Loosely based on the life and times of several R&B artists (The Dells, The Temptations, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and others) The Five Heartbeats traces the rise and fall of a popular African-American 1950s singing aggregation. The story is told from the point of view of one of the "Heartbeats," played by Robert Townsend (who also co-produced, directed and co-wrote the script with Keenan Ivory Waynans). The film is an amalgam of anecdotes drawn from real-life experiences: the long struggle upward, the first rush of success, the dishonest record-company executives, the hard-nosed but nurturing managers, the sex, the drugs, the isolation and the precipitous downward slide. The film begins and ends in the 1990s, as the middle-aged "Duck" (Townsend) ruminates on the past and makes the best of the present.
No pop genre has defined what a summer night can be as much as doo wop, with its countless songs about the moon and the stars and the light they cast on the possibilities of romance, and no pop genre has ever had more earthly angels residing per square foot. This four-disc, 100-song collection of doo wop vocal groups has numerous examples of both, along with seemingly a song for every girl's name ever invented.
In a story interspersed with interview tales of romantic pitfalls, friendship turns to romantic rivalry for gay man Francis and straight woman Marie when a veritable Adonis named Nicolas enters their lives. Sexual tensions mount as Francis and Marie await Nicolas' show of preference.
In the early 1960's, a quintet of hopeful young African American men form an amateur vocal group called The Five Heartbeats. After an initially rocky start, the group improve, turn pro, and rise to become a top flight music sensation.