The stories and sounds of black musicians from Cissy Houston to Coleman Hawkins to King Sonny Ade to John Coltrane to Louis Armstrong are the focus of "Boogie, Be-bop and the Blues: Black Music on Film."

The film series, organized by the Black Film Institute of the University of the District of Columbia and the audiovisual division of the D.C. Public Library, opens tonight at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library with the world premiere of David Davidson's "Cissy Houston -- Sweet Inspiration."

"These films are great representations of black music. They are films where the music is so rich, it is not only a pleasure to watch the people but to hear the music," says Tony Gittens, director of UDC's Black Film Institute. Gittens coordinated the series of eight films with Marcia Zalbowitz, chief of the library's audiovisual division.

The Houston film traces her career as an unmistakable voice and presence in the gospel genre, examining her days with the Sweet Inspirations, and including her cur rent celebrity as the mother of megastar Whitney Houston.

Paired with that one-hour premiere is "International Sweethearts of Rhythm," a 30-minute look at an important all-women, multiracial jazz band. "This is part of the music history of America that really has not been spoken about. This band was considered not just a novelty act but a group of good musicians," says Gittens. "The film gives you their sense of adventure, being on the road, being disciplined enough to be excellent musicians and then putting up with a lot of racism and sexism from the male musicians and the society at large."

Joining tonight's program are Pearl Williams Jones, associate professor of music at UDC, and Antoinette Handy, associate director of the music program at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Handy, the author of a book on the Sweethearts, says, "They started as a marching band around 1937 at Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi. They began to travel in the tradition of the Fisk {University} Jubilee Singers, and raised money for the school. Later they were competitive with all the top swing bands of the day."

Handy has noticed a renewed interest in black women musicians. "They are hot potatoes right now. More and more people are becoming interested in the past, the race situation, the feminist movement ..." says Handy.

Next Tuesday's program at UDC's Van Ness campus is an evening with Michael Chertok, a jazz film archivist and the son of David Chertok, who has one of the world's largest collections of jazz on film. Gittens asked Chertok to assemble some clips never seen before in Washington. Covered in his material are dancers such as Tip, Tap & Toe, Bill Bailey and Bill Robinson; singers such as Dinah Washington, Joe Williams and Sarah Vaughan; and musicians such as Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Louis Jordan. The two-hour program, says Gittens, "is fantastic. There is footage from early television shows, clips from European concerts and television, excerpts from newsreels and feature films including scenes cut out in the South."

Another Washington premiere takes place next Thursday at the King Library with the screening of "Juju Music," a study of the Nigerian pop music. The 60-minute film was made by Canadian Jacques Holender. Also scheduled for that evening are "Dance of the Bella" by Jim Roselini and "Song of the Badius" by Gei Zantzinter. " 'Bella,' " says Gittens, "is absolutely haunting. It is only 11 minutes but unforgettable. It is about a people who every seven years, having survived drought and famine, dance at a feast."

"Badius," which looks at the Kriolu music of the Cape Verde Islands and has English subtitles, was first seen by Gittens at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminars, held annually at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. It was at the seminars, which he cohosted in 1986, that he first saw "Sweethearts."

The concluding evening on Jan. 26 at UDC starts with a complete look at jazz legend John Coltrane. "The Coltrane Legacy," by Burrill Crohn, includes "every piece of film on Coltrane Crohn has been able to find," says Gittens. Included is a 1965 radio interview Coltrane gave, as well as interviews with drummers Jimmy Cobb and Elvin Jones and bassist Reggie Workman. The second feature is "Trumpet Kings," a history of players, narrated by Wynton Marsalis. "He talks in a way I have never heard before about the history of jazz trumpet," says Gittens. "He very clearly makes the distinctions between the techniques, what all the styles were about, and he performs at the end." Stanley Crouch, a staff writer for The Village Voice, will discuss the films that evening.

The collaboration between UDC and the library, underwritten by UDC and the National Endowment for the Arts, has been successful and popular in its previous four programs. More than 300 people usually attend the screenings, according to Gittens. The programs start at 6 p.m. and are free.