Black and Tan (1929): All Black Musical Starring Duke Ellington

Each year, the Library of Congress adds 25 notable films to its permanent collection, ensuring that the titles will be preserved for generations to come. The 2015 class is typically eclectic, ranging from silent films to 1980s blockbusters, edgy indies to educational films such as the Disney-produced 1946 entry “The Story of Menstruation.”

“Selecting a film for the National Film Registry recognizes its importance to cinema and America’s cultural and artistic history,” said acting Librarian of Congress David Mao. “The registry is an invaluable way to advance public awareness of the richness, creativity and variety of our nation’s film heritage.”

The 2015 selections bring the number of titles in the registry to 675. The films are selected by Library of Congress staffers and the National Film Preservation Board, after reviewing nominations made by the public via the Library of Congress website.

Black and Tan (1929)

In one of the first short musical films to showcase African-American jazz musicians, Duke Ellington portrays a struggling musician whose dancer wife (Fredi Washington in her film debut) secures him a gig for his orchestra at the famous Cotton Club where she’s been hired to perform, at a risk to her health.

Directed by Dudley Murphy, who earned his reputation with “Ballet mécanique,” which is considered a masterpiece of early experimental filmmaking, the film reflects the cultural, social and artistic explosion of the 1920s that became known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Ellington and Washington personify that movement.  Murphy, who also directed registry titles “St. Louis Blues” (1929), another musical short, and the feature “The Emperor Jones” (1933) starring Paul Robeson, inspired future generations.

Fredi Washington, who appeared with Robeson in “Emperor Jones,” is best known as “Peola” in the 1934 version of “Imitation of Life.”