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Hargrove Comes Home—on Roy’s Birthday

Eliane Henri’s documentary film about the late trumpeter has a screening at the Dallas high school he attended

Roy Hargrove from documentary
Roy Hargrove prepares for an interview with Eliane Henri in a still from her film Hargrove

“He’s here, don’t miss him,” director Eliane Henri says at one point in her new cinema-verité documentary Hargrove, which follows legendary trumpeter Roy Hargrove through 2018, the year that became the last of his life.

Henri’s comment was meant to explain her rationale for pursuing the project—her intention to unmask a remarkable musician who seemed, in some ways, to be hiding in plain sight. It also applies, though, in Hargrove’s hometown of Dallas, where the film was screened as part of the Dallas International Film Festival in October. Despite the fact that Hargrove is ostensibly one of the city’s most revered musical exports, the screening was only modestly attended—a detail noted by the film’s executive producer and fellow local icon Erykah Badu.

“We were hoping that more people would have turned out,” she told JazzTimes shortly before the screening began, noting that it would be her own first time seeing the movie (which is still seeking distribution beyond festivals and one-off bookings) on the big screen. Badu has been one of the most vocal local champions for Hargrove’s memory, but in spite of her efforts, there is still little movement to commemorate his Dallas roots permanently.

The DIFF screening, though, was a start, and had everything going for it: Thanks to what Henri called “divine timing,” it took place on what would have been Hargrove’s 53rd birthday, in the Montgomery Arts Theater at his alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

“Being here today—where he went to school, on his birthday—is a huge, very special honor,” Henri said. “I couldn’t have organized it or planned it this way if I tried. I know that it’s something that Roy would want, and I’m just really honored to be able to show it to his community.”

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“It’s very important to tell his story, especially here,” Badu added. “He walked these halls.”

It was striking and emotional to watch the documentary in one of its locations, with one of its subjects. Badu, Hargrove’s classmate at Booker T. Washington, whooped when he first appeared on screen playing “I’m Glad There Is You,” spurring the rest of the audience to do the same; at its conclusion, she was wiping away tears. A bevy of old footage of Hargrove included clips of him performing at Booker T., blowing as though his life depended on it on the same stage (since renovated and expanded) where a suddenly posthumous documentary about him was now being shown.

“He was very proud of being a Texan, very proud of where he came from,” Henri told JazzTimes. That sentiment is even in the movie; one of the biggest reactions from the Dallas audience came during a scene when Hargrove is buying some gelato while in Perugia for the Umbria Jazz Festival, and he insists that it’s the best ice cream in the world “besides Blue Bell, of course,” adding a plug for the beloved Texas brand.

Henri added that they had been planning to come to Dallas to shoot more material for the documentary when Hargrove passed on November 2, 2018. “That was the next segment we were going to shoot,” she said, sitting in a hallway at Booker T. before the screening. “He was telling me who he was going to introduce me to, and that he was going to take me to his school. He was very excited about it, and then he passed away.” Henri only made it to Dallas for his more metaphysical homecoming, which took place in part via a memorial service hosted by Badu in the very same theater where the documentary was now being screened.

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“He was kind of like, the bar for musicians in Dallas,” Badu said in a post-screening Q&A with DIFF artistic director James Faust. “When his first album came out I just played it every day, hoping to also be an entertainer of some sort.” She went back further, though, explaining the history they shared, from their hip-hop duo Apples and Honey (Badu rapped under the moniker Apples, while Hargrove beatboxed as Honey—a riff on his taste for Honey Buns), to the jazz education he offered her, to the tragedies they witnessed side by side, to their extended collaboration, one that only stopped when Hargrove did.

“We never released the last song that we did,” she added, teasing the possibility of one last joint effort (Hargrove has appeared on all her albums, she said). “We still have that music.”

One question asked by an audience member after the film, about what Dallas could do to better encourage the next Roy Hargrove—its next great artist from the historically disenfranchised southern and western parts of the city—spoke to a crucial component of the dearth of local enthusiasm for the documentary. Dallas lacks broad support for the arts and arts education, as well as the will to amplify its rich musical history, of which Hargrove is just one important contributor. There was no satisfying answer to that question, nor was there any discussion of what else the city might do to honor the trumpeter’s life and work.

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For those in attendance, though, the documentary and ensuing conversation were a meaningful way to pay tribute to Hargrove’s memory.

“I think he would have liked it—loved it,” said Badu. “I think he loves it. You like it?” she asked, directing her question toward the ceiling.

Natalie Weiner

Natalie Weiner writes about music for a variety of publications including JazzTimes, Billboard, The New York Times, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. She is also a staff writer at SB Nation where she covers women’s sports and the NFL. Previously, she was a staff writer at Bleacher Report, and an associate editor at Billboard magazine.