Home > Music > Gary Clark Jr., Keb’ Mo’, Dianne Reeves & More Featured on ‘Sweetwater’ Soundtrack

Gary Clark Jr., Keb’ Mo’, Dianne Reeves & More Featured on ‘Sweetwater’ Soundtrack

At the same time the NBA began desegregating in 1950, the swing era was giving way to a renaissance period involving jazz, blues and other genres. Both seismic shifts play central roles in Sweetwater. The film and its original motion picture soundtrack arrived on Friday (April 14), the eve of this year’s NBA playoffs.


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Sweetwater draws its storyline from the life of Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first Black man to sign an NBA contract. Portrayed by newcomer Everett Osborne, Clifton endured racism and other challenges on his journey from Arkansas to Chicago and from Army vet to playing with the Harlem Globetrotters before joining the New York Knicks. Touted in the film as “the man who changed the game,” the Hall of Famer’s energetic playing style — what the NBA team owners dismiss as “razzle dazzle” in the film — was the precursor to fellow legends such as Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other contemporary NBA stars.


Additional members of the Sweetwater cast include Kevin Pollak, Cary Elwes, Jeremy Piven, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Ri’chard. The film was written and directed by Martín Guigui, who joined several cast members and soundtrack collaborators at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles earlier this week (April 10) for a screening, panel session and a musical performance

“We were all looking to elevate the level of emotion to bring the authenticity, truth and realism of what it was like in 1950,” related Guigui. That sentiment also extended to the music used in the film as Guigui further noted that Clifton would always visit a jazz club in whatever city he played. “It was like him getting fueled for the next game,” said Guigui. “It was those rhythms and beats that he played to on the floor.”

Emmaline and Carmine Rojas

Emmaline and Carmine Rojas perform during Reel To Reel: SWEETWATER at The GRAMMY Museum on April 10, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Timothy Norris/GI for The Recording Academy

A celebration of jazz and blues, the Candid Records soundtrack was produced by John Burk who is a partner at Exceleration Music. The 12-song set opens with “Taking Me Higher.” Composed by Keb’ Mo’, it’s the first song that plays in the film’s end credits. Another original song inspired by the film and playing in the end credits is “To Be First,” performed by PWP Works of Art featuring Titus “Erly” Makin (Glee). PWP Works of Art is comprised of producer Neal Pogue plus Earth, Wind & Fire members Verdine White and John Paris.

Explaining the origin of “To Be First,” Pogue told the museum audience, “I love ‘50s music. “So I started thinking, ‘If Little Richard, Fats Domino and Ray Charles had a child, what would it [the song] be like?’” Added White, “Things were moving fast as we’d [he and Paris] just got back off the road. But after Neal played us the song and told us about the movie, we got it done in a three-hour session.”

The Sweetwater soundtrack mixes in period era classics such as “The Man I Love” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” performed by singer-songwriter Emmaline who makes her acting debut in the film as the character Jeannie Staples. Emmaline also duets with Gary Clark Jr., who has a cameo in the film as well, on “Down Home Blues.” Additional soundtrack performers include Terri Lyne Carrington, Dianne Reeves, Larkin Poe, Robert Randolph, Liyah Bey, Rick Braun, Paul Hipp and Billy Gibbons. 

Here’s the track listing for Sweetwater (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack):

1. Taking Me Higher – Keb’ Mo’
2. Down Home Blues – Gary Clark Jr. & Emmaline
3. It Had to Be You – Emmaline
4. Right Place Right Time – Larkin Poe
5. Sweet Georgia Brown – Emmaline
6. Someone to Watch Over Me – Dianne Reeves & Terri Lyne Carrington
7. A Little More Faith – Robert Randolph & Liyah Bey
8. Fo’ Sho’ – Rick Braun
9. The Man I Love – Emmaline
10. What Does It Matter – Paul Hipp & Billy GIbbons
11. To Be First – PWP Works of Art Featuring Titus “Erly” Makin
12. Get Up – Larkin Poe

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