PBS, in its eternal, hapless effort to get down and funky, has convinced filmmaker Spike Lee (Mo’ Better Blues) to oversee the 18th season premiere of Great Performances. The theme of the hour — a showcase for six rhythm & blues-based singing groups that perform without instrumental accompaniment — is an excellent idea. Spike & Co.: Do It A Cappella is the sort of pop-culture art that ought to invade the precincts of Great Performances more often.
The acts singing without instrumental accompaniment are True Image (a warm- up group for Cosby Show tapings), the all-woman Mint Juleps, Rockapella (very hokey guys), the Grammy-winning Take 6, South Africa’s popular Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the Persuasions. You’ll have your favorite, but to these ears, the Persuasions are the high point of the hour, their deep, rough-hewn harmonies lending an air of passion to what can be a merely pretty, even fussy, form of stark vocalizing.
Lee and his cohost, Debbie Allen, however, nearly ruin everything with their incessant, banal chatter, their cornball introductions, and their general camera-hogging even as the singers are singing. PBS didn’t need them to give this show an aura of celebrity — the music should have stood alone. B-