7:15 pm | Documentary | 1h 27min

Award-winning documentary of gospel music, produced by Stone Ridge resident Robert Clem.

How They Got Over tells how African American gospel quartet music became a primary source of what would be known as rock and roll.  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 and – possibly – to make some money.  Intense competition encouraged quartets to seek out new ways to inspire their audiences, first with guitars, later with full bands, then with a performance style designed to move their audiences to a different place.   Their music was infectious, wrecking many a house on the chittlin’ circuit and then moving on to major auditoriums across the country in the late 1940s and into the 50s.   The huge success of gospel quartets inspired secular record companies to form “doo-wop” groups that performed a secular form of quartet music, and to entice gospel singers like Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett to cross over to the greater fame of pop music.
The film contains 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 – the list goes on.  Some of the greatest names in quartet music are interviewed in the film and give vivid first person 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.” This was the inspiration for so much of what came after, from James Brown to Mick Jagger.   How They Got Over celebrates the spirit of gospel performers and how it helped usher in a musical revolution that changed the world forever.
DIRECTOR Robert Clem is a native of Alabama who earned an M.F.A. from NYU film school and has been a fellow at the Sundance Institute Writer/Director’s Lab.  For radio he adapted works by William Faulkner and dramatized Hernando de Soto’s expedition and the Hamilton-Burr duel.  His first feature length film Big Jim Folsom:  The Two Faces of Populism (1997) explored Alabama’s racially diverse, populist revolt in the 1940s won the Int’l Documentary Association ABCNewsVideoSource Award.  Clem also wrote and directed the award-winning In the Wake of the Assassins (2006), about an Alabama political assassination that exacerbated the racial strife of the 1960s; and Eugene Walter: Last of the Bohemians (2007), also a festival award winner, about the elfin Alabamian who was a central part of Fellini’s circle and who became a champion of the arts in his native Alabama.  The dramatic feature Company K (2004) adapted the classic WWI novel by Alabamian William March, while The Passion of Miss Augusta adapts the Victorian novel St. Elmo by Alabamian Augusta Evans Wilson.   Clem is now producing two new documentaries, Alabama Black Belt Blues and Sink the Alabama.
How They Got Over, featured at the 2018 Rotterdam Film Festival and a dozen other festivals in the U.S. and abroad, looks at black gospel quartets of the 1930s, 40s and 50s as harbingers both of rock and roll and the breaking down of racial walls in mid-twentieth century America.

HOW THEY GOT OVER Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock and Roll from Robert Clem on Vimeo.