The Gospel Gestalt
Over my spring break a few weeks ago, I was finally able to see and cobble together some thoughts for Religion Dispatches on Joyful Noise … and some other stuff we’ve been talking about around here, including Whitney Houston’s death and just what gospel is and does anyway. A taste:
I’ll stipulate that as popular cinema goes, the movie isn’t half as good as Houston’s worst music. But like Houston’s career (she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards by those who thought she’d sold out to white mainstream audiences, and perceptions of Houston as pop-music race-traitor persisted throughout her professional life), Joyful Noise is tangled up in a longstanding debate embedded in gospel music about race and cultural authenticity in American religion.
[T]he gospel dimension of Joyful Noise is almost entirely rhetorical and gestural: we know this is a movie about gospel because it has lots of flashy robes and swaying (mostly but not all black) singers, because it takes place in a rural Southern church, and because its main characters deliver themselves of pious paeans to the sweet, sweet spirit summoned by soulful singing in the gospel tradition.
As for music that sounds recognizably like what most people would consider “gospel,” there is very little to be heard here. Which to say, Joyful Noise is not so much about gospel music as it is energized by what I’ll call a gospel sensibility.
The full thing is here. Thanks, as always, to the range of comments and responses around here that unfailingly help sharpen my own thinking as I write.Email this Post