Rejoice and Shout | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Rejoice and Shout

Vintage clips give life to a documentary about American gospel music

Much of the territory covered by Don McFlynn in his gospel-music documentary is familiar, including the conflict between sacred and secular music. But McFlynn more than atones with an amazing array of vintage film clips showcasing complete (or nearly complete) songs by perhaps 20 gospel stars, from prewar acts like The Dixie Hummingbirds to contemporary performers like Yolanda Adams. The Caravans, The Swan Silvertones, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama -- McFlynn lets them show why they were special, and has experts like gospel royalty Mavis Staples tell why they mattered artistically. Most of Rejoice and Shout is a chronological history, starting with plantation music (and including audio of possibly the first gospel recording, 1902's "Gabriel's Trumpet," by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet). McFlynn gives the iconic Mahalia Jackson her due, including a clip from her Ed Sullivan appearance. But of special value are segments on pivotal, less-well-known figures like Thomas A. Dorsey, a songwriter and promoter equally comfortable with hymns and dirty blues, and the spectacular Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneering and commercially successful singer and guitarist. The film's format is a ploddingly conventional one of clips followed by talking heads -- but when the footage is this good, and the interviewees include Smokey Robinson and Andrae Crouch, it's hard for even nonbelievers to complain. And McFlynn is smart enough to bracket his film with interview and performance footage of ordinary folks in church, making their beautiful music of praise. Thu., Sept. 8-Sun., Sept. 11. Hollywood, Dormont