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How They Got Over

Dir. Robert Clem USA 87 min

2018 First Run Features

Virtual release

Starts streaming Fri Nov 19

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Film Information

How They Got Over tells the story of how Black gospel quartet music became a primary source of what would be known as rock and roll, and in the process helped to break down racial walls in mid-twentieth century America.

Beginning in the 1920s, Black singers across the country took to the highways as the new technology of radio and records made it possible to reach a wider audience. Intense competition brought new ways to entertain, first with guitars, later with full bands, then with a performance style that would inspire Mick Jagger and a host of other rock and rollers.

Their music was infectious, wrecking many a house on the chittlin’ circuit, then graduating in the 40s and 50s to the Apollo and other major auditoriums across the country. The success of gospel quartets inspired record labels to form “doo-wop” groups that enticed gospel singers like Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett to cross over to greater fame.

Features classic performance footage of the Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds, Blind Boys of Alabama and Mississippi, Sensational Nightingales, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Highway QCs, Davis Sisters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and many more. Some of the greatest names in quartet music are interviewed, giving vivid accounts of how they “got over” in their performances: shouting, bending over backwards, dancing, jumping off the stage – what came to be known as “gospel drama.” In capturing their story, the film celebrates the spirit of gospel performers and how they helped usher in a musical revolution that changed the world forever.

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