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Gospel Festival

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Friday

JUNE

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

5:50 PM Gospel Warm-up with Betty McDaniel

5:55 PM National Anthem

6:00 PM Apostolic Church of God's 300-voice Sanctuary Choir

6:40 PM Word Records Showcase featuring Reverend Milton Brunson's Thompson Community Singers, New Directions, Dr. Charles Hayes & the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir, Reed's Temple Choir & Shirley Caesar, hosted by Dr. Bobby Jones

Chicago's Thompson Community Singers, one of the nation's most dynamic and popular gospel choirs, celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. Over its long history, the acclaimed group has featured Jessy Dixon as musical director and backed the great Shirley Caesar on many of her recordings. Unfortunately, the choir's founder, the Reverend Milton Brunson, won't be on hand tonight; he died last year, only weeks before the release of the Tommies' latest album, He's Still Good! (Word Gospel)--recorded live at Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, which Brunson founded as pastor in 1965. The current edition, though, maintains Brunson's time-honored balance between traditional and contemporary gospel: "There's been too much emphasis on making gospel sound like secular music," argues current musical director Percy Bady, "and not enough focus on the heart--the reason why we're singing."

For heart, few performers in gospel music--or anywhere else, for that matter--can match the "First Lady of Gospel," Shirley Caesar. Born in Durham, North Carolina, where she began her career in 1949 as the teenage "Baby Shirley," the diminutive vocalist spent eight years (1958-'66) as the spark plug of Albertina Walker's Chicago-based Caravans. Since going solo, Caesar has doubled as singer and evangelist; she currently pastors Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church down in Raleigh. Her current CD, A Miracle in Harlem (Word/Epic), includes live renditions of such favorites as "Don't Drive Your Mama Away," and, linked in a medley, "Faded Rose," "This Joy," and "I Won't Be Back (Sweeping Through the City)"--but there's no substitute for seeing her onstage. To borrow the words of San Francisco Examiner critic James Kelton, "The energy transmitted between her and her audience makes most rock 'n' roll fanaticism seem like empty piety."

The Thompson Community Singers start the bill; everyone will eventually end up onstage together.

SATURDAY

JUNE

EARLY/DAY STAGE

11:45 AM Gospel Walk

11:50 AM Gospel Warm-up with Betty McDaniel

11:55 am National Anthem

noon LaShun Pace

Although Atlanta-based LaShun Pace and her siblings, known professionally as the Anointed Pace Sisters, began traveling the Pentecostal revival circuit as children, it wasn't until the release of her first solo album, 1991's He Lives, that she emerged as a major force in contemporary gospel music. (Her fourth record, Just Because God Said It, came out on Savoy in May.) Her influence was such that one track from the debut, the powerhouse "I Know I've Been Changed"--an a cappella performance with the choir from Atlanta's Cathedral of Faith Church of God in Christ--almost single-handedly spurred a renewal of interest in a cappella congregation-style singing. But Pace can do more than just down-home stuff: her electrifying vocal style combines earthy revival-tent moaning and shouting with the multioctave, melismatic virtuosity of Aretha Franklin or Vanessa Bell Armstrong and the improvisational daring of Ella Fitzgerald.

12:35 PM Youth Edition

1:05 PM Allegro Metro Mass Choir of the Gospel Music Workshop

of America

1:40 PM One A-Chord

2:10 pm Annette "Queenie" Lenox

2:30 PM Shared Gospel Gathering featuring Kenneth Lowe, Dana Morgan, and Raymond Dunlap

3:40 PM Maranatha Revival Choir

4:15 pm His Creation of Gary, Indiana

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

4:50 PM Gospel Warm-up with Betty McDaniel

4:55 PM National Anthem

5:00 PM Canton Spirituals

The Canton Spirituals organized in 1946 but won little notice outside their native Mississippi until almost 50 years later, when the Williams Brothers took them under their wing and produced Live in Memphis. The album became a huge national hit, proving that traditional gospel quartet music, albeit with a modern rhythmic punch, still has a place in the 90s. These days only Theo Thompson remains from the original lineup, but Harvey Watkins Jr. and Cornelius DeWayne Watkins, sons of founding member Harvey Watkins Sr., are also on board; the latest album is Living the Dream: Live in Washington, DC (Verity).

5:50 PM Kimin'stry featuring Kim Stratton, Kim McFarland, Kim Burrell,

and Kim Rutherford

6:40 PM Unity Fellowship Celebration

featuring the Immanuel Gospel Choir of Stockholm, Sweden, and Ricky Dillard & the New Generation Chorale

7:30 PM Visions--A Choral Ministry

:00 PM Bishop Larry D. Trotter & Sweet Holy Spirit

Full Gospel Baptist Choir

:35 PM Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ

Singer-songwriter Fred Hammond is at the forefront of a new movement that's bringing what he calls "urban attitude" to gospel. Four years ago, after leaving the group Commissioned, he formed the vocal ensemble Radical for Christ; unlike the urban contemporary gospel of the 80s, in which "God" and "Jesus" were replaced by "he" and "you" in order to garner secular airplay, the group's hip-hop-flavored music advertises Hammond's faith loudly and proudly. Radical for Christ's latest release is the two-disc "Pages of Life" Chapters I & II (Verity).

SUNDAY

JUNE

EARLY/DAY STAGE

11:45 AM Gospel Walk

11:50 AM Gospel Warm-up with Betty McDaniel

11:55 AM National Anthem

noon Bolton Brothers

James, L.W. Jr., Ray, Jerry, Byrone, and Paul--six of the twenty children of the Reverend Linwood Bolton Sr. and the late Leola Hugger-Bolton--make up the singing Bolton Brothers, appearing here as the first act on this afternoon's all-small-group program. Formed in 1976 and based in Hattisburg, Mississippi, the Boltons went national two years ago with the album Live in Mobile (Blackberry). Like the Williams Brothers (who produced the disc) and the Canton Spirituals, the Bolton Brothers deliver a hard-hitting mix of traditional and contemporary styles--and except for Paul, they're all ordained ministers.

12:50 PM Lumzy Sisters

Minister's daughters Doris, Brenda, Delores, Chequita, and (for the most part) Fanny Lumzy have been singing together since they were children in Columbia, Mississippi; they're now based in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Directed by Chequita, with her solid compositions and searing, syllable-splitting leads, the group combines a traditional approach, reminiscent of such venerable groups as the Caravans and the Original Gospel Harmonettes, with the contemporary flair of the Clark Sisters. The sisters' most recent album is Memories...(AIR).

1:40 PM Reverend Mack McCollum & Company

2:15 PM Original Soul Stirrers

These Original Soul Stirrers are not the original Soul Stirrers; but they're one of two groups that proudly carry on the work of the most influential quartet in the history of African-American gospel music. Organized in Trinity, Texas, in 1926 and based in Chicago since 1938, the original Soul Stirrers were one of the first ensembles to make the transition from the highly syncopated jubilee style to the more fluid sound of modern gospel. They also launched the careers of such celebrated singers as R.H. Harris, Paul Foster, Sam Cooke, and Johnnie Taylor. The group that performs here was formed under the guidance of early Soul Stirrer J.J. Farley, and is led by Cooke-inspired tenor Willie Rogers.

2:50 PM Inspirational Charms

3:30 PM Genessee Travelers

4:00 PM Pilgrim Jubilees

Formed in Houston, Mississippi, in the 40s, the Pilgrim Jubilees relocated to Chicago in 1952 and made their debut recording the next year for the Chance label. Their big break came in 1959 with the Peacock single "Stretch Out." Major Roberson and brothers Cleve and Clay Graham, members since the early 50s, were joined by Ben Chandler in 1970; smooth harmonies, impassioned leads, and strong songs like the title track of the new Trouble in the Street (Malaco) have made the quartet a consistent favorite up and down the gospel highway.

PETRILLO MUSIC SHELL

4:50 PM Gospel Warm-up with Betty McDaniel

4:55 PM National Anthem

5:00 PM Pastor Willie James Campbell

& the St. James Church of God in Christ Choir

5:40 PM A Touch of Chicago's Gospel Pioneers & Musicians

featuring Pastor Maceo Woods, Eugene Smith, Lucy Smith Collier, Mollie Mae Gates, Jerry Bratton, Elder James Whitehurst, Dr. Rose Jackson & Bertha Melson, hosted by the Reverend Lucius Hall

Yes, they'll all perform at once; here are a few particularly bright spots to look for in this star cluster: Pastor Maceo Woods, born 66 years ago in Chicago, is gospel music's most celebrated organist. Woods's 1954 Vee-Jay recording of "Amazing Grace" is still the best-selling instrumental in African-American gospel history, and in 1960 he formed the powerhouse Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir, which rocks like a big band on up-tempo selections and harmonizes with such precision on slow numbers that it sounds more like a giant pipe organ than a roomful of voices. The choir's 1969 hit, "Hello Sunshine," even crossed over to the R & B charts; it can be found on a Specialty Records rerelease of the same title, as can an extended version of "Amazing Grace."

Chicago native Eugene Smith was a member of the hugely influential Roberta Martin Singers from 1935 to 1969, and two of his performances with the group in the 50s are now available on a Shanachie CD, The Great Gospel Men. He's still a commanding vocalist and a natural showman--the first, according to producer and critic Anthony Heibut, to "employ gestures as physical correlatives" to music. His own compositions betray the influence of the blues, particularly 1941's "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way, Oh Yes, He Will."

And lastly, though she won't be playing the instrument here, Lucy Smith Collier is perhaps the most gifted gospel pianist Chicago has ever produced. Originally inspired by Chicago gospel pioneer Roberta Martin, as well as by the music of Chopin and Beethoven, Collier in turn influenced the legendary James Cleveland with her elegant arpeggios and thundering bass chords. Her "instrumental and compositional style melded gospel ballad, popular ballad, and light opera," in Heibut's words. Delmark recently reissued eight selections from the mid-50s by the Little Lucy Smith Singers on the compilation Working the Road--The Golden Age of Chicago Gospel. Although a stroke stilled Collier's fingers some years back, she continues to sing.

6:45 PM University Gospel Segment featuring the Wheaton College Gospel Choir and the Northwestern Community Ensemble

7:25 PM Chicago Gospel Divas featuring Albertina Walker, Inez Andrews, and the Barrett Sisters

No group in the history of gospel has produced more stars than Albertina Walker's Caravans, formed in her native Chicago in 1951. Bessie Griffin, James Cleveland, Cassietta George, and Shirley Caesar all passed through the ensemble before Walker disbanded it in the late 60s. The group has staged numerous reunions over the years, but the gruff vocalist, now nearing 70, remains a major star in her own right--as I'm Still Here (Verity), her most recent album, reminds us.

Inez Andrews, yet another veteran of Walker's stellar ensemble, sings with her once again here. Andrews has one of the most awesome voices in American music--a raspy alto she can take from a soothing whisper to a bone-chilling scream. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1929, the statuesque singer performed with the Raymond Raspberry Singers and the Original Gospel Harmonettes before moving to Chicago in 1957 to join the Caravans. She went solo in 1961 and scored her biggest hit with 1973's "Lord Don't Move the Mountain," but her stint with the Caravans was a memorable one: for those few years, Andrews and Shirley Caesar were the hardest-hitting tag team on the gospel circuit.

As a bonus, Walker and Andrews will be joined here by Chicago's heavenly harmonizing Barrett Sisters, who achieved recognition beyond church circles through their role in the 1981 documentary film Say Amen, Somebody. The group's founder, Delois Barrett Campbell, was born in Chicago in 1926 and performed with the Roberta Martin Singers before she began recording with younger sisters Billie and Rhodessa in the mid-60s. Her voice is a distinctive, almost operatic soprano that, in the words of the late Mahalia Jackson, "opens up like a rose."

:05 pm Rance Allen Group

Formerly based in Monroe, Michigan, and presently pastor of New Bethel Church of God in Christ in Toledo, singer-pianist Bishop Rance Allen is one of gospel's major innovators. He introduced elements of soul and rock to the genre during the 70s and devised astonishing ways of extending the human voice that influenced a whole generation of singers. He also pioneered the type of "message" songs--distinguished by nonspecific references to a supreme being--that have become a staple of urban contemporary gospel. Joining him in the Rance Allen Group are his brothers, bassist Steve and drummer Tom.

:40 PM Kurt Carr & the Kurt Carr Singers

with Mavis Staples

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Shirley Caesar uncredited photo/ Fred Hammond photo by Robert M. Ascroft II; Albertina Walker uncredited photo.

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