As the snow slowly melted and the wind whistled a peaceful, gentle song among the trees, a quiet Sunday evening was transformed into a spiritual uproar of pride and passion as the UR Christian Fellowship and Afro-Expressions presented an exceptional Gospel Concert in honor of Black History Month. The Interfaith Chapel was filled with rich voices that echoed the word of the Lord and instilled messages of love and faith. The opening speech prepared the audience for the evening by stating, “Let us leave every bit of stress behind.” And so we did.
The UR Gospel Choir, consisting of nine women and five men, began the evening with three uplifting songs. The first piece started the night off with audience participation and an instant clapping of hands and nodding of heads. The second song incorporated sign language in a mellow, calm performance. It was here that eyes were closed and true heartfelt compassion was very apparent. The final song, “Lord Help Me To Hold Out,” was fast-paced and resulted in instant smiles. Old and young alike were swaying to the same song, singing the same words.
Next, the program took a refreshing trip through the history of gospel music with the help of the Director of the UR Gospel Choir Jason Alexander Holmes. Holmes explained how the roots of modern day gospel music originated from spirituals such as “Down by the Riverside” that the African-American slaves sang to express the vicissitudes they faced. The slaves would gather together for religious services to find strength in numbers to overcome the injustices of which they were victims.
Holmes then shed light on Thomas Dorsey, the father of gospel music, who organized the National Convention of Gospel Choir. The talk ended with a spotlight on James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Workshop of America, who founded his own choir, the Southern California Community Choir.
This brief history of gospel music was both informative and engaging, teaching the audience about the growth and progression of this music.
Next, Valerie Scott-Chatman, a member of the Church of Love Faith Center Choir, performed a solo entitled “A Long Lonely Journey.” She introduced this song by saying, “Sometimes, you have to cry.” Her solo established a sense of unity as people stood up and held hands as they listened to her captivating voice. Followed by Chatman was a sign language performance by Nicolette Ferron to Yolanda Adams’s “This Battle is the Lord’s.” It was truly beautiful to see how one moving singing performance could be followed by such a moving signing performance. Ferron invested so much expression and emotion into her piece that the audience started clapping midway through.
Glenda Youmans kept the energy level high as she performed a sacred dance presentation to “Eyes of the Sparrow” by Lauryn Hill. Her animation and excitement shone through to those watching. Minister and junior Myra Mathis followed Youmans’s dance routine with a solo entitled “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” One could not help but smile while watching Mathis pour her entire heart into the performance. A soothing tone with crisp vocals poured from the stage and seeped into the wooden pews.
The eventful evening ended with three selections provided by the Church of Love Faith Center Choir: “Speak to my Heart,” “You Call Me Friend” and “Shout With a Voice of Triumph.” The choir started off with soft vocals and gradually progressed to a roaring chorus of intensity that left the audience on their feet, once again, in honor of the gorgeous sound being produced.
This group left an impact on me that will not be forgotten. I appreciate the voices I heard, I treasure the value of gospel music and I am a celebrator of Black History Month.
Miller is a member of the class of 2011.