Jackie Verdell and Brother Joe May through Mahalia Jackson (at left) to the The Blind Boys of Mississippi (and Alabama, shown below), the number of gospel performers here is amazing. Even better, the moviemakers don't just give us a smattering of each one's sound. In most cases we get to see and hear enough of the performance to understand -- with the help of several experts -- exactly what each contributed to the form. (Did you know, a propos those Blind Boys, that schools for the blind, in the early part of the century past, specialized in musical education? I didn't, until this film)
Thomas A. Dorsey, (no, not Tommy Dorsey) who managed to compose and play dirty blues songs in clubs while writing church songs at the same time (some 40 of these are now gospel standards, we're told). Then there's Sister Rosetta Tharpe (below), who sounds like quite a gal. Great fun to watch and hear, and seemingly pretty hip for her day, we see her singing a bang-up job of Lonesome Road, as some scantily-clad chorus girls dance for the camera. (Yes, gospel was expanding its reach, even then....)
The Sweet Inspirations (shown above), women who sang back-up for the best -- from Elvis to Aretha, Jimi, Dionne, Dusty Springfield and Burt Bacharach, to name a few. Now they're determined, with the help of producer/composer Peitor Angell, to sing and record again. They're very good, too, and they're joined by a newcomer who's also very good. What's to stand in their way? You'll be amazed....
Pat Hodges (above), whose enormous voice is as amazing as her enormous girth is a problem. A child star at 15, she's been through a lot, but it looks like she might be on track to hit it big again.
Bobby Belfry, who has been playing the cabaret circuit for years, hoping for that breakout opportunity. Bobby's cute, full of energy and positive vibes, and he's clearly talented. But from what we see here -- my take, at least -- perhaps not quite talented enough to be called first rank.(He gets the nice title song for the film, however -- one which he both wrote and sings.) We watch him at work at a Manhattan bar, and then performing at the Duplex and finally at Feinstein's at the Regency -- his biggest gig so far.
Out on DVD this Tuesday, May 31, the film can also be downloaded via iTunes.