WXPN’s nationally distributed documentary “Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul” has been awarded a regional Edward R. Murrow award for best Large Market Radio News Documentary by the Radio and Television News Directors Association. The prestigious RTNDA award is for a region including Philadelphia and New York City. This recognition follows the announcement last week of the documentary’s nomination for a national Peabody award.

The Gospel Roots documentary, hosted by Grammy award winning gospel singer Cece Winans, explores the influence of African American gospel on early rock and R&B music. The four-hour documentary and six-part podcast was produced over 16 months, and included interviews with over 50 musicians and gospel historians, and recordings of live gospel concerts with The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Fairfield Four, the Blind Boys of Alabama, The McCrary Sisters, Fisk Jubilee Singers, and additional events at various churches in Philadelphia. The documentaty was distributed by National Public Radio (NPR).

The documentary was part of a larger Gospel Roots project funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, featuring several major local events held throughout the city.. Those included a performance by the St. Thomas Gospel Choir at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, an evening of spirituals and spiritual-inspired songs at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, under the musical direction of John B Hedges, with the Mother Bethel AME Mass Choir, under the musical direction of Jonas Crenshaw, Jr., and a Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul Grand Finale held at the Bright Hope Baptist Church. The grand finale was produced by Artistic Director and Music Director, Dr. J. Donald Dumpson and Diverse Arts Solutions.

In addition to his invaluable work on the grand finale, Dr. Dumpson was also a major contributor to the project. The journey began when the project team, including Dr. Dumpson, traveled to Nashville and Memphis for the initial field work, contributing to the framing up of the editorial themes and who was interviewed for the series. Another key member of the editorial and field research team was music journalist, author and NPR Music critic Ann Powers, who wrote a foundational essay about the topic and was interviewed for the documentary. Historians Jerry Zolten and Robert Marovich offered enlightening and important historical context for the documentary, opening doors to musicians and scholars who were interviewed for the project.

More from Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul
Gospel Home

The documentary was produced by Philadelphia based award winning producer Alex Lewis, and co-executive produced by WXPN’s General Manager Roger LaMay and Program Director Bruce Warren, Gospel Roots is hosted by Grammy award winning gospel singer Cece Winans, was distributed by NPR. Additional production on the series came from editor Cheryl Devall, assistant producer Whitney Jones, production assistant Rachel Ishikawa and was mixed by Jeff Townes and Will Loftus.

In addition to the radio documentary and limited podcast series, a companion website, featuring essays, playlists, and video and audio from the performances in Philadelphia.

You can listen to the documentary and download the podcast here.

Our gratitude and thanks goes out to the dozens of musicians and scholars who contributed to the radio documentary, the live events, and the website.

GOSPEL ROOTS OF ROCK AND SOUL has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Gospel Roots