Tell me about the great music and choirs in our denomination? : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

Hi, everybody! After reading about the St. Paul alums and Jerryl Payne playing everything from gospel to classical. It makes me want to hear more about the music and choirs in our denomination. Also are there any conferences just for music and do we have any AME gospel recording artists or choirs?

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001


Ahh, finally something that I have some familiarity with!

As a member of the 5th District, you are indeed blessed to be among some of the great music in the denomination. The Connectional Music Committee's (which is meeting starting today, I believe, in Detroit, MI) director is Rev. Sylvester Loudermill, who is based in the eastern part of your district at St. Peter AME. I heard his choir at the 1999 CMC meeting in texas, and I was blown away. Their conduct and decorum were mature, spiritual, and professional. Their sound was polished yet powerful, refined yet religious. Their repertoire spanned the spiritual ("Rockin' Jerusalem") to the contemporary (Donny McClurkin's "Stand"). It was my first time hearing "Stand", and they literally blew me away!

The Fifth is also the home of great organists. Don Lee White regularly blesses the General Conference with his organ acumen. He can make the Doxology a truly heavenly and majestic experience. Rev. Byrd mentioned Bro. Bill Marshall, who was also my mentor. It was Bill who introduced me to the power of strong technique combined with a flexbile instrument (in this case, a Rodgers organ, which he could make shout or elevate Bach). In the 13th District Presiding Elder J.R. Williams has been a fixture at the organ, both for our General Conference and for the NAACP. In the 4th District Pastor Anthony Vinson is also a truly anointed organist, and can bless you silly while appearing so nonchalant. In the First District Dr. Helen Jenkins for years kept Mother Bethel at the level of excellence we'd expect for our Mother Church.

Great choirs abound in the AME church, and I am sure that each contributor will have many to name and discuss. Each district probably has a Mass Choir or a district choir. Many have attended the General Conferences over the years, and each takes great pride in their musicanship and their district as well. There is a music night at General Conference (usually Sunday evening) that is especially delightful.

You asked about recorded music. Several years ago, Ebenezer, Ft. Washington, was featured on an album by their late Minister of Music, Rev. Donald Vails. If you can find it, the cover is a beautiful picture of one of our largest sanctuaries. I believe the choir had nearly 300 voices, all under the fine tutelage and direction of Rev. Vails. A long-time stalwart of the Gospel Musica Workshop of America (GMWA), Rev. Vails regularly taught choirs new selections in a matter of minutes, and perfected the sound of the group in a day. Many of our other churches have had smaller projects over the years, some on private labels, others on home-spun productions, from 45s to albums to tapes to CDs. I don't think there's a unified catalogue or database of this material (yet!).

Music is no stranger to our leadership, either. Retired Bishop Robert Thomas (#107, 15th, 8th, 4th) was blessed to be accompanied literally and figuratively by his accomplished and lovely wife, Beverly. A treat of the 1996 conference was a duet featuring her and the late Ms. Edith Ming on the keyboards. Both had a tremendous command of the literature and the instruments. And our bishops are none too bashful. At the same General Conference a number of them joined in an Episcopal "Men's Chorus." The music was quite serviceable, indeed.

Music across the connection is diverse, thanks in part to the work and leadership of Dr. Jimmie James. The former Connectional Music Director encouraged the full use of instruments and literature in our worship settings, and would teach on such at the annual meetings. Consequently, some of our churches may be blessed to have only a capella singing (but very good at that), while others may include organ, piano, synthesizers, small orchestral ensembles, and percussion sections. It is a wonderful range that covers the spectrum of instrumental accompaniment.

And what they accompany! Our choirs draw on many musical heritages. At St. Paul, Cambridge, the music department featured seven groups. The Chancel Choir rendered anthems from Bach/Beethoven/Mozart to Ralph Vaughan Williams/Fryson. Their repertoire also featured spirituals. The Men's Chorus spanned the spirituals and more contemporary male ensembles (Commissioned, etc.). The Voices of Women Victorius could dabble in any of these arrangements, while bringing a strong sound to contemporary gospel music as well. Our children entered the realm of music through the Angels Without Wings, and matured in the Inspirational Choir (where our brother Rev. Vernon Byrd played while a student at Harvard). The New Temple Singers featured a gospel repertoire that made them one of the most sought-after groups in the Boston area. And the Mass Choir blended all these talents into a formidable army of vocal musicians that rendered great service to God and honor to the AME church when it was a featured group at the 1989 elevation of Barbara Clementine Harris to first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church (this was carried world-wide on the BBC).

From pipe to Hammond, from Steinway to synthesizer, from squeaky child to accomplished diva, the full spectrum of worship music is more than adequately presented in the AME church.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

In the New York Conference we have Rev. Robert Lowe who is also the Pastor of the Mt. Moriah AME Church in Queens, NY. His father is the presiding Elder of the Jamaica-Long Island District. He has had 3 albums the most recent was in April 2000. His website for the church and the label he created is He has a great voice and choir. He is the director for the New York Conference choir as well.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

I also forgot the Rev. Dr. Roderick D. Belin who is the son of Bishop Henry A. Belin Jr. He is an accomplished singer who sang with the Morehouse Glee Club, Asst. Pastor at Allen Cathedral, and is now the Pastor of Williams Chapel in Orangeburg, SC. I believe he sang at the 2000 General Conference.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

Wow! Thanks for all the info. I wish there was a way we could record some of this music for a compilation CD. Wouldn't that be a great fund raiser for our churches on the continent of Africa and West Indies. Does anyone know what denomination Yolanda Adams is? Also does anyone have info on choir and music of our AME colleges.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

Yolanda Adams worships at Abundant Life Cathedral in houston Texas, where her pastor is Ed Montgomery. ALC has a national television ministry. She operates out of the Houston area.

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

I would like to pose the following question. Why was the AME Church as a whole conspicuously absent in functioning as a gospel music incubator during the rise of black gospel music from 1930-1990? The overwhelming majority of acclaimed gospel artists [T. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cook, J. Cleveland, S. Ceasar, Inez Andrews, Mattie Moss Clark, Edwin & Walter Hawkins, R. Smallwood, Andre Crouch, Wayans etc.] find their roots in either black Baptist or COGIC churches. When I was actively involved in my choir during the 70s and 80s I don't recall performing a single song where the recorded artist was associated with an AME church. In fact, our Bishop McKenzie used to be a gospel music DJ for a local radio station in Wash DC where I lived [mid-late 70s] and I don't recall her "spinning" too many songs performed by AME musicians. Why was that, pray tell?? While I'm surely no musicologist like J. Payne or J. Stembridge I find this disappearing act by our Zion in this important distinctive black artistic contribution quite interesting. I have a theory but I would like to hear and read what others think about this point. QED

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2001

Bill, While I cannot readily give you the documentation. I am certain the reason for lack of A.M.E. involvement in gospel music is tied to the origin of gospel music itself, which has it roots strongly tied to nightlife.

When Thomas Dorsey and others played for night clubs like the Bailey's 81 Theater in Atlanta on Saturday night, they came to church and played the same Blues, Jazz, and Swing styles on Sunday Morning. They simply changed the words. The churches were outraged and the cry went up, "Don't bring that devil music in here!" Not any church received it and I believe it was Rosetta Thorpe whom the Church of God in Christ threatened to excommunicate for singing "devil music" in the church.

Dorsey (a Baptist), later moved to Chicago where his music was still not well received by churches. However, through the aid of Roberta Martin and James Cleveland he was able to get it accepted by the public at large and it was then performed in auditoriums, theaters and concert halls with admission charges. It is interesting to note that several members of the Dorsey Family both in Atlanta and in Chicago still write and perform in the classical idiom, and Dorsey's own, "Hear Your Servant's Prayer" sings more like a hymn than a gospel.

Since its inception the A.M.E. church has been blessed with a wealth of musicians who were both composers and performers par excellence. Just to name a few, these include: John T. Layton, Frederick Hall, Wendell Whalum, Claude Dunson, Gabriel Hardeman, Jr., Edith White Ming, and Beverly Thomas. Therefore, their answer to "devil music" was to write and sing their own versions of hymns, spirituals and anthems. Since most of these persons were Ministers of Music, Choir Directors, and Organists, they set the standard for music performed in our churches. Additionally, our colleges and universities also had very excellent Music Departments and their choirs served as models throughout the Connection--a model that only very recently included "devil music."

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

Rev. Rogers, thank you for tuning this melodious discussion. Once again we have discovered great musical talents within this Zion of ours. Sad also to note that a lot of gifted young men and women are not recognized unless they enter the ordained ministry. Let us expose those voises and musicians who draw the congregations and visitors to our churches every Sunday. Some pastors will be totally lost on a Sunday without that chior and musicians. I have noticed that the Connectional Music Committee is meeting somewhere. This is one committee that is not known connectionally. I cannot recall any of the committee members ever doing someting in Africa. To be truely connectional, we must share in all ministries of the church. Music is what connects people from all corners of the earth. Those who have visited Africa and especially South Africa will bear testamony to the great choirs and soloist. African people are a singing people. By the way, I am married to a marvelous soprano - Jennifer Hartman- West. She is a product of Edward Waters College, Class of '81. She toured with their Concert Choir and performed at the general Conference of 1980, all Conferences in Florida and in many AME churches accross the connection. Jennifer was a soloist and member of the CAPAB Opera Company in Cape Town for 15 years. She is currently a freelance singer, with a broad repetoire ranging from Opera to Classical to Spiritual to Gospel. Her dream is to have a concert tour through-out the States and to be a recording artist. How about a true Connectional Music Festival - a few concerts in Africa, London, Bermuda, West Indies, Canada and the States. Keep on singing!!

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

The Connectional Music Committee was organized a couple of decades ago and was the brainchild of Dr. Jimmy James of Jackson, MS who headed it. I believe it initially was spread through the Connectional Lay Organization and the General Conference where persons from each Episcopal District are always present. It is open to any member of the Connection who wishes to become a member. It is they--the members- -who take it back their own Episcopal Districts and Local Churches. I am certain that application forms are available through your Episcopal District Lay Organization or simply by writing the Committee.

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

Gabriel Hardiman of the First District, Philadelphia has a new CD that will be in stores near you on May 9th. I believe the title of the CD is "To the Chief Musician". I recommend the entire CD and in particular the title song--it is extraordinary. And in the interest of full disclosure, yours truly has a song on that CD entitled "Just Can't Praise Him Enough". Peace, Vernon Byrd

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

If Rev. Byrd's song is anything like his rendition of "It Took a Miracle", then I urge you to get to the store quickly! The brother is truly gifted vocally. (And not bad on the keyboards either - I seem to recall Vernon playing with a cast on one arm?)

As we find resources like these, don't be surprised to see an index pop up on Reedy Chapel's web site. It would be great to collate such data.

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

:)Jerryl, I had forgotten all about that!! Brought a smile to my face. And thanks for the kind words.

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

This discussion is so exciting. Two questions 1.) What label is Brother Vernon Byrd's CD on. That way I can order it from my local music store. 2.) Can we pray about making the AME church music ministry more visible? I think we should approach BET or the NAACP image award coordinators and feature some of our AME singers and muscians. I am a professional singer and there are so many more in our denomination. By the way the fifteenth district is planning a big choir festival in February of next year. Does anyone have access to a recording studio. And let's get Fred Hammond to produce some AME'S! Just thinking out loud.

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2001

Another Musical Treat

This seems as good a point to get back on board as any!

I too can attest to the musical skills of Rev. Byrd. We wound our way through Institute together, as well as Rev. Hardeman, who God blessed with renewed health after a serious crisis last year. I am glad to hear he completed his album!!

I have to share the treasure that I have in little Bensalem A.M.E. My minister of music is the Rev. "Lady" Esther Ford, one of the original members of the Clara Ward Singers. She also was one of the founding members of the All Stars of Faith, also out of Philadelphia.

Not only does Rev. Ford have one of the most expressive and rangey voices I have ever heard, but it turns out she is both a great cook and seamstress too, and loves to spoil her

Friends of hers, such as the illustrious Johnny Thompson, her son in the music ministry and a legend in his own right, call her a piece of living history.

I am blessed to call her a friend and a wonderful addition to our little church family.

I am currently building Rev. "Lady" Esther Ford's web page, that will include her history with the Clara Ward Singers as well as her time with the All Stars of Faith, and other national and international touring efforts, and it will be a part of the A.M.E. Today site.

We do have a rich musical legacy as A.M.E.'s and it still is growing. Now looking forward to hearing Brother Jerryl play!!!

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

Welcome back to the board Rev. John! We missed you. Give my love to sister Jan and I will continue to keeep her and you in prayer. Thank you so much for sharing Lady Crawford with the board and what a wonderful treasure for the entire AME denomination! Please, please tell me that arrangements are being made for the AME-TODAY DISCUSSION BOARD JAM SESSION at General Conference. I can't wait to hear Jerryl Payne and Vernon Byrd live and swinging with the angels. Is there a music conference coming up that will not only focus on music, but have workshops on record producing. Our music in the AME denomination is a wonderful way to evangelize for Christ.

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

OOps! My apologies I should have said Lady Ester Ford in my previous post.

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

Rev. Rogers, I'll send you the information on the label of Rev.Hardeman's CD shortly.

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

Denise, So you sing as well as dance? Are you an alto or soprano? Hmmmm well, I'm not a descendant of Doubting Thomas but could you sing a few tunes of say Tramaine Hawkins' classic "Going Up Yonder" [Love Alive I circa '78] provide an audio link and let me be the impartial judge of your thespian talents :-) Now I confess I am functionally illiterate when it comes to reading music and never mastered playing a musical instrument. However, I do sing and enjoy the creativity of gospel music. Thank the Lawd that Great Angelic Choir in Glory has a tenor spot reserved for me without the need for audition or rehersal [big laugh]. QED

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

My Dear Sister Denise, So you sing as well as dance? Are you an alto or soprano? Hmmmm well, I'm not a descendant of Doubting Thomas but could you sing a few tunes of say Tramaine Hawkins' classic "Going Up Yonder" [Love Alive I circa '78] provide an audio link and let me be the impartial judge of your thespian talents :-) Now I confess I am functionally illiterate when it comes to reading music and never mastered playing a musical instrument. However, I do sing and enjoy the creativity of gospel music. Thank the Lawd that Great Angelic Choir in Glory has a tenor spot reserved for me without the need for audition or rehersal [big laugh]. QED

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2001

Brother Bill YES! I can sing. God has blessed me with a wonderful voice. I have a 3 octive range and technically I would be a mezzo soprano. When I performed in night clubs both in the USA and Europe I always sang "Going up Yonder." And at major jazz festivals I performed in Europe, I always sang gospel and spirituals along with jazz. When I was younger I performed in musical comedies off Broadway and in broadway shows and I would have to dance. But my dancing days are over do to an injury to my knee. I do not sing as nearly as much as I should. It is so hard trying to find christian muscians here in my town. But I do use music tracks. I am not bragging about my voice for it is one of the tools God gave me to witness fo him. Thanks for asking. Now I know you also sing, so tell us about your singing career.

-- Anonymous, May 05, 2001

I wish to make known a dear friend and my pastor's son the Rev. W.R. (Smokey) Norful, Jr. He has written songs for Dottie Peoples, and sang with many contemporary gospel greats. He is new itenerant elder and a truly anointed and gifted musician and singer. I also am a gifted musician and singer. I served as minister of music for rural AME churches before joining the church. I have been blessed to have been around some gospel music greats also such as the lateFrank Williams(of the Williams Bros) and the late James Moore. The younger genration of AME musicians and singers are making themselves and the AMEC known as we allow ourselves to be used by our Father and Master.

-- Anonymous, May 14, 2001

The late Rev. Donald Vails did A Album called "My Soul Loves Jesus" it featured the Voices Of Ebenezer which is now called Ebenezer AME MASS CHOIR. They did this recording live @ MY church which is Ebenezer AME In 1995. He has passed now and gone above to heaven and now we have Minister Byron Cage which is a new Senior Minister Of Church And Worship came to us just 3 or 4 years late after his death. Rev. Vails was a mentor for Byron Cage. So Minister Cage did another recording with Ebenezer AME MASS CHOI CALLED THAT'S HOW THE LORD WORK'S FEATURING BEVERYLY CRAWFORD AND SIS FRANCINE JONES. YOU HAVE GOT TO GET THIS CD IT IS AWESOME. THEY RECORDED IT IN 99 when Byron Cage Came to Ebenezer. It's now 2003 and He's still with us. EbenezerMass Choir should be coming out this summer of 2003. Hope I gave You information that'll help you

-- Anonymous, April 21, 2003

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