Mavis Staples in a scene from Magnolia Pictures' "Rejoice and Shout"

*A documentary about black gospel music – tracing its 200-year transformation from slave plantations in the south to today’s urban contemporary influence – has been quietly playing in select theaters across North America since June 3.

Titled “Rejoice and Shout,” this gem features rare full-length performance footage dating back to the 1920s, and primarily focuses on 15 artists, including the Golden Gate Quartet, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Swan Silvertones, Thomas Dorsey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and Andrae Crouch.

"Rejoice and Shout" director Don McGlynn

The film comes from director Don McGlynn, a 55-year-old white American expatriate living in Denmark who had made a number of music films – including documentaries about Howlin’ Wolf, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon.

He was approached to direct “Rejoice and Shout” by the film’s producers – among them black gospel aficionado Joe Lauro (who has more than 30,000 individual musical performances in his vast archive) and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“I love gospel music, so it was a great opportunity,” McGlynn tells EUR. “I was flashing back on one of my favorite shows of all time. I saw James Cleveland with his choir, and that’s like pretty overwhelming to see him. And I’ve had a lot of other good experiences listening to gospel and I just loved it.

“But it was crazy in a way, because how can you take this huge topic and boil it down to two hours?”

McGlynn says the whole process included five months of research, another year-and-a-half of shooting, then another two years of editing and about six months of tweaking the raw footage – fixing the sound and cleaning up the video. What results is a remarkable journey through the genre that hits every important milestone.

“We have the very first record ever made, the very first sound film ever made, that’s sort of our grounding,” McGlynn says. “I wanted somebody really young, like Darrel Petties and then the Selvy Family.  We get through Andrae Crouch and The Winans and Edwin Hawkins.  After that, Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin, that’s a pretty big part of the story that sort of brings us more to the present.

One artist who agreed to take part in the film, only to pull out at the last minute, was Aretha Franklin.

“That was a disappointment,” said McGlynn, who to this day doesn’t know why she had a sudden change of heart. “We said, ‘Whatever you want, we’ll give you whatever you want.’ We were actually waiting for her the morning that had been agreed upon and she just drove back to Detroit. It was very sad for us.”

Mahalia Jackson in a scene from "Rejoice and Shout"

The film also explains how gospel came to be – a mixture of southern slave owners’ Christian hymns with the slaves’ rhythms rooted in Africa. McGlynn hopes the film not only attracts gospel lovers, religious folk and African Americans who will enjoy the nostalgia of it all, but he also hopes to draw people of different cultural backgrounds, or those who may not believe in what the music represents.

“I think, ‘Why don’t you just enjoy yourself and have some fun watching the music,” he says.

“This movie provokes all kinds of emotions. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, I cried when I saw it, I laughed when I saw it, I was moved, I was spiritually uplifted.’ I’m so happy that’s what happened. Part of my job was finding these clips that would do that – and then getting out of the way, letting the number play. Because, if Mahalia Jackson’s doing the work, she’s probably going to reach you.”

  • In the bonus audio below, Don, raised a Catholic, recalls his first eye-opening musical experience at a black Baptist church as a young boy. Scroll down to watch the “Rejoice and Shout” trailer.
  • The film is currently playing in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Chicago. Beginning July 1, it will roll out to more theaters across the country. Click here for the full schedule.

Rejoice and Shout director Don McGlynn on his first experience at a black church by CherieNic