Music documentary

Documentary on Black Church Music by IU Professor, WTIU Wins National and Regional Awards: News at IU: Indiana University

A documentary concert film about the traditions, historical significance and significance of black church music that Indiana University professor Raymond Wise wrote and directed has won national and regional awards from the television industry and a journalism organization.

“Amen! Music of the Black Church,” a WTIU documentary that premiered in April 2020, won three awards this summer:

  • A Silver Telly Award in the Religious/Spiritual category.
  • First place in the documentary/special category of the Society of Professional Journalists.
  • Regional Emmy Award for Best Historical/Cultural Content at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lower Great Lakes Chapter Virtual Awards Ceremony.

“I’m really honored. I really didn’t expect it,” said Wise, director of the IU African American Choral Ensemble and professor of practice in African American and African Diaspora Studies at IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “You do what you do on some level, and to me that’s a ministry, a calling. You don’t do it for the awards or the accolades.”

Wise said “Amen! Music of the Black Church” was broadcast nationally in at least 30 major cities and served as a companion piece to the Henry Louis Gates PBS series “The Black Church: This Is Our Story. This Is Our Song”. Stations often aired them consecutively.

“It was just a big, unexpected blessing,” Wise said.

The documentary, which was supported by an IU Bicentennial Grant, was filmed in October 2019 in front of a live audience at Second Baptist Church in Bloomington, Indiana. The church was the site of the African-American choral ensemble’s first performance in 1975 and a 40th anniversary concert.

For the documentary, Wise led the IU African American Choral Ensemble in a performance of sacred music that spans African traditions to contemporary music of praise and worship. Historically, the black church has used gospel and religious music as a means of self-expression and as a way to talk about the black experience.

“I grew up knowing and living black church music,” Wise said. “However, in terms of making the documentary, we had three weeks to make it, and the majority of the AACE students weren’t those who grew up in the church, so the music was new. We so we not only had three weeks to learn the music, but to bring the spirit of the music to the documentary.”

The documentary also includes narrative vignettes that provide context for the music. Wise described the documentary as entertaining, educational and inspiring.

“Although it’s an educational program, people can approach it and get one of those things,” Wise said.

In addition to Wise, the awards go to WTIU Executive Producer Rob Anderson; Justin Crossley and Ron Prickel, producers; and Eric Bolstridge, multi-camera director.