American Masters” may have first dibs on “Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice,” but this well-crafted pic should prove a popular item on fest and nonprofit skeds before and after its June 29 airdate on PBS. Down the road, expect sweet homevid sales for an enjoyable performance documentary that could be improved only by including a smidgen less documentation and a lot more performance.
Helmer Stanley Nelson takes a break from his specialty –acclaimed history lessons such as “The Murder of Emmett Till” — to focus on Sweet Honey in the Rock, the immensely popular, Grammy Award-winning female a cappella ensemble with musical roots in jazz, blues and, most important, sacred music of the black church. Between rousing performances on a 30th-anniversary tour, founder Bernice Johnson Reagon leads group members in sharing sometimes funny, sometimes poignant anecdotes. Inspired by her experiences with the SNCC Freedom Singers during the Civil Rights Movement, Reagon organized an ensemble dedicated to music that would expose injustice, relate history, uplift spirits and celebrate love. By pic’s end, she is justly proud Sweet Honey will continue to raise a joyful sound long after her retirement.