The world is becoming increasingly more fascinated with the history of gospel music and the incredible performers that have made rise out of it. As the genre continues to make a name for itself in our culture today, the whole world can hear and enjoy the soulful praise that is lifted up to God in song.
Many historians are able to understand and piece together the historical context of culture and religion/faith by preserving the gospel music movement. Recently, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has acquired rights to show the newly restored version of the classic film “Say Amen, Somebody”, a 1982 documentary on gospel history.
While the original film is still considered a product of support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the restoration of the film and rerelease is supported by the museums center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-Academy Film Archives, Milestone Films, and the Robert F. Smith Fund. Some of these donations have specifically gone towards the funding to digitize and preserve African American Stories, to which this rich historical account of gospel music from an earlier era is considered.
Meet: The Father of Gospel Music
One man to remember is Thomas A. Dorsey, also known and referred to as the “father of gospel”. You perhaps have recognized him from the classic song which he composed, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”. From singing the old spiritual hymns to making a name for yourself in Blues, one must seek the balance and what makes sense to them. Dorsey did just that, as he states in the film, “They didn’t want that singing. I took spirituals and hymns, put rhythm to it to call it gospel.”
Throughout his career in gospel music and beyond, he composed over 400 songs that have captured the attention of the world and the music culture of that time. From Elvis Presley to actual church choirs, Dorsey’s music has transcended cultural and religious barriers. Dorsey’s contribution to the gospel music community did not stop at his skilled composition. During his time, he also went on to become the founder and first president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, now serving the United States 85 years of annual conventions.
The complete restoration process was overseen by the original director of the film, George Nierenberg. In the original production, Nierenberg spent a year living with the gospel artists and capturing their lives; the struggles they face, the faith they have, and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome for the joy of singing for God.
Many in attendance at the screening for the restored project expressed an overwhelming thankfulness to Nierenberg for capturing and preserving the essence that was always there from the beginning. While there are no current plans for an official release, both George Nierenberg and Milestone Films plan to continue seeking further opportunities for showing the film.
If you have the chance to see the film, you must! It is an inspiring and moving reflection of a previous time of soul, culture and gospel music.