"Rejoice & Shout," now playing at the West End Cinema, traces the evolution of gospel music through its many musical incarnations. From the early hymns to the harmony quartets, to the blending of rap and hip-hop, there is no doubt that "plantation music," as it was sometimes referred to, is the root of all modern music.
We asked director Don McGlynn to explain the evolution of gospel music, the effect it had on the African-American community and its relationship to the church.
“I believe that plantation music is the root of all American music,” said McGlynn, “because it had a direct influence on American music, including jazz, blues, popular music, soul, rap and hip-hop. All of those genres are unthinkable without gospel.
“I think the African-American community has always created an atmosphere of family,” he added. “Fellow church-goers call each other brother or sister because they are their extended family. These are the people in their lives, outside of blood relations, which wish each other well and everyone pulled together in tough times.”
It is clear from the movie that Sunday was the most important day of the week. During plantation days, that was the only time they didn’t feel "lowly." At church they were somebody and so they got dressed to the nines.
There was a lot of fainting and shaking in the church, along with the music. Some might argue that some elements of the services were over the top -- perhaps reminiscent of the more heated evangelists of today. McGlynn would not agree.
“I do think that there are insincere preachers who perhaps exploit their congregation, but I do not doubt that many people are truly experiencing a spiritual and emotional overload," he said. "Of course, it can't happen at an appointed time, it is a spontaneous reaction.
“Gospel music allows anyone to express a lot of deep emotions," McGlynn said. "Some church services are very reserved and conservative, and for people who heard music in a reserved setting, it can be an enormous relief to let those emotions out. When you shout, or scream, or cry, or laugh, you can let a lot of your problems go.”
The movie takes viewers on a journey through the breakout talent that brought about change from white choir robes to glamourous dresses and gowns, to the secular world to the nightclubs.
"Rejoice and Shout" is at the West End Cinema at least through Thursday, June 30.