90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
The Story Of Gospel

A new documentary, “Rejoice and Shout,” explores gospel music from roots to right now. We’re listening.

Gospel music has come a long way since it became popular around 1900. Here, the Howard Gospel Choir performs in Stockholm. (US Embassy Sweden/Flikr)

Gospel music has come a long way since it became popular around 1900. Here, the Howard Gospel Choir performs in Stockholm. (US Embassy Sweden/Flikr)

You may think you know gospel music, and maybe you do. But it’s easy to get a tame, watered down version of the real deal.

A new documentary traces gospel back to plantation days and then into the heart of 20th century African American religion, culture and arts. Into its intersection with freedom, funk and ecstasy.

It’s called “Rejoice and Shout.” (Click here to see where and when the film is playing.)

And yes, it does.

This hour On Point: the roots and story of gospel music.

- Tom Ashbrook


Joe Lauro, producer of the new documentary film “Rejoice and Shout.” He’s president of Historic Films, a stock footage archive.

Bil Carpenter, gospel music historian and author of “UncloudyDays: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia.”

Sylvia Kinard, minister and gospel artist.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Ed

    It can be remembered that the purpose of Gospel music isn’t to create a musical form, but to praise God, and that’s its inspiration. It’s artistic value, which is great, is of secondary importance. One could explore it’s liturgical role.

    • Steve

      “The earth is His and the fullness thereof”

  • Stillin

    Great Gospell music out of Ottawa Ontario Canada, CHUO 89.1 in the north country… traditional from 7-8 Sunday am’s and contemporary from 8-9… great selections including Caribbean on the contemporary hour.

  • Tina

    I am personally very grateful that you will be airing this show right after the show on cancer.  Thank you!

  • Robinson

    The ultimate gospel documentary prior to this one is “Say Amen, Somebody!

  • Dsburton

    Check out Boston’s All Star Country Gospel Band “The Sacred Shakers” featuring Eilen Jewell on signature sounds records.

  • Amanda

    I’d love if you could discuss the social role of the music – how it  - the evolution of the Black Church – grows out of the experience of slavery and also the role of the music in the Civil Rights movement.  -  PS I LOVE the music – every year I go to the New Orleans Jazz Fest and end up spending 90% of my time in the Gospel Tent!!

  • Alan

    I’m a white guy but grew up with a black woman from South Carolina who had moved to NYC and she must have introduced my family to Mahalia because we had an LP of her music and my favorite was “Didn’t it rain” with Mildred Falls on the organ. Fabulous spirit to it.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m not sure what the difference is between lots of music that I had thought of coming to us through the Depression somehow.  People who would not sing “We Shall Overcome” (being white?) would sing every other music linked back probably to the slave south.  It’s music that can be played by ear on a piano, and invites all kinds of “transport” and transcendence.  But there’s also the songs about calm and comfort, which I’m not hearing so much.  I actually think of this music as white revivalist music, but why is it in black dialect?  Where is the line between Dem Golden Slippers, Skeeters am a hummin’ in the honeysuckle vine, sleep Kentucky Babe…
      I think 1950s recordings with Pete Seeger have me thoroughly confused.  Apparently I need the Story of Gospel.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Oh, I meant to say, this kind of music is the precursors of psychiatric medicine.  Need a downer?  Sing it.  Need an upper?  Sing it.  Dance it.  

  • Stillin

    OHHHHHH Kanye’! When JESUS WALKS came out, we were blasting it off our screened in porch we all loved it so much…that song just kills us we all love it so much…I don’t care what is said Kanye is a genius and he was great live at Bluesfest , ( Ottawa Canada ) two summers ago, KirK Franklin too, like him too!!!!

  • Bearfromobx

    My grandmother was an active member of a mixed race Pentecostal church in Durham, NC and I went with her to” meeting” Wednesday nights and fell in love with gospel music and the “make a joyful noise” ideal of dealing with hardship and adversity. It’s still an ideal I try to live by today.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Here’s one revival song that seems white, being not in black English:  Bringing in the sheaves.  (Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness…)  Right there.  Kindness.  That’s a white religious concept. Not high on the agenda of black gospel.  

  • Stillin

    If there was an ACTIVE Black church up here in Northern NY I would attend, as a white person, because I LOVE THE MUSIC, THE EXPRESSION, AND THE PARTICIPATORY PART OF IT. I grew up opposite, with the oppression of the Catholic church which fell like a veil of gloom over everything, I hated it. Not to mention it was in Latin.

    • Dexter Criss

      There are active “Gospel” like churches in Plattsburgh NY and Burlington NY.  Not sure how close you are to those cities.

      • Dexter Criss

        Sorry I mean Burlington VT

  • John Allen

    Great Gospel concert Sundy June 12, 4 PM at First Parish Church in Waltham, Massachusetts — the Joyful Voices of Inspiration, James A. Early, Director. And it’s free.

  • Sofia

    And straight out of gospel music comes the great Sweet Honey in the Rock group.  Somebody talk more about Ysaye Barnwell and her great gospel-inspired music!
    From  Psalm 81:
    1   Sing aloud to God our strenth; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
    2   Raise a song, sound the timbrel, the sweet lyre with the harp.
    16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.
     If you don’t know the Sweet Honey ladies, you should. Their music is on point for sure:  http://www.sweethoney.com/about/group.php

  • GMarie

    This was a great show—some of this music reminded me of what I heard on the radio on Sunday mornings when I was growing up. I hope this documentary airs on PBS or another television station.

  • Wsirarts

    …Great intro show about Gospel. When you mention roots I was looking for some discussion of the retentions praise songs from  Africa, the call and response from the middle passe ..to thefield songs , ring shouts, the church in the woods up to 1800, and how some biblical lyrics facilitated some freedom escapes. But last, when you mention instruments in the church …pls lets not forget the awesome rhythms of the tambourines (as well as the foot patterns), when the African drum was outlawed…I hope the doc touches upon some of that…….

  • peanut

    Have you heard the Pentacostal church that has Trombone Choirs? I believe it is House of Prayer, several on the eastern seaboard, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando.   I used to go to Pop Staples Homecoming in Drew, Mississippi,  Medgar Edgars’ homecoming, and BB Kings homecoming, all the first weekend in June.  Any of the authentic blues festivals have wonderful gospel music, especially on Sundays. 

  • Walter Fox

    I’m glad you had a show which illustrated the evolution of religious music within the African american experience. However, I have some points of contention: Many especially African American musicologist and music historians would call the music such as “Gabriel’s Trumpet”, “Deep River” and “Do You Call That Religion”, spirituals. It is about the time of Thomas A. Dorsey in the 1930′s, that Gospel music is considered to have appeared with it’s particular evolution from Jazz and Blues…

  • Keith Jenkins

    Thank you for this show! I am a huge fan of old gospel, particularly the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Swanee Quintet who hail from and are still based in my hometown of Augusta, GA. (The leader of the Swanees, Eddie Bynes, actually lives in my neighborhood and I often see their bus parked in front of his house before the hit the road.) Many of these groups have persisted for over half a century. People today do not realize their influence on modern music but it cannot be overstated. Can’t wait to see this documentary and buy Carpenter’s book. Thank you, thank you!

  • sherry

    They changed the pace of mainstream gospel music today:

    She was the wind beneath Mahalia Jackson’s far reaching appeal across the nation and the world. Yes, M.J. had quite a following before Mildred Falls became her pianist, but together, they broke down the walls of those who were afraid or too constrained to tap their feet to gospel music. They enriched the stuffy hymns with soul stirring lifts and this opened up all people to accept a different tempo of praise and worship.
    They performed for royalty and farmers, presidents and housewives, infusing a joy possibly never felt before in conservative homes and lifestyles.
    Just listen to the instinctual cohesiveness of Mahalia and Mildred working together like hand and glove–there are rarely any flaws in any of their live concert recordings. Please, study Elijah Rock and Didn’t It Rain, 2 completely different musical styles, as individual and intriguing in arrangment as those 2 women were in their personalities. Mildred Falls played like the devil and Mahalia Jackson pinned her down with that halo of perfection polished raw into a keen sheen.
    All everyone knew was Miss Jackson, for she was the magnificent light we witnessed. Mildred, though, greatly supplied the source of her powerful attraction–the jazzy, pulsating back beats. She, too, deserves to be honored with recognition on a gospel tribute show for her contribution in getting people to move in their church pews and home seating. Got our heads, toes, knees, and fingers to tapping. too.Please, any tv show, profile Mildred Falls and you will discover the true gift of a musician’s humble offering, standing in the shadows while the star shines above.
    I’ve never been so captivated by any other dynamic musical duo performing pop/rock or gospel. 
    Sincerely, Sherry

Jul 29, 2014
The U.S. Senate is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP)

The “Do-Nothing” Congress just days before August recess. We’ll look at the causes and costs to the country of D.C. paralysis.

Jul 29, 2014
This April 28, 2010 file photo, shows the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Mont. Colstrip figures to be a target in recently released draft rules from the Environmental Protection Agency that call for reducing Montana emissions 21 percent from recent levels by 2030. (AP)

A new sci-fi history looks back on climate change from the year 2393.

Jul 28, 2014
U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker watches as wounded American soldiers arrive at an American hospital near the front during World War I. (AP Photo)

Marking the one hundredth anniversary of the start of World War One. We’ll look at lessons learned and our uneasy peace right now.

Jul 28, 2014
This June 4, 2014 photo shows a Walgreens retail store in Boston. Walgreen Co. _ which bills itself as “America’s premier pharmacy” _ is among many companies considering combining operations with foreign businesses to trim their tax bills. (AP)

American companies bailing out on America. They call it inversion. Is it desertion?

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
This 15-Year-Old Caller Is Really Disappointed With Congress
Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014

In which a 15-year-old caller from Nashville expertly and elegantly analyzes our bickering, mostly ineffective 113th Congress.

More »
Our Week In The Web: July 25, 2014
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Why the key to web victory is often taking a break and looking around, and more pie for your viewing (not eating) pleasure.

More »
The Art Of The American Pie: Recipes
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

In the odd chance that our pie hour this week made you hungry — how could it not, right? — we asked our piemaking guests for some of their favorite pie recipes. Enjoy!

More »