a documentary by Sally Gati
featuring six African-American street-corner gospel singers

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Singin' 'n Livin' on the Edge
showcases an African-American street-corner gospel group known as BAY CITY LUV that performs outside the theaters in San Francisco. The singers touch us both with their own lives and with their soulful a cappella harmonies.

San Francisco as a tourist town is also plagued with inner-city problems. BAY CITY LUV and the panhandlers compete for the same money from passers-by, but former Mayor Willie Brown and present Mayor Gavin Newsom both on camera make an important distinction between panhandlers who are asking for a handout and street artists who deserve our respect as they share their art on the street.
These singers are living where the problems exist and are on the edge themselves, so they are glad to get a donation. We soon realize, however, that what they give us is priceless because they lift up the spirits of all who hear them.
In this film, we get eye-and-ear close as they sing on the street and as they talk about themselves. We also see them on a stage with microphones and lights in front of an enthusiastic and very appreciative audience thanks to folklorist Jenny Michael who booked the group at the California Academy of Sciences for the Traditional Arts Program.
These are people we can rarely get close to, but this film lets us meet all six members. BAY CITY LUV often finishes their performances by spelling out their name -- B-A-Y C-I-T-Y L-U-V Loves you, and we can't help but love them in return.

BAY CITY LUV starts with the group's signature song, DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE. Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, then tells us that people are frustrated by those who are aggressively panhandling, not those who are outside entertaining, doing so in a respectful manner.


Bay City Luv

The personal thoughts of the members of BCL are interspersed with footage of their lives in the Tenderloin’s residential hotels and shelters, and this helps us understand them on a personal level.

We listen to Larry Glenn, Boscoe Coleman, and Alex White, three of the group, singing outside the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) on Geary Street before a matinee. Larry leads with “I’ve Got Trouble/Gotta cry sometime./ Lay awake at night,/ I know my Jesus will fix it, after awhile,” and we don’t have to imagine what these words really mean as we see various shots of the homeless population on the streets of San Francisco.

Some people pass by as if they don’t hear anything; some give them a glance; some snap a picture; some stop to listen and applaud; a few even couple-up and dance, and some put money in their donation box.

Earl Gadsden gives the background of how the group formed in l996 as a duet. Then six-foot-two, partially toothless, blind-in-one-eye bass singer, Alex White talks about his joining in that year. He explains that he sincerely believes that his singing with the group is a form of street ministry "that God uses to put his message on the streets." They then join together, putting one hand on one another’s, heads are bowed while Earl says a prayer before they begin. As they sing, “Jesus is on the main line, tell Him what you want,” we get reactions from people passing whose spirits are obviously lifted by what they hear. “Somebody touched me.” is another crowd pleaser, and Alex shines when he sings, "Glory, glory glory, It must have been the hand of the Lord./ He turned my whole life around,/Placed my feet on solid ground./ Jesus touched me.” Rick then makes this a medley as he sings the lead: “Come on, come on, come on, don’t you want to go?/ We’re on that Heaven-bound journey./ Jesus wants you to go/. And I’m singing, yes, yes, I want to go.“

As Rick, Larry, and Alex, sit in the Jack-in-the-Box across the street from their singing spot, they talk about how they do their singing, who does what part and how it comes together; and then we hear them sing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Boscoe Coleman tells a very heartwarming story of how, when he was homeless, Dan Hal, one of the other members of BAY CITY LUV, heard him in the park where he was singing himself to sleep and asked if he'd join the group. Following each story, we hear them sing, and often people are so moved that they slap their sides, clap their hands, and shout out, as one woman did: " “Very good. You guys are so good…. wow!”

Jenny Michael, an ethnic arts specialist, categorizes all these types of street artists as “an odd sort of beggar,” and she makes us think about “reliability, respect and legitimacy” as attributes we attach to regular artists but may not think about when watching street performers whose lives may not be so stable.

We see BCL singing on a stage at the California Academy of Sciences Museum for the Traditional Arts Program. One of their members doesn’t show and is a disappointment to the others (and to me as well), but the rest of the group sparkles under the lights while an enthusiastic and appreciative audience listens and claps along to their songs including "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool Ya."

After they sing the Doo Whop song “Bye Baby Bye,“ they pick up their tips and go to a nearby steps to count their “earnings.” Pleased fans gather around smiling and agreeing with each other that BAY CITY LUV is terrific.

BCL Prayer

You can buy your own DVD copy of the movie.
Send your request to sallygati@sbcglobal.net.


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