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Rejoice & Shout

Magnolia Films


Review by Dr Robert Davidson, Lecturer in Composition, School of Music, The University of Queensland.

AFRICAN-American gospel music is at the heart of American popular music.

It is the fabric from which most of the plethora of genres is cut, including jazz, rock, soul, country, funk and hiphop.

Gospel legend Smokey Robinson, interviewed in this joyful and energising documentary spanning the century-long history of gospel music, traces it back to slavery days; for him, "the root of all American music is plantation music".

We meet many of the genre's luminaries, from Ira Tucker and his family revisiting Philadelphia's Metropolitan Opera House, the scene of overpowering

gospel events in the 1940s (Tucker sang for 70 years – yes, 70 – with the Dixie Hummingbirds) to Mavis Staples, one of the civil rights movement's principal inspiring voices.

The film finishes with Martin Luther King Jnr's characteristic speech-songoratory, clearly demonstrating its kinship with gospel music.

Other figures are vividly heard and seen in stunning, long-buried archival clips, from the raucous but suave Hummingbirds to the wildly individual electric guitartoting Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Gospel's journey from barbershop quartet in 1902 to intricate, innovative and ecstatic multistranded music is made clear in a historical progression in which the artists' deep connection to faith is demonstrated as the principle concern.

If Rejoice & Shout has a fault, it is in its overreaching aim of representing the entire history of this genre – it's impossible not to omit many central artists, while the encyclopaedic attempt results in an overly complex narrative.

But this should not deter you.

The energy and joy in these performances is incredibly infectious, capturing a passionately personal, participatory way of worshipping.