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Music

Aretha Franklin ‘Amazing Grace’ film anchors nationwide voter registration campaign

Aretha Franklin in “Amazing Grace”
Aretha Franklin in a scene from the movie “Amazing Grace.”
(Sundial Pictures)

The critically acclaimed gospel music documentary “Amazing Grace” with Aretha Franklin will be screened Monday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of kickoff efforts for a series of events for the 51-year-old Poor People’s Campaign promoting social, political and economic justice.

It is the first of nine scheduled multiday programs in as many states featuring multipronged outreach efforts described as nondenominational and nonpartisan. Dubbed “A National Call for Moral Revival,” the campaign is aimed at registering people to vote and increasing citizen participation in the 2020 election.

The latest activities will be spearheaded by Poor People’s Campaign co-chairpersons the Rev. William J. Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, continuing the program launched in 1968 to address systemic racism, voter suppression, gerrymandering, income inequality and poverty. Gospel singer and multiple Grammy Award nominee Richard Smallwood also is slated to perform at the Kennedy Center during the kickoff event hosted by MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid.

Barber has been an active advocate for the Franklin concert film, having hosted the premiere in her hometown of Detroit earlier this year.

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The “Amazing Grace” film, which belatedly reached movie theaters this year after being out of the public eye since it was shot in Los Angeles in 1972 during the recording of Franklin’s celebrated gospel album of the same name, ties in with the Poor People’s Campaign because of the late singer’s long-standing political and social activism.

“All along when we brought out the film, we kept asking, ‘What would Aretha do?’” said Alan Elliott, the music industry veteran who shepherded a years-long effort to bring the long-shelved film into the public eye. It has grossed nearly $5.7 million globally since its premiere last winter in the U.S., according to IMDB.

“I know this is something she supported, something she was part of and that she would be very proud of,” he said by phone Sunday from Washington, D.C., where he is helping coordinate the rollout of the screenings as part of the Poor People’s Campaign activities in various cities.

Franklin marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s during civil rights demonstrations, and continued to support various efforts designed to promote equality and curtail racism.

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“We want to register as many people to vote as we can and make as many allies as we can,” Elliott said. “We’re inviting Republicans to be part of this, as we would hope Republicans also want to register people to vote.”

Along with the film’s role in the multicity Poor People’s Campaign, Elliott said an expanded edition of “Amazing Grace” is in the planning stages for screenings in 2020, an extended cut that he said will include two more numbers from the album that are not in the current version of the film.

He said he is in talks with the Hollywood Bowl management and hopes to have the film exhibited there next summer.

Additional dates for the Poor People’s Campaign include Sept. 15-18 in El Paso; Sept. 27-30 in Greenville, N.C.; Oct. 25-28 at a city in Kentucky still to be finalized; Jan. 10-13 in South Carolina; Feb. 28-March 2 in Alabama; March 6-9 in Arkansas; April 3-6 in Flint, Mich.; and May 15-18 in Memphis, Tenn.

Elliott said that schedule is expected to be expanded to other cities and states.


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