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Say Amen, Somebody (1982)

 -  Documentary | Music  -  January 1983 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 196 users  
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Documentary about the American gospel music scene, focusing on two of the movement's pioneering forces, Thomas A. Dorsey and Willie May Ford Smith.

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Credited cast:
Delois Barrett Campbell ...
Thomas A. Dorsey ...
Billie Barrett GreenBey ...
Edward O'Neal ...
Rodessa Barrett Porter ...
Zella Jackson Price ...
Bertha Smith ...
Michael Keith Smith ...
Willie May Ford Smith ...


Documentary about the American gospel music scene, focusing on two of the movement's pioneering forces, Thomas A. Dorsey and Willie May Ford Smith.

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Documentary | Music






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January 1983 (USA)  »

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11 June 2002 | by See all my reviews

As pioneers of black gospel music, Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993), Willie Mae Ford Smith (1904-1994) and Sallie Martin (1895-1988) are the guests of honor for the 1982 gospel music convention in St. Louis.

Smith gets most of the screen time. She has spent the past sixty years as a travelling evangelist, spreading the gospel through song. Among her depicted proteges are twin brothers Edward and Edgar O'Neal, and preacher's wife Delois Barrett Campbell.

Dorsey was the first successful publisher of black gospel music, and formed the first convention in Chicago during the 1930s. He is best known for his composition "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" a gospel standard that he wrote after a family tragedy. He also wrote the standard "Peace in the Valley".

I was familiar with these songs since they were two of the earliest gospel recordings of Elvis Presley. Now infirm, Dorsey's voice is shot and he must use a walker. But his spirit is still intact.

Smith, Dorsey and others are interviewed about the changes in gospel music over the years. Originally outcast from black churches, gospel music was a big part of revivals, which were week long religious events in Southern towns. Gradually, gospel became accepted, and was eventually commercialized as a form of entertainment.

Director/producer George T. Nierenberg and his crew stay behind the camera, avoiding narration or political commentary. The documentary is so tightly focused that nothing outside the Christian African-American community is seen or mentioned, as if the rest of the world doesn't exist. And perhaps it doesn't need to, as close family bonds and religious faith can be enough.

The cameras do let us in on some minor family quarrels, however. Smith is astonished to learn that her minister grandson Michael Keith Smith is sexist. He disapproves of female preachers, believing that the woman 'should stand behind the man'. Reverend Frank W. Campbell is exasperated that his wife, a talented gospel singer, would rather tour as a performer than support his own services.

A rare film about honoring your elders, octogenarians Smith and Dorsey are the center of attention. The film ends on a high note, with several transcendent musical performances from the convention. (63/100)

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