Become a Friend of BSR Today!

Support the conversation around Philadelphia's arts and culture community. We’re dedicated to providing you—and the entire Philly region—professional arts coverage without a paywall.

Philly-centric music documentaries to binge on YouTube

3 minute read
Sun Ra playing at the New England Conservatory in 1992. (Photo by Pandelis Karayorgis.)
Sun Ra playing at the New England Conservatory in 1992. (Photo by Pandelis Karayorgis.)

On Sunday, March 22, the City of Philadelphia issued an official stay-at-home-order for city residents. While this order is a relatively new development, many of us have been confined to our homes for much longer. With no clear end to this in sight, we’re all thirsty for entertainment and media and documentaries are a perfect way to fill the many hours we’re all going to have to spend at home. While paid streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer a wealth of content for viewers, YouTube is an unrivaled resource for a variety of niche documentaries. Here are a handful of documentaries on Philly’s music scene that can be found for free on YouTube.

Theater of Chaos: The Philly Punk Story

Since the genre’s birth in New York in the late 1970s, punk has taken root in cities around the world. Located a few short hours from where the genre was initiated, Philly has maintained a healthy punk scene for decades. Theater of Chaos: The Philly Punk Story is an extremely well done student documentary that covers pioneering bands like Ruin and the Dead Milkmen while giving intimate details of the city’s early scene.

The Jazzyfatnastees: In Process

Reelblack’s 2003 documentary on Philly-based soul duo the Jazzyfatnastees is a revealing look into the creative process of the beloved group and a nostalgic snapshot of the time when neo-soul ruled the city’s musical landscape. In addition to footage from Philly’s legendary Black Lily open mic, In Process is fleshed out wonderfully with interviews from Philly Soul legends like Jill Scott, Kindred The Family Soul, Jazmine Sullivan, and, of course, the Jazzies themselves.

The Jazzyfatnastees were part of Philly's neosoul movement in the 1990s and 2000s. (Photo by Simba Madziva.)
The Jazzyfatnastees were part of Philly's neosoul movement in the 1990s and 2000s. (Photo by Simba Madziva.)

Philly: Rap City

Originally aired on WHYY, Philly: Rap City is an invaluable look at the city’s first wave of hip-hop culture. With interviews from Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff, Schoolly D, Lady B, and Yvette Money, as well as interviews on everyday residents on the street. Philly Rap City is significant because it gives us a look at our city as it was in the midst of a massive cultural tidal wave.

Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise

A masterwork by veteran documentarian Robert Mugge, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise follows jazz iconoclast Sun Ra and his Arkestra during their time in Philly. With beautifully shot live performances on the roof of the International House and interviews at the Sun Ra House and the Pharoah’s Den grocery store in the city’s Germantown neighborhood, A Joyful Noise is an incredibly valuable document of Philly’s rich jazz history.

Legendary: 30 Years of Philly Ballroom

With its elegant cinematography and fiery performances, Legendary is the 2019 documentary on Philly’s ballroom scene. Thriving underground for decades, ballroom is a vibrant culture where dance, music, and fashion collide. Highlighting ballroom’s role as a safe haven for the city’s Queer youth, Legendary is a testament to the power and boundless creativity of Philly's Black LGBTQ community.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation