Picks and Pans Review: Great Performances: the Story of Gospel Music

updated 02/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Wed., Feb. 5, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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This 90-minute documentary is an excellent introduction to what one commentator calls "the cosmic blues"—the gospel music that served as both inspiration and balm for African-Americans from slavery through the civil rights movement and on. The musical selection—and this is what counts, after all—is better than generous. You have your pick of great singers here, including the famous Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (who scandalized the gospel traditionalists with her wicked rhythm guitar and a knack for the blues) and Shirley Caesar and the Caravans.

It's Caesar who makes the strongest impression. She speaks movingly—fervently—of the hardships she endured touring with her gospel show in the segregated South. And she belts out a hymn with amazing grace.

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