"Advertised as an "all-colored" production, the movie was arguably the first major-studio attempt to present the lives of African-Americans with sensitivity and artistry. Although its racial stereotyping may trouble or embarrass viewers today, it remains probably the most significant movie ever shot in the Mid-South, and a milestone on the road that led from Stepin Fetchit to Sidney Poitier to Spike Lee."
~John Beifuss of The Memphis Commercial Appeal
'Hallelujah!' Not 'Hustle And Flow' was the film that put Memphis on the cinematic map. This episode highlights the first ever Hollywood produced All Black Cast Talkie Movie featuring the first Black Hollywood Sex Symbol, the great Nina Mae McKinney. W.E. A.L.L. B.E. INterviewed Rubye Carter, the daughter of Georgia Woodruff, a singer in the film and well known Memphis Gospel Music Great, about her mom’s role as well as the historical and cultural significance of the Academy Award nominated film (BEst Director nod for King Vidor) itself.
The majority of the film was shot in South Memphis near what is now known as LeMoyne-Owen College and the Wilson Plantation just across the Mississippi River IN Arkansas...According to the Library of Congress press release, the all-black-cast film "Hallelujah!" was a surprising gamble by normally conservative MGM, allowed chiefly because director King Vidor deferred his salary and MGM had proved slow to convert from silent to sound films. Vidor had to shoot silent film of the mass-river-baptism and swamp-murder Tennessee location scenes. He then painstakingly synchronized the dialogue and music. Around themes of religion, sensuality and family stability, Vidor molded a tale of a cotton sharecropper that begins with him losing his year’s earnings, his brother and his freedom and follows him through the temptations of a dancehall girl (Nina Mae McKinney). The passionate conviction of the melodrama and the resourceful technical experiments make "Hallelujah" among the very first indisputable masterpieces of the sound era.
In 2008, the vintage 1929 poster for 'Hallelujah!' film was used in a U.S. Postage stamp designed to honor the film as a part of the U.S. postal Service's "Vintage Black Cinema" series. That same year 'Hallelujah' was named along with 24 other films to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, which preserves historic and significant films.
The Legendary Dr. Eva Jessye, recognized as the first Black woman to achieve international distinction as a choral director, founded and led the Dixie Jubilee Singers. She was the music director for 'Hallelujah' and later Dr. Jessye was also active in the American Civil Rights Movement. Her choir was named the official choir for the historic 1963 March On Washington. Active well into her 80s she later taught music at the Univ. of Michigan.
The film was directed by legendary Hollywood film director King Vidor. ‘Hallelujah!’ was Vidor’s first ‘talkie. He Was Nominated For A 1930 Best Director Oscar For 'Hallelujah!' It starred the underrated and vivaciously talented 16 year old Nina Mae McKinney, arguably Hollywood’s first Black Sex Symbol as the seductress known as Chick. She was dubbed ‘The Black Garbo’ by the press because her stage presence and sex appeal was reminiscent of white actress Greta Garbo. McKinney was discovered by King Vidor in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 Revue. The great Daniel L. Haynes played the male lead as the religious and troubled sharecropper Zeke Johnson who falls for Nina’s character while his life around him falls apart. Early Jazz & Blues great Victoria Spivey was also in the film and played Zeke’s fiancée. Zeke’s father was played by a 86 year former slave named Harry Gray. Zeke's mother was played by veteran Black entertainer Fanny Belle DeKnight. Also featured in the film was the popular Curtis Mosby's Blue Blowers Orchestra. Two of the musical numbers in the film, “Waiting at the End of the Road” and “Swanee Shuffle,” were written by Irving Berlin. Many of the actors who were IN ‘Hallelujah’ were everyday working people living in Memphis. Another Memphis local, Beale St. tap dance performer and comedian, Robert "Bones" Couch, was also featured IN the film. He later BEcame the partner of Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas IN their popular show business duo act known as ‘Rufus & Bones.’
Photos Are Courtesy Of The 'Hallelujah!' Collection Of The Memphis & Shelby County Room Of The Memphis Public Library & INformation Center...To Learn More Please Visit The 'Hallelujah!' Collection Online:http://memphislibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16108coll9