Teaching Guide with Excerpt
A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle
Filmmaker Tom Davenport Copyright Date 1986.
Distributor Davenport Films.
Excerpt Running Time 12 minutes.
During a reunion of the Landis family of Granville County, NC, this African American family describes the importance of family and singing as well as race relations and economics in the rural South. The brothers sing in a quartet called the Golden Echoes.
Family, reunions, southern farm life, northern migration, quartet style singing, African American sacred music, a cappella harmony, Jim Crow, voting rights, school desegregation, resilience
Use one of these quotations to spark discussion.
As the boys grew up, I saw that they had a talent for singing. I began to realize that they had a singing stream coming from both sides of the family. I wanted them to grow up and be involved in something that was worthwhile and something that would bring them joy and happiness as they grew up in years. So I began to teach 'em.
I went to work and I've been climbing ever since.
My mother told me I had to go register, that was just something I had to do, we had to vote. "Make sure you vote." Voting day she'd remind us.
We had a school here, and the set-up was altogether different from the white school. We couldn't ever get what we needed. . . .The bus would pass us with the white kids and we had to walk.
Once they saw that, hey, these people are just not a bunch of people from the farm and don't have any intelligence whatsoever. . . .They can come in here compete with us on the same level academically, things kind of changed a little bit.
1. Bertha Landis refers to family photos as she relays family history. Ask students how they think photos augment her story. What do they learn from the images? Assign them to write a short autobiography, illustrating it with photos or drawings, for a class scrapbook.
2. Learn more about the Landis family and the Golden Echoes as well as African American quartet singing at www.folkstreams.net/context,34. Have students research African American sacred music genres such as quartet singing for class presentations (see Resources).
3. Bertha Landis's children had to attend all-black schools. Standing in the kitchen, her grandson tells of integrating the local school system. Where do students tell stories? What stories do they tell about challenges? Ask students to tell a story about their family, a school experience, overcoming a challenge, or music they love.
4. Brainstorm with students a list of venues where various cultural groups in your community hear and perform sacred music, from religious denominations of all kinds to CDs, radio, TV, and the Internet. Next, list different genres and styles students know of. Divide students into teams to document a sacred music tradition in a classroom multimedia presentation. One team might focus on the history and regional variations of African American quartet singing like that of the Golden Echoes (see Resources).
Use supplementary contextual materials on Folkstreams.net such as the Singing Stream Study Guide, essays on eastern Piedmont geography, economics, and culture; gospel quartets; and making the film; and the film transcript.
Lornell, Kip. Happy In Service Of Lord: African-American Sacred Vocal Harmony. University of Tennessee Press, 1995.
American Routes www.americanroutes.org archives of public radio program hosted by Nick Spitzer include many interviews with African American sacred musicians.
A History of Gospel Music www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4233793 on the web site of National Public Radio includes many sound samples.
Jim Crow History www.JimCrowHistory.org offers excellent lessons and activities.
Louisiana Voices www.louisianavoices.org Unit VI features resources for documenting local secular and sacred music.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings www.folkways.si.edu distributes Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions Vol. I-IV, with extensive historical notes by Bernice Johnson Reagan.