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About this collection

 

Hallelujah!, a film released in 1929, was the first all-black musical and was intended to be a dramatic portrayal of the lives of poor African Americans in the South.  The producer and director, King Vidor, filmed on location in Memphis and Arkansas, and the interiors were shot at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.  Ultimately, this led the director to use post-synchronized sound, another motion picture first which is sometimes credited to the film.

 

Several Memphians were cast in the film, including Georgia Woodruff, who was unexpectedly asked to be the lead soprano of the Dixie Jubilee Singers.  Eva Jessye, a life-long friend of Mrs. Woodruff, directed the Dixie Jubilee Singers and was music supervisor for the film.  Two other Memphians, Robert Couch and Milton Dickerson, also appeared in the film.  These children were discovered while dancing for pennies in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, and their dance was subsequently featured in the film.  Couch was later offered a part in the “Our Gang Comedies” and went on to work with Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas.

 

Vidor originally chose Paul Robeson to play the male lead, Zeke.  However, because Robeson was unavailable, his understudy in the stage version of Show Boat, Daniel L. Haynes, was cast in the role.  The female lead was played by Nina Mae McKinney, who was later called the “Black Garbo,” and the part of Zeke’s parson father was played by an 86-year-old ex-slave.  Two of the musical numbers in the film, “Waiting at the End of the Road” and “Swanee Shuffle,” were written by Irving Berlin.

 

To emphasize the impact of Hallelujah! on film history, reviews from noted film anthologies and reference books have been added to the collection.  Furthermore, since the library received special permission from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a one-time showing of the film at the Main Library in February 1986, the local publicity materials for this presentation have been duplicated and placed in the collection.

 

Georgia Woodruff’s daughter, Rubye Woodruff Carter, donated The Hallelujah! Collection to the Memphis and Shelby County Room.  The collection, which consists largely of photographs, includes publicity shots and scenes from the movie and photographs of the cast and crew on location in Memphis.  The collection is supplemented by correspondence and newspaper clippings concerning Georgia Woodruff’s friend Eva Jessye, which illustrate Jessye’s long-standing career as a choral director.

 

- From the Guide to the Processed Manuscript Collections in the Memphis and Shelby County Room by Gina Cordell.

 

 

The cast in a scene from Hallelujah!

View the finding aid for the manuscript collection.

View the digital collection.

 
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