Black church music documentary by IU professor, WTIU wins national, regional awards

A documentary concert film about the traditions, historical significance and meaning of Black church music that Indiana University professor Raymond Wise wrote and conducted has earned national and regional awards from the television industry and a journalism organization.

Raymond Wise conducts the African American Choral EnsembleView print quality image
Raymond Wise, left, conducts the IU African American Choral Ensemble during filming of the documentary "Amen! Music of the Black Church." Photo courtesy of the African American Arts Institute

"Amen! Music of the Black Church," a WTIU documentary that premiered in April 2020, earned three awards this summer:

  • A silver Telly Award in the Religious/Spiritual category.
  • First place in the Documentary/Special category from the Society of Professional Journalists.
  • Regional Emmy Award for Best Historical/Cultural content during the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lower Great Lakes Chapter's virtual awards ceremony.

"I'm really honored by it. I really didn't expect it," said Wise, the IU African American Choral Ensemble director and professor of practice in African American and African Diaspora studies in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. "You do what you do at a certain level, and for me it's a ministry, a calling. You don't do it for the awards or accolades."

Wise said that "Amen! Music of the Black Church" aired nationally in at least 30 major cities, and served as a companion piece to the Henry Louis Gates PBS series "The Black Church: This Is Our Story. This Is Our Song." Stations would often air them consecutively.

"It was just a great and unexpected blessing," Wise said.

The documentary, which was supported by an IU Bicentennial grant, was filmed in October 2019 before a live audience at Second Baptist Church in Bloomington, Indiana. The church was the site of the African American Choral Ensemble's first performance in 1975 and a 40th anniversary concert.

For the documentary, Wise led the IU African American Choral Ensemble in a performance of sacred music that spans from African traditions to contemporary praise and worship music. Historically, the Black church has utilized gospel and religious music as a means of self-expression and a way to speak to the Black experience.

"I grew up knowing and living the music of the Black church," Wise said. "However, in terms of us doing the documentary, we had three weeks to pull it off, and the majority of the students in AACE were not ones who grew up in the church, so the music was new. So we had not only three weeks to learn the music, but to bring the spirit of the music to the documentary."

The documentary also includes narrative vignettes that provide context for the music. Wise described the documentary as entertaining, educational and inspirational.

"Although it's an educational program, people can approach it and get any one of those things," Wise said.

In addition to Wise, the awards are credited to WTIU's Rob Anderson, executive producer; Justin Crossley and Ron Prickel, producers; and Eric Bolstridge, multicamera director.