The Singing Stream beautifully chronicles the changing generations of the Landis family and their matriarch Bertha Landis. Tom Davenport's intimate portrait of the Landis family, their music, and their community of Granville, North Carolina, is an epic story that touches the heart. The original 1985 film, The Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle, will air on UNC-TV's NC Channel on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m.; the recently completed sequel, The Singing Stream Reunion: The Grandchildren, will air one week later, on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 8 p.m.
Together, this unique pair of films shows 100 years of African American history told through songs, stories, and scenes of the family’s daily life. These are the only films ever to document a single African American family and to tell their story in their own words.
Both films are now available as a DVD set, celebrating the life and legacy of Mrs. Bertha Landis, the matriarch of the Landis family of Creedmoor, NC. Libraries, schools, museums, and other institutions can purchase the pair of films directly from Davenport Films for $49.95, which includes public performance rights. Purchase the Singing Stream series on DVD
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of the DVD set for private home use should contact Tom Davenport via e-mail, or by phone at 540-592-3701.
Last year, a successful Kickstarter campaign helped fund the completion of the sequel, in addition to providing filmmakers with the resources to transfer the original film from 16-mm film to a state-of-the-art HD2K file suitable for broadcast with today’s technology.
In 1985 filmmaker Tom Davenport, and University of North Carolina Folklorist Daniel Patterson completed A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle. That one-hour film became a national PBS broadcast during Black History Month and won the "Best Locally Produced Program" award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a first prize from the National Black Programming Consortium.
Thirty years later, the Landis grandchildren, acting as producers, invited Davenport to return and help them film what had become of their family since the first film. The new film is called “Reunion” and follows two branches of the family: one which remained on the home farm near Creedmoor, NC; and the other which includes descendants of a son of Bertha Landis, who moved to Akron, Ohio shortly after WWII.
The Singing Stream is the only documentary film series ever made about an African-American family. The series highlights the importance of religious faith and music in the Landis family, and shows the impact of tenant farming, Jim Crow, the New Deal, civil rights, black migration, and issues of land inheritance and interracial marriage on this extended family.
In a letter to Tom Davenport, the African American scholar of gospel music, the Rev. Horace Boyer, the editor of the African American hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing, wrote:
"Tonight I viewed the extraordinary video "A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle for the second time and like the first time, I reacted with joy and tears. What an extraordinary family-- and what extraordinary talent. While my background is completely different, it is exactly the same."
Both one-hour films are now on a single DVD, available from Midwest Tapes. The older 16mm film has been retransferred to a high definition scan.
Watch the trailer for A Singing Stream: Reunion
Booklist "starred" review:
The Landis family is highlighted in this DVD that contains two titles on one disc. A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle, first released in 1985, tells the story of Bertha and Coy Landis, among the first African American landowners in Granville County, North Carolina. Parents of 11 children, the Landis' stressed the importance of faith and family in their children and instilled in them a joy of music. The film concentrates on the annual family reunion, in which memories and music are shared. A Singing Stream: Reunion, the Grandchildren fast-forwards 30 years later. The annual reunion continues, with Landis descendants coming together to celebrate the family legacy and uphold traditions. Much has changed, but love of God, family, and music remains.
Various attendees talk about their lives as the camera catches them sharing old photos, working, relaxing, singing, and engaging in other activities. Filmmaker Tom Davenport's techniques are subtle, as the camera never intrudes, allowing viewers an intimate look into a multigenerational family. Both titles highlight such issues as land ownership, northern migration, segregation, voting rights, and racial acceptance. We come away with feelings of admiration and affection for the Landis family and a better understanding of southern African American culture. Extras include a short video of Bertha Landis' funeral, in 2000, and a program about African American storyteller Louise Anderson.
- Debra McLeod, for Booklist April 2016
Whether making their way from tenant farmers to landowners during the Depression or later migrating northward for jobs or finding new careers through education, the Landises kept their sense of kinship and identity. On “any list of the ingredients of black progress in America,” Frye Gaillard wrote, “there is probably none more important than the historic strength of the extended black family.”