Developed over a dozen years beginning in 2006 and invited to film festivals all over the world, How they Got Over follows some of the most famous African American quartets of the twentieth century and tells how their music, rooted in spirituals from the slavery era, influenced secular music forms that came after. The film includes music performances from the early 1960s and interviews with many of gospel music’s legendary singers – most of whom have since passed away. Appearing in the film are Clarence Fountain and the original Blind Boys of Alabama; Ira Tucker and the Dixie Hummingbirds; legendary bass singer Isaac 'Dickie' Freeman and the Fairfield Four; JoJo Wallace and the Sensational Nightingales; Joe Ligon and Mighty Clouds of Joy; Spencer Taylor and Highway QC's, Willie Rogers and the Soul Stirrers. We also hear from Dennis Edwards (originally a gospel singer) of the Temptations, Thomas Spann of the Brooklyn All-Stars and crossover singer Otis Clay.


Festival Awards:

Chicago International Movies and Music Festival: Killer Soundtrack Award.
Crossroads Film Festival: Audience Choice Award.
DocUtah Festival: Dean's Award.
South Georgia Film Festival: Best Documentary Feature.

“A straight-up joy to watch” Jarrod Walker, Filmink (Australia)

“The music that changed America,” Melbourne Age

“How They Got Over tells the story of gospel music as it’s never been told before.” NJArts

“With a trove of archival performance footage and the wisdom to let those images breathe, the film leans into the maxim about showing not telling.” Lisa Kennedy, N.Y. Times

“There’s so much joy and raw emotion, so many characters, so much history and, yes, the occasional rebel in the world of gospel, Not only is it easy for music lovers with an open mind to enjoy (regardless of their personal spiritual beliefs) but it’s actually hard not to love it.” Brett Callwood, Idobi

Where to See the Film

How They Got Over is being distributed by First Run Features. After its current theatrical run it will be streamed through Apple TV starting May 3 and available as Video on Demand and DVD.

Film Trailer

Major Funders

Funded by the Southern Humanities Media Fund; the Alabama Humanities Foundation, South Carolina Humanities Council, North Carolina Humanities Council, Mississippi Humanities Council and Humanities Texas, state programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Alabama State Council for the Arts, Hugh Kaul Foundation, Alabama Law Foundation and individual contributors.