderly"--one of Vaughan's best.
Handing out these awards is an obvious excuse to mount a star-studded TV show, but it's refreshing to see honors heaped on R&B artists like Etta James and the Dells who usually aren't saluted.