By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Traditional gospel, which was the musical foundation for the sound that later became soul, doesn’t get much of the spotlight these days as the larger ensembles and contemporary ensembles are now most dominant in religious music circle. But fans of vintage, down-home gospel will be thrilled by what they see and hear in the new documentary “Stay Prayed Up,” which will be available on digital platforms next Tuesday and is currently being shown in some theaters.
The acclaimed documentary, which is directed by D.L. Anderson and Matt Durning, had its debut at the Telluride Film Restival. Its principal focus in the group The Branchettes and the dynamic Lena Mae “Mother” Perry. She’s headed this group for almost five decades and there is no mistaking the music they make or the messages in their lyrics. This is impassioned, powerful and undiluted gospel music, though it’s delivered with the same powerhouse approach that you’d hear in any other idiom.
In some ways it’s a parallel to Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace”film in that it spotlights a live recording. But this one gets more into the actual workings of the process, catching elements of what’s going on with the band’s project, one that they certainly hope is going to give their careers a boost.
However it is first and foremost a showcase for Perry, as forceful and flamboyant a performer and presence as exists within the gospel world. Her charismatic performances and dialog are what propels “Stay Prayed Up,” making it not just an enjoyable film but an unforgettable experience, particularly for anyone who’s grown up in or witnessed the energy and fire in a Black church service.
A clip of “Stay Prayed Up” can be viewed at the Shadow & Act website.