The new film “Stay Prayed Up” highlights the legacy and impact of 82-year-old Lena Mae Perry and how her legendary North Carolina gospel group, The Branchettes, is still reaching the hearts of people.
Perry is considered a hero of the faith in North Carolina, where she spent 50 years of her life as the steadfast bandleader of The Branchettes. The legendary gospel group has ministered to packed churches from the South all the way to Ireland.
With her electrifying voice and strong faith, Perry, affectionately called “Mother,” has a close-knit community that is helping her continue the work of God through music. Now, she's furthering that mission through film as she strives to extend The Branchettes’ song ministry in the world.
The Branchettes were formed in 1973 in a small church, Long Branch Disciples of Christ, in North Carolina. Comprised at the time of Ethel Mae Elliott, Aunt Mae Bennett and Perry, audiences would weep with joy as The Branchettes ministered with their powerful three-part harmonies.
Perry is now the sole surviving member of the original trio and continues to share her testimony and music with the world. Today, the 82-year-old ministers with pianist Wilbur Tharpe and tambourine player, who is the newest alto-reaching Brachette, Angela Kent.
The film documents “The Branchettes as they record their first fully live album, a hallmark in the canon of Black gospel songs,” the synopsis reads. “Through shared prayer, laughter, hardship, and praise, this ‘church gospel noisy crew’ demonstrates that music, like faith, ain’t nothing without heart behind it.”
“If you have a performer who is really present, it doesn't matter what you actually believe, but you believe the performance and you believe that singer right in that moment. And in that way, the message that is being brought forth has its best chance of reaching the hearts of people and planting a seed,” the film's music producer and composer, Phil Cook, told The Christian Post.
The white, Wisconsin-born gospel enthusiast is only half of Perry’s age. Still, he felt compelled to ask her to work with him and she complied.
“When something is pure love, when there's nothing but love that's happening in that present moment of somebody giving their all, there's not a truer wavelength," Cook said. "And that's why people go to see live music in general. I think people want to believe something and they want to forget their problems for an hour and really good music does that for you. But there's no better music for that to me than gospel music.”
Co-Director Matt Durning said he wants the film to honor the black community and its long commitment to gospel culture in America.
"More than anything, we hope the film can reach African-American communities like Newton Grove, congregations like Long Branch, all over the country and play a small part in helping them to feel seen and appreciated and celebrated for all they have contributed to American music, American history, and America's humanity," Durning told CP.
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Jeannie Ortega Law is a reporter for The Christian Post. Reach her at: email@example.com She's also the author of the book, What Is Happening to Me? How to Defeat Your Unseen Enemy Follow her on Twitter: @jlawcp Facebook: JeannieOMusic