Gospel on PBS lifts spirits

If you are tired of TV shows like “The Bachelor” where women demean themselves by competing for the “love” of a man; if you are sick of all the shootings and explosions on TV, the canned laughter on sitcoms that mostly aren’t funny (which is why they have to insert canned laughter in the first place); if you want to have your spirit lifted out of the mundane and into the heavens, there is a place you can go.

Visit PBS and the brilliant, fun, entertaining blessing you will get from watching a new docuseries called “Gospel.”

Hosted by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Gospel” traces the history of gospel music, which has sustained African-Americans through toils and troubles. Gates, who has created and hosted programs examining the family history of prominent Black Americans and others, has created an uplifting program that will bless all but the hardest of hearts.

“From the blues to hip hop,” says PBS, “African Americans have been the driving force of sonic innovation for over a century. Musical styles come and go, but there’s one sound that has been a constant source of strength, courage, and wisdom on any given Sunday. GOSPEL … digs deep into the origin story of Black spirituality through sermon and song.”

As I’ve written before about Gates’ work, he doesn’t judge people for the historical plight of Black Americans. Instead, he presents facts and lets viewers reach their own conclusions. His is a soft touch but with a powerful message.

What amazes about “Gospel” is that in the midst of much suffering — from slavery to more contemporary discrimination and hate — there is so much joy.

Historians and other scholars fill in the facts about this unique musical style, but it’s the music, itself, that transforms listeners to another level.

When I have visited Black churches, I have experienced something decidedly different from what I encounter in majority white churches. First, I am usually greeted by people who clearly identify me as a visitor. The spiritual energy is noticeable from the start. The preacher doesn’t just preach a sermon. He (and sometimes she) exhorts. No one falls asleep in the Black church. It is not something to be witnessed, as on TV, but experienced.

Gates’ program recalls how some of these great gospel hymns were written. He even demonstrates the influence some of the music has had on rock and roll. Chuck Berry makes a brief appearance with his famous guitar riff. As in more staid hymns composed by white writers, many gospel songs were inspired by pain and suffering. In both genres, those twin experiences are overcome by hope and then joy.

Some critics of this up-tempo music once called it “the Devil’s music,” but that’s what some called Rock and Roll. Gospel music isn’t about the Devil, but God and Jesus. While emotional at times, its base and theology are mostly solid. Listen to Mahalia Jackson sing “Precious Lord,” which she sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There is no Devil in that song.

You can’t stay quiet while listening to gospel music. It is so powerful I have seen white people stand up and shout, which is akin to raising the dead in some white churches.

Here’s a thought: how about a performance of gospel songs during halftime at next year’s Super Bowl? It would beat some of what we’ve witnessed in recent years, including this year.

“Gospel” is viewable on your local PBS station, or at PBS.org. If you aren’t smiling, joining in the singing, and experiencing a blessing, you may want to check your vital signs. “Gospel” is more than great TV. It is a warm spiritual bath.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.