Tomorrow night, EJI will screen the remarkable film, Amazing Grace, at our newly opened Peace and Justice Memorial Center.
In 1972, following her immense success in the secular music world, gospel prodigy, civil rights activist, and universally acknowledged “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin returned to her gospel roots. She recorded classic spirituals like Mary Don’t You Weep and faith-based contemporary tracks like Wholy Holy at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles as filmmaker Sydney Pollack’s cameras rolled.
The recording served as an expression of hope for the local African American community, which had experienced riots six years earlier, and the resulting album, Amazing Grace, sold over two million copies, becoming the best-selling gospel album of all time.
While Ms. Franklin’s recording of Amazing Grace was revered as the “greatest gospel album of any era,” the film shot that night faced a much tougher road. In Mr. Pollack’s finished product, the audio did not sync up with the video, and the technology did not exist to fix it. Record executives shelved the film, and it was forgotten for decades.
In the early 2000s, Alan Elliot, who worked in the music business, obtained the footage and used new technology to fix the syncing problem. But Ms. Franklin was not comfortable with the film being released just yet. After Ms. Franklin passed away last year, members of her family agreed to release the remarkable film, Amazing Grace, which we are thrilled to share with the community tomorrow night.
As President Barack Obama said after Ms. Franklin’s passing in August, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice [we feel] our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”
EJI honors Ms. Franklin’s invaluable contribution to the advancement of civil rights, equality, and human dignity, her unparalleled talent for inspiring hope in the face of despair, and her indomitable commitment to raising her powerful voice to demand justice.