Say Amen, Somebody

Gospel is the DNA of pop. Hedonistic paeans to sex, drugs and bling or gritty social commentary in soul, R&B house and hip hop are delivered with ear-pleasing, emotion-laden vocals, honed through years of disciplined practice in African American Protestant church choirs. Say Amen, Somebody, first released in 1982 as gospel enjoyed a boom, pays tribute to two of gospel's driving forces. Thomas A. Dorsey played the blues in the 1930s, then chose to spread the "good news“ of gospel, as a prolific composer, songbook publisher and concert organizer. Willie Mae Ford Smith was both gospel's diva and earth mother. As a singer and preacher – arousing debate even within her own family about equality in the church and women having careers at all – Smith advanced gospel through her own skills and by nurturing new talent.
The interviews, often evolving into exchanges among family members or co-workers, are conducted in dynamic settings that capture much of the surrounding circumstances and context- gospel as a medium of faith coming to terms with changes in society. Sociological "thick description“ through film (and plenty of singing) and a gold standard of observational music documentary.
by George T. Nierenberg
with Thomas A. Dorsey, Willie Mae Ford Smith, Sallie Martin, Delois Barrett Campbell, Zella Jackson Price, Edward O'Neal, Edgar O'Neal, Reverend Frank W. Campbell, Billie Greenbey, Rodessa Porter
USA 1982 English 101’ Colour Documentary form


  • Thomas A. Dorsey
  • Willie Mae Ford Smith
  • Sallie Martin
  • Delois Barrett Campbell
  • Zella Jackson Price
  • Edward O'Neal
  • Edgar O'Neal
  • Reverend Frank W. Campbell
  • Billie Greenbey
  • Rodessa Porter


Director George T. Nierenberg
Cinematography Ed Lachman
Editing Paul Barnes
Sound Design Danny Michael
Sound John Hampton
Producer George T. Nierenberg
Digital Restoration Milestone Film & Video
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Academy Film Archive

George T. Nierenberg

Born on Long Island, New York, USA in 1952. He studied Film and Art at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA, and directed his first film, The Hollow, in 1975.


1975 The Hollow; 64 min. 1979 No Maps on My Taps; 60 min. 1982 Say Amen, Somebody; 100 min. 1983 Moment of Crisis; 30 min. 1985 About Tap; 30 min. 1988 That Rhythm… Those Blues; 60 min. 1992 Neon Lights; 20 min. 1995 Gotta Dance!; two parts, 30 min. each 2000 Head of the Class: The Lion King; 60 min. 2005 Bill Withers Just as I Am; 20 min.

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2019