Southern Documentary to Air Nationally
Vol. 10, No. 6, 1988, pp. 21-22
“A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle”–the first film to trace twentieth century African-American history through the musical traditions of one family–will be shown nationally on public television at 10 p.m. EST on Feb. 12, 1989. (Broadcast times may vary from station to station; check local listings.)
“A Singing Stream” presents the Landis family of rural Granville County, North Carolina, and examines the cultural resources with which this black family faced the enormous changes of the twentieth century South. Co-produced by independent filmmaker Tom Davenport, Southern Changes editor Allen Tullos, and Daniel W. Patterson of the Curriculum in Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “A Singing Stream” is a feature presentation of Black History Month on public television.
In the lifetime of Bertha Landis (born in 1898), the woman who becomes the film’s central subject, her family has experienced small farming (as tenants and as landholders), racial discrimination in the Jim Crow era, northern migration, post-World War II industrialization and the currents of modernization, the transformation of the agricultural economy, the Civil Rights Movement, return migration, and a grandchildren’s generation of expectations.
“A Singing Stream” features a wide variety of musical performances by a family whose repertory includes black religious song styles ranging from nineteenth century spirituals, to unaccompanied shape-note singing, to “jubilee” style performances, to contemporary gospel. Featured in the film are The Golden Echoes, a male gospel group that includes three members of the Landis family. “A Singing Stream” explores the relationship between the music the family creates and the family’s history.
The hour-long documentary seeks to show how singing at church, in gospel concerts, at the annual family reunion, and in their “home house” has served four generations of Landises.
In her eighties during the years in which “A Singing Stream” was in production, Bertha Landis remained active and articulate, participating in community, school, and church affairs, writing a regular column of neighborhood news for the local paper, and offering her musical observations to the newly-forming groups of her grandchildren’s generation.
Mother to eleven children and grandmother to nineteen, Mrs. Landis regards singing as a having been a powerful force in disciplining, motivating, and uniting her family. Highly conscious of the musical gifts of her family, she speaks of a “singing stream” which flowed from her parents through her into her children and grandchildren. Landis family singers have reached a high level of musicianship in church and gospel singing, feeding a thriving performance tradition in this part of the Carolinas that sits between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.
In San Francisco this past summer “A Singing Stream” won one of television’s highest awards, first place in the independent productions category of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Local Programs Awards, winning over
nominees from WGBH in Boston and WNET in New York. For further information on the February showing of “A Singing Stream,” or to inquire about rental or purchase of video or 16mm copies of the film, contact Davenport Films, Rt. 1, Box 527, Delaplane, VA 22025. Major support for “A Singing Stream” was provided by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Film Institute, and the North Carolina Arts Council. The Southern Regional Council acted as fiscal agent for the production.