There was an Onion headline a while back that got the gut-level appeal of Rejoice and Shout’s subject: “Black Gospel Choir Makes Area Man Wish He Believed in All That God Bullshit.” A longtime documentary chronicler of indigenous American music, director Don McGlynn traces black church singing and its pop outgrowths to their roots. His film succeeds in one important respect where most of its ilk fail, giving plenty of breathing room to the archival footage of performances, which are chosen with the care of a true proselytizer. There is material from vintage services, swooning baptisms, and generously excerpted heyday appearances by the Soul Stirrers, the Norfolk Jubilee quartet singing “Do You Call That Religion?” on a pile of oysters, a spotlight on Claude Jeter’s falsetto, and the Dixie Hummingbirds, whose Ira Tucker is among the interviewees, with Mavis Staple, Smokey Robinson, Willa Ward, and a panel of gospel scholars. The oral and aural histories have an uneasy relationship, as scholarly narration contextualizes, yet begs to explain, the images of raw energy, impassioned physical release (“Getting slain in the spirit”), and raise-the-dead soul-shouting. The best bits—the powerful instrument called Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, for example—more than speak for themselves.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 1, 2011