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Director Don McGlynn’s most recent documentary “Rejoice and Shout” tells an amazing story of the power of Gospel music in America throughout the last 200 years of African American history. Starting with songs by slaves and ending with modern hip hop and rap music, this film offers an extensive, but delightful, telling of the history of Gospel music. Its influence is far-reaching, touching all other genres of music. Andre Crouch points out that its influence can be seen in “rock ‘n roll, the blues, country. [Gospel] is the root to all American music.” Without Gospel, music as we know it today would be completely different.
What makes this documentary more than merely a history lesson is the incredible music that McGlynn frequently indulges in. Instead of only playing snippets of songs here and there, the full performances are shown from artists, such as Mahalia Jackson, Smokey Jackson, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Andre Crouch, and Mavis Staples. This focus on the actual music is one of the most-liked aspects of this film, and it adds an essential element that is often lacking in other documentaries of this type.
In addition to musical and historical aspects, it is impossible to deny the religious roots that run through Gospel music. The first ten minutes are solely dedicated to interviews of Gospel greats, such as Andre Crouch and Smokey Robinson discussing the greatness of God and His importance within Gospel music. It points out the importance of the spiritual side of Gospel. It is more than simply good music. It has an undercurrent of passion that is fueled by the religious experience, and this film seeks to catch that passion and demonstrate it.
While the spiritual elements to Gospel music are essential to the genre, reviews of the film are often critical of the level of emphasis that God gets in the beginning. Jason Leroy’s review on spinningplatters.com complains that “[w]hen compared to the treasure trove of powerful music in this film, the interview testimonies seem a bit pithy in comparison.” The music itself offers strong religious convictions, and the addition of the interviews makes it more religious than some people are comfortable with viewing.
Despite the religious emphasis, “Rejoice and Shout” offers an enthralling look into the history of not only Gospel music, but how that music influenced American society from The Depression to the Civil Rights Movement. Director, Don McGlynn, points out that Gospel is more than just “a type of music. It tells the story of a people and it’s [sic] struggles.” Gospel music has offered hope and inspiration for African Americans for over 200 years through many struggles and tribulations, and what this film manages to do is take an expansive and important part of history and distill it into two hours of delightful viewing. This film is a must-see for anyone interested in music, American history, or even religious movements.