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Making The Film

I'll Keep On Singing: The Southern Gospel Convention Tradition

Film by Mary Nichols, Stephen Shearon
Produced by Stephen Shearon, Mary Nichols
Cinematographer: Mary Nichols
Sound: Daniel Pfeifer, Matt Foglia
Editing: Mary Nichols
Copyright: 2010 Middle Tennessee State University
55 minutes, Color
Original format: DV Mini, 2010
Distributor: Stephen Shearon
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Home streaming only. For other permissions apply to Mary Nichols, Stephen Shearon or to the distributor, Stephen Shearon.

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I’ll Keep On Singing takes a comprehensive look (ca. 2007) at southern gospel convention singing, an amateur, Christian, music-making and educational tradition that developed in rural America following the Civil War. It was a continuation of, and eventually displaced in popularity, the four-shape-note sacred music tradition that flourished in the antebellum period (popularly known today as the Sacred Harp tradition). Convention songs (a.k.a. gospel songs) are written in four parts in contemporaneous popular musical styles, employ seven-shape notation, and are sung with instruments ― in particular, stride piano. Writers in the tradition have produced many excellent songs over the years (Albert E. Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away” being perhaps the best-known), and professional southern gospel developed from it and flourished, whereas amateur convention activity declined in the 1950s and sixties. The tradition can be found among white evangelical Protestants in an arc running from West Virginia south and west to Texas. Footage was shot at various sites in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. Includes interviews of prominent figures in the tradition and segments on convention singing, convention music, the use of this music in churches, the connections with professional southern gospel, singing schools, songwriting, convention piano, dinner-on-the-grounds, and the current state of the tradition.