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.
by Hal Erickson synopsis