America's Music: Session 1 ~ The Blues and Gospel Music

Monday, May 13, 2013

6:00 PM-8:15 PM

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Providence Public Library
150 Empire Street
Providence, RI 02903

Meeting Room (3rd Floor)

Mon, 2013-05-13 18:00 - 20:15

America's Music is a six-week series of public programs created by the Tribeca Film Institute® in partnership with the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in consultation with the Society for American Music.

The programs feature documentary screenings and scholar-led discussions of 20th century American popular music. The six sessions focus on uniquely American musical genres: blues and gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass and country, rock 'n' roll, and mambo and hip hop.


Overview: In the late nineteenth century, post-emancipation African Americans engendered the blues sound, a popular genre that included lyrics about sorrow, loss, hope, and redemption. The blues in various forms would drive the evolution of American popular music in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s in the rural South, when mixed with the Christian spiritual songs of African American revival meetings, the blues became the basis for modern gospel music. The dichotomy of the sacred and the secular—a recurring theme in American culture—found new expression, as the blues sung in night clubs coexisted with the blues-tinged gospel music of the church.

A discussion of the film will take place after the screening led by Micah Salkind, a Providence Rhode Island-based writer, DJ and sound designer. As Director of Public Programs at The Providence Black Repertory Company between 2005 and 2008, he worked with representatives from Providence’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism to establish Providence Sound Session, a flagship free/low-cost summer music festival for the City.

 Salkind is pursuing a Ph.D in American Studies at Brown University. His scholarly work on Afro-Diasporic cultural production, which has recently included articles South African popular music and global House dance culture, complements his work towards establishing innovative models for sustaining community art institutions and art-makers with local and state funders.

Films:  Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Episode 1, directed by Martin Scorsese (2003)

Our chosen segment of this Emmy Award-winning series uses rare archival Library of Congress recordings and footage gathered by John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s and 1940s to explore the birth of the blues from the hard-time experiences of black farmers and cotton workers in the Mississippi Delta. The film introduces the great early blues masters Son House, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, while also taking us into rural cabins and juke joints to hear contemporary blues musicians in Mississippi and Alabama.

Say Amen, Somebody, directed by George T. Nierenberg (1980)

This award-winning documentary classic focuses on three pioneers of the Golden Age of Gospel Music: Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, and Willie Mae Ford Smith. Their stories reveal the origins of gospel in Dorsey’s marriage of blues music with inspirational lyrics and Martin’s contribution in bringing the new genre to national audiences. “Mother” Smith’s talent and vocal dynamism made her one of gospel’s most proficient soloists. The film’s rousing on-screen renditions of some of gospel’s classics reminds viewers of the power and sheer joy of this unique form of American music.

Link to Essay

Additional Documentary Films



Online Resources

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