The special consisted of a performance of many of Orbison's hits at the Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles, taped on September 30, 1987, approximately a year before his death. Three songs, Blue Bayou, Claudette and Blue Angel, were taped but not included in the original broadcast due to time constraints.
Put together by musical director, T-Bone Burnett, Orbison was accompanied by a supporting backing band which included many notable musical performers. All were fans who volunteered to participate in the special. Other celebrity admirers of Orbison were in the audience, including Billy Idol, Sandra Bernhard and Kris Kristofferson. The backing band was the TCB Band, which accompanied Elvis Presley from 1969 until his death in 1977: Glen D. Hardin on piano; James Burton on lead guitar; Jerry Scheff on bass; and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Male background vocalists, with some also joining in on guitar, were: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles. Singing the female background vocals were k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, and Bonnie Raitt. Over the end credits, several of the band members are shown saying some words about Orbison.
The song "Oh, Pretty Woman" from this performance, which features a duel of guitar solos between Springsteen and Burton, was nominated for a Grammy Award for best live performance. Re-released as part of a CD bearing the same title as the television special, the song won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
The special was later released in several home video formats including VHS, Laser disc and DVD, with the laserdisc and DVD releases containing the two previously unreleased songs. The performance has been used by PBS stations to assist in fund raising. It has proved to be the single most successful fund raiser in PBS history. The audio from this special was made into an album by Virgin Records in 1989, titled "A Black & White Night Live".