Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Gospel PBSS documentary trailer
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Gospel

From Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Gospel, a new four-hour docuseries explores the rich history of Black spirituality through sermon and song. Gospel reunites acclaimed Harvard scholar and documentarian Gates with directors Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris after recently teaming up on Making Black America: Through The Grapevine.

The series will premiere on February 12 and 13, 2024 on PBS, with a special companion concert premiering February 9.

From the blues to hip-hop, African Americans have been the driving force of sonic innovation for over a century. Musical styles come and go, but there is one sound that has been a constant source of strength, courage and wisdom from the pulpit to the choir lofts on any given Sunday: the gospel.

In Gospel, Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, speaks with dozens of clergymen, singers and scholars about their connection to the music that has transcended its origins and now spreads “the good word” all around the world. The series features interviews with notable names including Dionne Warwick, U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, Rev. Otis Moss III, professor Michael Eric Dyson, and awe-inspiring musical performances of Gospel favorites “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” “Total Praise,” and others from talents including The Belle Singers, Cory Henry, Celisse, and more.

Gospel is more than the soundtrack of the African American experience, “it’s the beating heart and soul,” said Gates. “From the Great Migration to today, the history of Black gospel music and preaching is one of constant movement, and it’s long been a dream of mine to bring it to public television. We’re blessed to have such outstanding partners in delivering this series and concert at a time in our nation when the need for Gospel’s transcendent, healing powers is so great.”

Stacey L. Holman and Shayla Harris, the series producers and directors, said, “It was such an honor to reunite with the incredible team that produced The Black Church on another powerful examination of Black spiritual expression for PBS. For centuries, the sacred sounds of gospel music and Black preaching have testified to God’s goodness and grace while embracing the rhythms and riffs of blues, jazz and hip-hop. They were the way that African Americans found their voice and their power in a strange land and have resonated far beyond the church’s walls. By weaving intimate interviews with dynamic live gospel performances throughout the series, we want our viewers to fully experience and be energized by this uniquely African American art form of prayer, praise and promise.”

Throughout its four hours, Gospel gives a look at the history of Black religious music and preaching, showcasing the symbiotic relationship of words and song present in any Black church. The series examines the origin of Black gospel music, which blended the sacred spirituals with the blues tradition and soared to new heights during the Great Migration. This music served as an outlet for the anger and frustration of living as a Black person in America, which remains true today. The series also explores the evolution of preaching styles over time, and the impact of class, gender, cultural innovations and consumer technologies shaped the development of gospel since its conception.

The gospel concert special, produced by McGee Media, Done + Dusted and Friends at Work, celebrates gospel music and its extraordinary impact on culture and pop music. Featuring the biggest names in gospel music together with the biggest stars from the world of pop, R&B and beyond, the concert will be recorded in Los Angeles in front of a live audience, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This one-hour PBS special, from showrunner Kristen V. Carter, will both be inspired by and build excitement for the landmark four-hour history series, Gospel.

Gospel is the latest in a long line of acclaimed docuseries from Gates, continuing his reputation as one of the preeminent documentarians in public media. His history producing content that brings the African and African American experience to a broad audience includes the works Making Black America: Through The Grapevine (2022); The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (2021); Reconstruction: America After The Civil War (2019); Africa’s Great Civilizations (2017); Black America Since Mlk: And Still I Rise (2016); The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross (2013); And African American Lives (2006).Additionally, Gates’s slate of programming also includes the fan-favorite PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which will return for a historic 10th season in January 2024.

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