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The songs of ‘Dark Streets’

Acogny gets it right with vocals from R&B greats

“Dark Streets” may have been a low-budget enterprise, but it boasts a high-profile lineup in its soundtrack, thanks to the persuasive powers of composer and music supervisor George Acogny, who convinced some of America’s soul and R&B greats — Etta James, Solomon Burke, Natalie Cole, and Chaka Khan included — to provide vocals for the film’s dozen or so original blues songs.

One of those is “It Ain’t Right,” which featured James on vocals, and her sons on bass and drums. “She’s an elderly woman of 86, but the minute she got behind the mic, we all went, ‘Oh my god,'” Acogny recalls.

Tim Langhorne Brown, who wrote the song, was delighted with James’ interpretation. “She changed the phrasing and put her own repeats and melody in — that’s why it really feels like the real deal, like Etta’s song.”

“Too Much Juice,” the ebullient show number that features Khan on vocals, was written by musician Tony De Meur, also based in the U.K. De Meur wrote the song in about an hour while sitting on his couch in the London suburb of Wood Green. “I always enjoy working with great musicians,” says Khan of her experience. But De Meur has a different view: “When George told me, ‘We’re going to get Chaka Khan,’ I just couldn’t believe it.”

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