Last Updated: August 6th
For music fans, Netflix is a boon, hosting a wide range of different documentaries and concert films about a truly staggering array of different subjects from just about every single genre you can imagine. Classic rock, country, soul, R&B, EDM, jazz: you name it, and there’s probably something for you to find on the streaming service. To help ease the selection process, here are 20 of the best and most compelling music documentaries currently available to watch on Netflix right now.
20 Feet From Stardom
You never notice them but they’re always there. This documentary chronicles the stories of your favorite stars’ backup singers, the folks who touch some of the biggest stages in the world but remain just outside the spotlight. They’re often just as talented, but build careers out of anonymity and some of their stories are just as fascinating as the stars they support.
This 2016 documentary directed by Salima Koroma follows four Korean-American rappers as they maneuver through the complexities of being minorities both in America and in hip-hop culture. Before Awkwafina was flying high with Crazy Rich Asians she was battling for rap clout alongside Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks, chasing a dream and trying to defy expectations as they searched for, and proudly displayed, their identity through hip-hop.
For many, John Coltrane remains an enigma. Having died at the all-too-early age of 40 back in 1967, he made a massive imprint in his lifetime through a genre-defining series of albums like Giant Steps and A Love Supreme, while working with the luminaries such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie. Chasing Trane peels back some of the layers of mystery that surround the sax player and serves as a prime introduction for those unfamiliar with his music.
David Foster: Off The Record
Directed by Barry Avrich, Off The Record takes a long look at the life and career of one of music’s most successful and storied producers. From his work with emerging talents like Celine Dion and Whitney Houston to reviving Chicago’s flagging career to his reality TV-worthy love life, very few stones are left unturned in this documentary that both humanizes Foster and shares some of his biggest “asshole” moments from the studio.
Devil At The Crossroads
Detailing the life of bluesman Robert Johnson, this Brian Oakes-directed documentary includes interviews with Eric Clapton, John Hammond, Taj Mahal, and Keb’ Mo’, among other guitar legends. It’s a fascinating tale of the iconic figure, who died at 27 and left behind more legends than facts about his life — including one that he sold his soul to the devil to achieve musical success, lending this film its title.
Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened
Incidentally, one of two documentaries on the subject, the Netflix version is produced by Jerry Studios and Vice Media, which gives it a behind-the-scenes edge that the Hulu version lacks but also does its best to mitigate the culpability of Jerry Studios’ parent brand, the F*ck Jerry marketing agency. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of just how the Fyre Festival went so disastrously wrong, from logistical issues to the unrelenting excess of Fyre founder Billy McFarland.
Gaga: 5 Foot 2
Documentaries about pop stars that go beyond fan service propaganda are exceedingly rare. It’s one of the reasons that Gaga 5 Foot 2 is so compelling. Rarely do we ever really get to see the physical and mental toll it takes to roll out a new album and prepare to perform in front of more than 100 million people at the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Lady Gaga allowed the cameras to film her every move as she did just that, for an unflinching and uncompromising look at what it’s really like to be an artist of the highest level in the 21st century.
I Called Him Morgan
Part-music documentary, part-true crime film, I Called Him Morgan recounts the life and murder of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, as told by the woman who shot him, his common-law wife Helen. Along with a who’s who of American jazz talent that includes Wayne Shorter, Jymie Merritt, and Billy Harper, the filmmakers also spoke at length with Helen Morgan, to give as complete a portrait possible of the couple’s tumultuous and ultimately deadly relationship.
Keith Richards: Under The Influence
Keith Richards is basically synonymous with the phrase “rock star.” The man has led a singular life, filled with enough drugs, women, and acts of violence to kill any normal human being. The fact that he’s still around, blasting stadiums around the world with his signature, blues-derived riffs is simply incredible. Under The Influence goes deep beyond the legend of Keef, showing you the man himself at his most unguarded as he crafts his first solo album in decades.
Lil Peep: Everybody’s Everything
Released just two years after his death, Everybody’s Everything covers the precipitous rise and subsequent downfall of Lil Peep, who died of an accidental overdose at just 21 years old. Before his death, he’d led the way for the so-called “SoundCloud rap” wave, combining elements of hip-hop, trap, emo, and punk into a unique mashup that would become the sound of a generation.
Miss Americana: Taylor Swift
Directed by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana pulls back the curtain on an artist who maintains rigid control of her image as she goes through a transitional period in her life, growing into the outspoken role model and activist she is today. Debuting at Sundance earlier this year, the film was reportedly jeopardized in its development by Big Machine’s refusal to allow archival performance footage and older music. Clearing the older material in December allowed Swift and Wilson to proceed with their plans and the film was met with a positive reception upon its premiere.
More than just a single film, Rapture is a Netflix original documentary series, that profiles the lives, careers, and artistry of some of the biggest rap stars to ever pick up a microphone. Those profiled in the eight installments include Nas, Dave East, Logic, T.I., G-Eazy, 2 Chainz, Just Blaze, Rapsody, and Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. If you’re a fan of hip-hop from ’94 on, this is a can’t-miss.
Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Beyond The Lighted Stage is the story, well-told, of what many consider to be the greatest prog rock band of all-time: Rush. You’ll learn about their rise from cold confines of Ontario, Canada to the biggest stages on the planet, told by the band members themselves as well as some of their most famous fans, including Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, Jack, Black Tool’s drummer Danny Carey — as big a Neil Pert disciple as anyone — and Kirk Hammett to name just a few.
The Black Godfather
For decades, Clarence Avant, known as “the godfather of Black music” in the recording industry, has advocated for Black artists and musical styles as a label founder, concert organizer, and mentor to Black music executives, paving the way for some of the most storied careers. Director Reginald Hudlin secures interviews with Sean Combs, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, LA Reid, Bill Withers, and Babyface to shed long-overdue spotlight on a pivotal figure in Black music.
The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke
Telling oft-overlooked stories of Sam Cooke’s activism and business dealings, Kelly Duane directs a fascinating, in-depth view of the soul pioneer. It’s not just a tragic tale of a blazing star shot down in his prime, but also an intriguing undressing of the shady dealings of Cooke’s business partners and conspiracy theories surrounding his mysterious, controversial death.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Nina Simone is one of the most mysterious, ethereal singers of all-time. Her music has an almost spiritual quality, especially some of the early ’60s recordings like “Sinnerman” and “Strange Fruit.” As talented as she was, Simone was also beset by demons, that left her alienated from friends and family as she moved from America to Europe, while also battling an abusive spouse and the crackdown against African-Americans in America in the face of the civil rights movement. What Happened, Miss Simone? is a film that captures a full portrait of this one-of-a-kind human being.
Who Shot The Sheriff? A Bob Marley Story
Rather than re-telling the story of the life and music of Bob Marley, this 2018 documentary digs into one of the more critical and mysterious happenings in his life: the 1976 assassination attempt against him in which gunmen injured Marley, his wife, and his manager ahead of a free concert in his native Jamaica. Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Arts & Culture Documentary, Who Shot The Sheriff? doesn’t just stop at asking “who?” but also asks “why?” investigating the potential political motivations for the assassination attempt — and even the rumored involvement of the CIA.