Thursday, July 14, 2011

REJOICE AND SHOUT (2011)

Directed by Don McGlynn


Where & When:  Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles, CA.  July 11, 2011 1:00PM


"Rejoice and Shout" is a documentary on the history of the form of music that Motown legend, Smokey Robinson proclaims is "the root of all American music": gospel. After seeing this film, I realised that he is absolutely correct, as you can certainly hear traces of the gospel sound in all forms of contemporary music such as the blues, jazz, country and rock and roll.

During the unfortunate period in our country's history, slaves were brought over to America from Africa and the slave-owners where disturbed by the religion that they practiced, so they brought the slaves to their churches and introduced them to Christianity. The slaves learned to accept this religion with them later combining the call and response of their work songs with the Christian hymns and gospel music was born.

The film traces back to some of the great pioneers of gospel such as the Dinwiddle Colored Quartet who are credited as being one of the first African-American groups to make a recording at the beginning of the last century to the Clara Ward Singers who brought glamour and choreography to their performance to The Swan Silvertones with the glorious falsetto of Claude Jetter to the good natured rivalry of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and the Blind Boys of Alabama and to the Staples Singers with lead vocalist, Mavis recalling seeing many of these acts as well as explaining the importance of this music to people.

Mahalia Jackson, who is considered to be one of the most influential gospel singers of all time, became one of the first to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York with her music managing to cross over and selling millions of records around the world. There is plenty of amazing archival footage in the film and we see Ms Jackson's performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in it's entirety as well as many of the other acts including Sister Rosetta Tharpe who was a self-taught guitarist and one of the first female artists to perform playing an instrument and another influential act, the Dixie Hummingbirds, whose dazzling vocalist, Ira Tucker joined the group at the age of thirteen in 1938 and remained until his death at the age of eighty-three.

The film also uses several expert historians to help fill in on the history between the performances that include authors, Anthony Heilbut and Bill Carpenter, radio host, Jacquie Gales Webb and one of the film's producers, Joe Lauro who are all very knowledgeable and enlightening. At only almost two hours, there is a lot of information packed in to "Rejoice and Shout" but the film still feels incomplete with some of the important artists in the field such as Aretha Franklin and Shirley Caesar are barely acknowledged and the gospel performers of the modern-day era, including the controversial use of adding hip-hop/rap to the music, are given a bum's rush. I think this film would have been much more satisfying as a multi-part PBS program as it would been able to comfortably cover additional ground at a more leisurely pace.

The emphasis here is mainly on the music which is where the true energy and pleasure of "Rejoice and Shout" comes from. It is an important document of a musical genre that has not always been given it 's proper due and most certainly has been taken for granted. "Rejoice and Shout" not only shares the history of gospel music but it also explains exactly how many African-Americans were able to find the strength and determination to continue on despite all of the many difficult obstacles that they faced throughout history was because of their deep faith.