"Rejoice and Shout" preaches to the choir -- along with those who may be familiar with the "once in a millennium" voice of Mahalia Jackson but not Sister Rosetta Tharpe or the Swan Silvertones or other gospel greats.
In two hours, director Don McGlynn and producer Joe Lauro trace more than a century of gospel music without ignoring the underpinnings of faith. As Smokey Robinson says, "None of this is going out of here so develop your spiritual self. That's all you're taking" when you die.
The documentary combines talking heads, including performers Mr. Robinson, Mavis Staples, Willa Ward and Andrae Crouch plus music historians, with vintage audio recordings, film clips and TV footage. The music is majestic, whether it's a girl singing "Amazing Grace" a cappella or old footage of the Staples Singers or the Blind Boys of Alabama or Mississippi.
"Rejoice and Shout" moves chronologically, starting with Southern cotton fields and churches to the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet who made a recording in 1902. It advances through the 20th century but spends far more time in the past than present, making the movie feel lopsided.
How does gospel, which provided the roots of American rock 'n' roll, country and blues as Smokey tells us, stand up in terms of concert tickets, sales, radio listenership or Grammy wins today?
Don't look for those answers here, but do look and listen for singers who rejoice, shout and praise the Lord.
Rated PG for mild thematic material and incidental smoking. Opens today at Hollywood Theater, Dormont, which is also opening the mockumentary "Vampires" (separate admission).