PBS Emmy award-winning series “Artbound” and it’s co-producer Dr. Daniel E. Walker hosted a special screening at Baldwin Hills Cinemark Theater August 5, 2019, followed by a panel of the 10th episode titled, “How Sweet The Sound: Gospel in Los Angeles.”
The episode explored the conditions of Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s and how gospel music helped bring people together, socially, economically, and politically. According to the documentary, the west coast revamped the sound of gospel music with the arrival of James Cleveland, a pioneer in the advancement of the gospel genre.
Beginning in 1965 with the Watts Rebellion, one of the darkest times in the history of L.A., but also a turning point for Blacks as they found strength in coming together through community empowerment. The community used the church, and it’s music to organize and unite against those who oppressed them, ultimately leading to the election of Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’s first Black mayor.
The story also digs into James Cleveland and his impact on the time frame. He along with Aretha Franklin recording the most successful, and highly ranked gospel album of all time with “Amazing Grace.” The experience, so powerful to the movement and the gospel community still stands as a major point in history as the album was recorded live in a church in South Central.
Cleveland’s influence traveled worldwide as gospel grew. He welcomed the golden age of gospel, bringing the music to radio, recording albums with big choirs and elevating the sound and meaning of the music. His work, noticed by many was the most influential, turned churches into Black cultural hubs and safe social spaces.
The inspiring documentary touched viewers and excited others. Following the viewing, a panel moderated by Dr. Walker was held which featured Christopher West, PH.D., Calvin Bernard Rhone, Dr. W. Edward Jenkins, Jacqueline Cogdell Djedje PH.D., Donald Webber, and Annette May Thomas, all of whom were featured within the film.
The panel shared their stories in the film and highlighted key factors. They welcomed questions from guests, including a 12-year-old aspiring gospel singer and another who wanted to know if the churches and choirs of today could reunite Black citizens today.
One of the more special notes from the panel comes from Jacqueline Cogdell Djedje PH.D., as she spoke on the importance of knowing the history to make an impact today.
“Sankofa, an Asante term that means look back, you have to look back before you know where you are going,” Djedje explains. The word Sankofa describes the purpose of the documentary, the reason behind the event, and the answer to many questions prompted by the audience.
The history of gospel music is still very unknown to many. Dr. Walker along with Wrong Creative and the Heritage Music Foundation created this documentary to keep the history of the gospel alive, in hopes of it never being a forgotten piece of America’s history.
Dr. Walker closes out with an inspiring speech on hard work and dedication to this story stood as a testament to the power Black people have once they unite on a common front. In his closing statement, he says, “it takes us sticking together, believing in a higher power and the commonality we share is greater than the difference.”
To watch “How Sweet The Sound: Gospel in Los Angeles” visit kcet.org/artbound.