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Henry Louis Gates Celebrates Gospel Music In New PBS Documentary

PBS and WETA  announced GOSPEL, a new four-hour docuseries that explores the rich history of Black spirituality through sermon and song from executive producer, host, and writer Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., premiering in February 2024 on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS App. GOSPEL reunites acclaimed Harvard scholar and documentarian Gates with directors Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris after recently teaming up on MAKING BLACK AMERICA: THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE. The series will premiere on February 12 and 13, 2024, with a special companion concert premiering February 9.

From the blues to hip-hop, African Americans have been the driving force of sonic innovation for over a century. Musical styles come and go, but there is one sound that has been a constant source of strength, courage, and wisdom from the pulpit to the choir lofts on any given Sunday: the gospel.

The gospel concert special, produced by McGee Media, Done + Dusted, and Friends at Work, celebrates gospel music and its extraordinary impact on culture and pop music. Featuring the biggest names in gospel music together with the biggest stars from the world of pop, R&B, and beyond, the concert will be recorded in Los Angeles in front of a live audience, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This one-hour PBS special, from showrunner Kristen V. Carter, will both be inspired by and build excitement for the landmark four-hour history series, GOSPEL. A list of performers will be announced at a later date.

In GOSPEL, Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, speaks with dozens of clergymen, singers, and scholars about their connection to the music that has transcended its origins and now spreads “the good word” all around the world. The series features interviews with notable names including Dionne Warwick, U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, Rev. Otis Moss III, professor Michael Eric Dyson, and awe-inspiring musical performances of Gospel favorites “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” “Total Praise,” and others from talents including The Belle Singers, Cory Henry, Celisse, and more.

Gospel is more than the soundtrack of the African American experience, “it’s the beating heart and soul,” said Gates. “From the Great Migration to today, the history of Black gospel music and preaching is one of constant movement, and it’s long been a dream of mine to bring it to public television. We’re blessed to have such outstanding partners in delivering this series and concert at a time in our nation when the need for Gospel’s transcendent, healing powers is so great.”

Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris, the series producers and directors, said, “It was such an honor to reunite with the incredible team that produced THE BLACK CHURCH on another powerful examination of Black spiritual expression for PBS. For centuries, the sacred sounds of gospel music and Black preaching have testified to God’s goodness and grace while embracing the rhythms and riffs of blues, jazz and hip-hop. They were the way that African Americans found their voice and their power in a strange land and have resonated far beyond the church’s walls. By weaving intimate interviews with dynamic live gospel performances throughout the series, we want our viewers to fully experience and be energized by this uniquely African American art form of prayer, praise, and promise.”

“I’m so grateful to have been able to work again with the incredible team of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stacey L. Holman, and Shayla Harris,” remarked executive producer Dyllan McGee. “They’ve created yet another impactful and important series that invites audiences to enjoy and celebrate the sounds of gospel.”

PBS’s Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, Sylvia Bugg said “GOSPEL celebrates a treasured genre of music that has influenced African American culture and communities, and we are excited for audiences to join Professor Gates on this joyous exploration into a very unique and ardent art form. This four-hour series also expands upon PBS’s efforts to engage communities across America, helping to build greater awareness and understanding.”

GOSPEL concert showrunner, Kristen V. Carter, said, “I am elated to partner with McGee Media, Done + Dusted, and Friends at Work to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate the rich legacy of Gospel music and the contributions that this genre has made throughout history and culture. We are excited to bring gospel and secular artists together for this incredibly inspiring celebration!”

Throughout its four hours, GOSPEL gives a look at the history of Black religious music and preaching, showcasing the symbiotic relationship of words and songs present in any Black church. The series examines the origin of Black gospel music, which blended the sacred spirituals with the blues tradition and soared to new heights during the Great Migration. This music served as an outlet for the anger and frustration of living as a Black person in America, which remains true today. The series also explores the evolution of preaching styles over time, and the impact of class, gender, cultural innovations, and consumer technologies that shaped the development of gospel since its conception.

GOSPEL is the latest in a long line of acclaimed docuseries from Gates, continuing his reputation as one of the preeminent documentarians in public media. His history-producing content that brings the African and African American experience to a broad audience includes the works MAKING BLACK AMERICA: THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE (2022); THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG (2021); RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (2019); AFRICA’S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (2017); BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (2016); THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (2013); and AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006). Additionally, Gates’s slate of programming also includes the fan-favorite PBS series FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., which will return for a historic 10th season in January 2024.

GOSPEL will be accompanied by an outreach and public engagement program, providing opportunities – facilitated by local public radio and PBS member stations – for communities to participate in dialogue and storytelling about the impact of Black culture, tradition, and community-building, and the ongoing implications for American society today. In addition, educational resources will be designed to engage teachers and students through multiple platforms, including PBS LearningMedia. Viewers are encouraged to join the conversation on social media with @HenryLouisGates.

GOSPEL is a production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media, and WETA Washington, D.C. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the writer, host, and executive producer. Dyllan McGee is executive producer. John F. Wilson is executive producer in charge for WETA. Bill Gardner is executive in charge for PBS. Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris are series producers and directors. Deborah C. Porfido is supervising producer. Robert L. Yacyshyn is line producer. Kevin Burke is producer. Barbara Gregson is archival producer.

Corporate support for GOSPEL was provided by Bank of America. Major funding support was provided by the Lilly Endowment Inc., Gilead Sciences, Inc., the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Funding was also provided by members of The Inkwell Society and by public television viewers like you.

 

 

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