march 2011


Rejoice And Shout:  Tracing Gospel To Its Deepest Roots

New Documentary Organizes a Sprawling 200-year Story Into a Compelling, and Essential, Historical Overview

Rejoice & Shout, filmmaker Don McGlynn's raucous new documentary about gospel music in America, reaches all the way back to 1902, when Virginia's Dinwiddie Colored Quartet made the first African-American religious recordings, almost two decades before the first jazz and blues records.

Listening in on the music that came out of black Baptist and Pentecostal churches in the century since, Rejoice And Shout focuses attention on big-name and not-so-big-name gospel greats, from Mahalia Jackson and the Staple Singers to the Golden Gate Quartet and Swan Silvertones.

"These are people who really believe in God and are expressing themselves, body and soul, though this music," McGlynn says.

Rejoice & Shout, official trailer

Everyone seen on screen fits that description, starting with 10-year-old Jekalyn Carr of the contemporary gospel group the Selvy Family, who opens the movie with a jaw-dropping "Amazing Grace," and ending with the irresistibly energetic guitar heroine Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who died in 1973 and is buried in Northwood Cemetery in North Philadelphia.

The documentary finds its roots in the American South when only music provided the black communities’ an escape and freedom from slavery, hate and violence.

The story of this music is one that needed to be told, Joe Lauro, president of Historic Films. Since his childhood Lauro has been collecting music footage dating back as early as 1925. After 10 years of strenuous research he was able to recompile about 150 hours of gospel material, giving him enough to choose from.

"In those 10 years I just kept acquiring and searching for archival material that became the core of Rejoice And Shout. So in one way the 10 years that it took to make it came in handy because we found 150 hours of material to choose from," Lauro says.

Rejoice & Shout excerpts

For McGlynn, this was a film that really needed to be done.

"There has been no real gospel history ever made and certainly not tried to encapsulate it into two hours," he says. "I always thought that it was really weird that all these great clips had gone unused all these years."

Don McGlynn

McGlynn took on the job of watching every film and clip and while he found it to be a pleasure, "it was also tough because you watch it and think 'oh that's great, that's great, that's great' but finally I felt some confidence because about a half of the film I could see the frame of the film because it was 'this nice clip, this nice clip.' But then the problem was, two years later, how do you structure the story around these clips and that was very arduous to sort of distill this very sprawling 200-year story and put all these great clips that Joe found together."

During the making of the film, which took about four years--two years of it was spent in the editing room--they found that even though the music has changed, the message all the artists portrayed through their music always remained the same, says Lauro.

McGlynn adds: "I think one of the intriguing thing is if you hear an English hymn written in the 1700s they are not really that different from the content of what you hear now.

"The sources are always going to the Bible. So a lot of the language and a lot of the emotions and a lot of the thoughts come from right there."

Aside from choosing the right clips for the film, they also had to be careful so as not to make it look like people who are acting abnormally crazy.

"We in fact had to cut back on certain aspects of the craziness because we didn't want to feel we were exploiting that crazy part of it. We had to keep it into a context to also show that there were other ways that the music went over," Lauro emphasizes.

Ten-year-old Jekalyn Carr of the contemporary gospel group the Selvy Family opens the Rejoice And Shout documentary with ‘Amazing Grace’

Sister Tharpe is the only act accorded two complete numbers in the film by McGlynn, who has directed music documentaries about Glenn Miller and Howlin' Wolf. She is one of several Philadelphians showcased in a story that finds primary focus in the 1940s and 1950s, when acts such as the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Clara Ward Singers helped make Philadelphia a gospel-music hub and the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street, in the words of Ira Tucker Jr., "a mecca."

Tucker Jr. appears in Rejoice And Shout alongside his father, Ira Tucker Sr., who sang with the Hummingbirds from 1938, when he was 13, until his death in 2008. Along with Willa Ward, the sister of Clara Ward, whose many landmark compositions include "How I Got Over," the standard that lent its name to the latest album by Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, the Tuckers are interviewed while seated inside the Met.

Those interviews were conducted shortly before the death of the elder Tucker, whose June 2008 funeral took place in the storied 103-year-old performance space and house of worship, which was routinely packed for concerts in the 1950s. The shows featured acts including the Blind Boys of Alabama (and their rivals, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi), as well as the hard-gospel Hummingbirds and their contemporaries the Soul Stirrers, whose vocalist, Sam Cooke, would become the first star to cross over from gospel to pop and help invent soul music along the way.

"I used to see Sam and my father go at it all the time, because it was all about who took the house, and Sam would yodel him away," says Tucker Jr., who manages the current lineup of the Hummingbirds, probably best known to non-gospel fans for singing on Paul Simon's 1973 hit "Loves Me Like a Rock."

Many of the clips shown in the documentary are exceedingly rare. An incandescent performance of "Working on a Building" by the Rev. Claude Jeter, the falsetto signing genius who led the Swan Silvertones (and whose sweet and supple vocals were so influential on Al Green, and Eddie Kendrick of the Temptations), is the only clip known to exist of one of gospel's greatest vocal groups.

Rev. Claude Jeter and the Swan Silvertones in concert

And that's fairly typical of an era when people weren't walking around with handheld recording devices at all times, and many towering African-American acts never made it to television or the movies in a segregated culture. "People ask me how I could make a movie about the history of gospel music without showing a clip of Sam Cooke singing with the Soul Stirrers," says McGlynn. "The answer is: There isn't one."

Tucker Jr. is thrilled with McGlynn's Rejoice And Shout because of the void it fills in the historical record.

Most contemporary gospel music, which is represented in Rejoice & Shout by acts like Andrae Crouch and Darrel Petties, relies on modern rhythm and blues and sometimes hip-hop arrangements. It often puts mass choirs to work in conjunction with slick production, in a style made popular by stars such as Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker and Tye Tribbet.

The Staples Singers

In Rejoice And Shout the focus is more on tying the history of traditional gospel "quartet" music--sung in four-part harmony, but sometimes with as many as eight members--to the socio-economic and civil rights struggles of African Americans throughout the 20th century.

"To me, this film is to traditional gospel quartet singing and gospel music what (the 1977 TV miniseries) Roots was to American history," says Tucker Jr., manager of the Hummingbirds, whose new album is Gospel Praise Songs--Powered By Quartets. "That's how I see it. Roots tells the story of a people. But instead of a race of people, this is a group of people who decided to not let Jim Crow and racism stop them from moving this genre forward. If this movie hadn't come out, I don't think this story would ever have been told."

Sister Rosetta Tharpe,’Trouble In Mind,’ live in Manchester, England (this clip is not from Rejoice And Shout)

Growing up Catholic, Joe Lauro didn't find any interest in church after he turned 15. He regrets not being introduced to a gospel church because as a musician "it talks to me," he said.

"The emotions are right out there and it's just so real. I never really got that. Nothing against my church of course but I just find that I relate to this type of worship more personally," Lauro said.

While he doesn't go to church often, he now attends a local Baptist church in his community, in part because of his children. "I find that very relaxing and very pleasant to go back to church again,” he says. “It's sort of brings me back to my youth. And I'm happy that it's giving a moral compass to my son, who just had his first communion two weeks ago.

Visit the official Rejoice And Shout movie site for more information.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024