One of my favorite workshops every year at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is the one which features gospel music: 10:00 on Sunday morning, Stage 2. This year we heard amazing performances by Grandpa Elliott (of Playing for Change); the year before, the gospel lineup included Jim Byrnes and the Sojourners. No better way than gospel to start another day of great music in Jericho Park.
Rejoice and Shout is a 115-minute documentary on gospel music, starting with its origins in the cotton fields of the American south, right up to the present day in all corners of the continent. It features interviews with some of the current big names (Smokey Robinson, Mavis Staples, the late Ira Tucker) and clips of vintage performances by some of the former greats of gospel: The Staple Singers; the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys of Mississippi; Mahalia Jackson; the Dixie Hummingbirds. This is amazing music, which at its best can send a thrill down the spine of even the most dedicated athiest. I've embedded an extract (above) from one of my favorite clips featured in Rejoice and Shout: the Dixie Hummingbirds (featuring Ira Tucker; that's him on the left) at the Newport Jazz Festival, 1966, performing "I've Got So Much To Shout About." I love the way the two lead singers share the single microphone, handing it back and forth quite calmly while shouting out that fine gospel music.
I watched Rejoice and Shout with my nephew, who has become quite a keen Folk Music Festival fan himself. At one point they were showing a black and white clip taken in a small gospel church -- I don't remember where it was -- during a service. Some of those in the pews appeared to have fainted, overcome with emotion; a few others were galvanized, convulsing as the Holy Spirit moved through them -- "slain in the Spirit" seems to be the term for it; the preacher exhorted people to "Testify!"; the gospel choir in full voice behind him and people dancing, head down, in the aisles. My nephew turned to me and said "If church had been this exciting, I might have gone."
There is one screening of Rejoice and Shout remaining: Mon, Oct 11th, 12:20 pm at the Empire Granville 7 Theatre 1.