On our first night in Chicago, we went to a rehearsal of the Voices of Power choir, resident at the Greater True Light BC out on Chicago’s west side. As soon as we walked in we knew we’d arrived somewhere. These guys rocked, the singers backed up by members of the Heavenly King Juniors on bass, guitar and drums, with Lakeisha Lockett from the Douglas Singers on keys. Talk about intense. Even their junior choir would strip the rust off your soul.
Voices of Power Junior choir rehearsal
The next night we were encouraged, nay forced to sing at the Evangel Assemblies of God prayer meeting, by the very articulate and smart Pastor Ray Berryhill (Chester’s cousin).
We also took time to visit the Center For Black Music Research at Columbia College (http://www.cbmr.org/), where we spent a couple of hours watching footage from the ‘60s-’70s TV show Jubilee Showcase: the Davis Sisters, the Caravans, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Norfleet Brothers, the Highway QCs and so on - excellent. Marianne and I also found time for a performance by Golosi, the University of Chicago Russian Choir, 4 women, 4 men who sounded fantastic singing Russian folksongs in exquisite 4-6 part harmony. (http://www.golosa.org/)
Saturday Oct 13, we were honoured to attend rehearsals of both the Heavenly King Juniors (website) and the Douglas Singers (http://www.myspace.com/thedouglassingers), who work together. This mob don’t just go through the motions when rehearsing, it’s not just about the dots, it’s an opportunity to worship once again, and they sing with as much intensity and committment to 13 visitors as if they were singing to a full house. And I guess they’re practicing the preaching and showmanship aspects as well.
These guys can sing. I was gobsmacked by the Heavenly Kings’ Tory Lockett, the lead on Dr Jesus, blessed with a gorgeously rich tenor voice, and guitarist Adrian Wolford, also an intense singer. There are nine members in the group, so each song has a different vocal line-up, while the rhythm section remains constant.
The Heavenly King Juniors
The rhythm section also backs up the Douglas Singers, a solid female ensemble of eight singers whose members also drop in and out depending on the song. Like the classic ensembles like the Caravans, each member seems to be a strong(= awe-inspiring/jaw-dropping/superb etc etc.) soloist.
Sunday we attend the Apostolic Faith Church (http://www.afcserv.org/) (great choir, immersion baptism, piercing and headache-inducing yelling from the guest preacher, and some overt self-promotion from the pulpit - not what those of us who grew up Anglican expect) and Trinity United Church of Christ, one of the biggest churches in Chicago (http://tucc.org/) and home church for Delois Barrett Campbell, Mavis Staples and Barack Obama. Trinity has over 9000 members and a 300-voice sanctuary choir - however this very afrocentric church was without its choir on the day, and instead we had their male chorus (100 guys in evening dress) who were comparatively formal. And drowned by the three keyboards.
The final event for the tour was a concert honouring James Baldwin at the beautiful Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, and featuring the university’s gospel choir, the Band of Angels and Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago (http://www.soulchildrenchicago.com/). The acoustics of the chapel favoured the Band of Angels (a cappella) more than the other choirs (big, with drums, bass and keys), and we performed well. However, in spite of messy sound, the Soul Children were…awe-inspiring. Ridiculously precise, stupendously funky, breath-takingly dynamic, etc etc. You can get a taste of them on youtube: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca9wNPIuBoU
For a finale, director Whitman called the Aussies up to join the Soul Children for Go Tell It On The Mountain (on which he insisted I do a solo) and O Happy Day. Soloing (jamming actually) with the sheer force of the Soul Children and antiopodean interlopers grooving behind me was WILD - you don’t get much higher.
Soul Children of Gospel with WW & TB
At our end-of-tour dinner (at Grand Lux Café) we were joined by old friends Patrick Johnson (author of Appropriating Blackness (http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/performancestudies/faculty/E_Patrick_Johnson/) and partner radio journalist Stephen Lewis, Janet Nettors-Austin (gospel and country singer, daughter of Dr James Nettors: http://www.simplyjpmusic.com), and COTGOS bass Scot Morris who just happened to be in town en route to Nashville. Way to go.
Thanks to Lakeisha Lockett, Jay Grossman, E. Patrick Johnson, Pastor Ray Berryhill, Suzanne Flandreau. And thanks to Rosie and the members of the Band of Angels for their trust and musicality.