February, known as Black History Month, is a time dedicated to celebrating the triumphs and contributions African-Americans have made to this country.

Notable figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks become increasingly popular during these 28 days of the year. Not to discredit the actions of these figures, but, when discussing African-American culture, one cannot forget to mention music.

Whether it is jazz, blues or rock “n’ roll, music has been an integral part of the lives of many African Americans. But the genre that has, without question, been deeply rooted in the African-American tradition is gospel, and on Friday, Feb. 15, UR Christian Fellowship showed us just that during its second annual Black History Month Celebration Gospel Concert.

Now, before getting into the actual festivities of the night, you have to be aware of the history behind gospel music. Made famous by figures such as Thomas Dorsey, known as ‘the father of gospel music,” Sam Cooke, before he was sitting at the dock of a bay, and more contemporary artists such as The Winans and Fred Hammond, gospel music began with the African slaves on the Southern plantations. Though held in captivity, these slaves used song not only as a form of relief from stress but also as a way of communication.

One of the most famous slave songs, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” was not simply a tune for entertainment. It was a cryptic message passed from slave to slave that their freedom was well on its way. From slave songs came jubilee songs, and in 1932, with the Dorsey hit ‘Precious Lord,” gospel music as we know it today was born.

The gospel concert this past Friday had a wide selection of musical guests, including New Beginnings Apostolic Faith Church Incorporated in Rochester. The New Beginnings Worship Team sang a three-part harmony a cappella.

Simple in form, the three members of the worship team not only sang beautifully, gracefully transitioning from soulful harmonies to crisp unison notes at the end of a phrase, but also left the audience members with goose bumps, longing for another selection.

However, that was only the beginning of many exceptional performances. Following their act was a liturgical dance by Moses Smith. Inspired by Fred Hammond’s ‘Running Back To You,” Smith was fully engaged in the Hammond classic, using all of his body and spirit to teach everyone that nothing could keep them away from the Lord.

The next performer was Valerie Scott-Chatman who, with a voice that came from deep in her soul, reminded the audience of a grittier style of gospel music. Reminiscent of a blues singer, Scott Chatman sang ‘Just Jesus” and ‘He Is Everything To Me.” At the beginning of the performance, the accompanying guitarist warned the audience, ‘If you like it, good. If you don’t like it, you better act like you like it.” Needless to say, Scott-Chatman gave a performance that left the audience with no option to fake approval, for her singing ability deserved, and received, nothing but praise.

Other featured guests included Serena Young and Brenden Hobbs. Young, a Rochester native, has performed with Gospel greats such as Shirley Ceasar and Tye Tribbett. She serenaded the audience with ‘Lift Jesus.” At one point Young had the audience dancing and waving their hands in praise to God. Hobbs followed with an a capella rendition of the ‘O Come All Ye Faithful” refrain.

Though the night was filled with performances from people outside of the UR community, the best were saved for last as members of the University showcased their own unique musical talents. ASL major and Senior Nicolette Ferron many of you may remember her from her past performances at UR Idol yet again showcased her remarkable signing abilities to ‘The Blood Still Has Miraculous Power.”

The final group of the night was the UR Gospel Choir. Directed by Jason Holmes, the group began their performance in the pews singing ‘Lord Do It For Me.” They then went on stage, singing two songs including the spiritual ‘Beautiful City.”

The second annual Black History Month Celebration Gospel Concert was quite an event. It was musically entertaining, historically informative and a spiritual blessing to those who wanted it. URCF did an outstanding job and many of us will be looking forward to next year’s gospel concert.

Massie is a member of the class of 2011.

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