MUSIC BOX: Harmonious through Harlem

By on April 8, 2014
Harlem Gospel Choir has logged over two million travel miles around the world since forming in 1986 Photo: HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR

Harlem Gospel Choir has logged over two million travel miles around the world since forming in 1986 Photo: HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR

JACKSON, WYO – When a musical entity has performed for three U.S. presidents, two popes and Nelson Mandela while traveling much of the world over the last 25 years, there’s reason to believe it delivers something particularly exceptional. For the Harlem Gospel Choir, this means presenting modern gospel classics as performed in the African-American churches of Harlem today. Within a two-hour radius, you will have two chances to catch them this week.

Blues, soul and rock all have deep-rooted connections to gospel music, which has roots tied closely to the African-American slave trade. Black gospel music can be traced back to the 1700s, when African slaves brought their musical heritage to America and combined it with their new faith, Christianity. Out of the hardship and the trials of slavery, this oral musical tradition came to be and forever changed the course of music as we know it.

The dominance of vocals in gospel, often emphasized by vocal harmony, brings a heap of group-oriented energy. Repetition, “call and response,” and simplicity of lyrics are part of the tradition, historically allowing those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship. Foot stomping and hand clapping often provided rhythmic accompaniment, while guitar or tambourines were occasionally incorporated.

Harlem Gospel Choir was founded in 1986 by Allen Bailey, and has included so many as 65 members ranging in age from 17 to 70. Those with the opportunity could hear the range of the group’s rotation cast during its Sunday brunch residency at BB King Blues Club in New York City. While on tour, the group consists of nine singers, a drummer and a keyboardist. A peek into their setlist includes time-tested material: “Amazing Grace,” “O Happy Day,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” They have shared the stage with a variety of top-notch performers including Bono, Diana Ross, The Gorillaz and Lyle Lovett, and have recorded with Keith Richards, The Chieftains and Trace Adkins.

Beyond touring and performing around the globe, Harlem Gospel Choir raises funds for children’s charities like Operation Smile, a charity that provides free corrective operations to children born with cleft defects. They also partnered with Feed The Children, for whom it raised over $60,000.

“Our message is all about bringing people and nations together and giving something back,” Bailey says, who is unable to travel with the group due to health reasons. “We’re trying to teach our young people to also give something back and that you can’t just keep taking. We try to emulate, in theaters and halls, what happens on a Sunday in a black Gospel church in Harlem.”

Be prepared for animated, powerful singing, choreographed dancing, and the opportunity join in what has been called a very therapeutic concert experience.

Harlem Gospel Choir, 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at The Colonial Theater in Idaho Falls ($25, IdahoFallsArts.org), and 7 p.m. on Friday at the Pinedale Auditorium in Pinedale. Pinedale tickets are $15/advance or $17/door for adults, $7/advance or $9/door for students, and available at Rock Rabbit, Pine Street Floral & Gifts, The Cowboy Shop, Office Outlets, Isabel Jewelry, The Big Piney Library and at the door. PinedaleFineArts.com, 307-367-7322.


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