By Keith Crosby
Choirs and attendees were undeterred by the first major snow storm of the season as they came out to compete and enjoy The Detroit Spiritual Festival 2019, which ran from January 17 -19. The annual festival is sponsored by The United Voices of Detroit, under founder and director, Nina R. Scott. This year’s event, entitled, “The Detroit Spiritual Festival 2019 – Spirituals: A Testimony of Faith,” was held at Bushnell Congregational Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church of Detroit. Attendees and participants were treated to concerts, choir competitions, and enrichment workshops focused on celebrating and preserving the musical art form of the Negro spiritual.
The festival opened on Thursday, January 17th, with a concert featuring the Fine’ Singers, and guest artists Ms. Jhane Perdue, Mr. Luke Windon, and Mr. Allen Roberts II. On Friday, high school and college choral competitions were held during the day, and during the evening, The United Voices of Detroit (Nina Scott, Director and William Harrison, Guest Accompanist) performed a full concert singing “I’ve Been Buked,” “My God Is A Rock,” “Lord If I Got My Ticket,” “I Got A Key,” “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” and “Walk Together Children.” Special Guest Artist for the evening was Rebecca Eaddy. The evening closed out with “Free at Last” composed by Lena McLin, featuring Antonio Williams, baritone, and Rebecca Eaddy, soprano.
Saturday morning, Community and College choirs competed at the historic Bushnell Congregational Church on Southfield Service Drive and Grand River, where the wonderful acoustics of the sanctuary beautifully showcased the competing choirs without the need of microphones and speakers. The festival finale, “Winner’s Concert,” took place Saturday evening at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Detroit (at the corner of Hubbell and Outer Drive), another magnificent sanctuary with stunning acoustics, and featured the 1st and 2nd place winners in each choir competition category.
At the start of The Winner’s Concert, Christopher Carter, a Detroit Cass Tech High School alum, who flew in from Houston, Texas for the festival, shared words of encouragement to the youth in attendance, and invited them to pursue their dreams. Chris’ passion for the festival and all that it stands for was evident as he explained to the attentive crowd that he was a student under Dr. Cheryl Harden’s tutelage at Cass Tech, and after graduating went on to Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he founded the Voices of BGSU Concert Choir in 2013. Chris has since graduated from BGSU and is an educator in Houston, Texas.
The Winners’ Concert continued with a heart-stirring evening of Negro spirituals. First to take the stage was the 1st place winner in the Community Choir category, the Fine’ Singers, under the direction of Andrew Cox, singing warm and inviting renditions of “Down by The Riverside” and “Rockin’ Jerusalem. They were followed by the 2nd place winner in the college category, the Voices of BGSU Men’s Ensemble, under the direction of Coniyah McKinney, with their melodic tenor, bass, and baritone voices richly melding together on “Go Down Moses,” “Been in the Storm,” and “Train’s A-Comin.” Next up was the 1st place winner in the college category, the powerful combined Voices of BGSU Concert Choir, under the direction of Antuan Hairston, with soaring renditions of “Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” “Elijah Rock,” and “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord.”
Click video link above to listen to “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord” sung by the Voices of BGSU Concert Choir, under the direction of Antuan Hairston, featuring soloists Melanie Moore and Micah Pendleton.
Click video link above to listen to “Been in the Storm” sung by the Voices of BGSU Men’s Ensemble, under the direction of Coniyah McKinney, featuring soloist and Renaissance High School alum, Dwayne Gary.
Taking the stage next was the 2nd place winner in the high school category, the Detroit School of the Arts Achievers Ladies’ Ensemble, under the direction of Cheryl Valentine, sweetly and angelically singing, “Balm in Gilead,” “Ain’t That Good News,” and “Wade in the Water.”
Rounding out the evening was the 1st place winner in the high school category, Detroit Cass Tech’s Choral Genesis Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Cheryl Harden, with their energetic and compelling versions of “Rock My Soul,” “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” and “Certainly, Lord.”
The founder and director of the Detroit Spiritual Festival, Nina R. Scott, gave final remarks and then closed out the concert by leading the entire audience; attendees and choirs together, in a thrilling and uplifting version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” filling the sanctuary with superb harmonies and giving those fortunate to be in attendance, an unforgettable musical experience.
Personally, as a gospel music enthusiast, I have always casually enjoyed Negro spirituals, but I must admit that I left the 2019 Detroit Spiritual Festival with a greater respect for this distinctive artform. Hearing these soulful and sacred songs sung by some of the country’s most outstanding choirs gave these songs new life for me and instilled in them a timeless relevance to today’s challenges. Throughout the events I attended, however, I couldn’t help but wish that more Detroiters and music lovers were there to enjoy this amazing experience as much as I did. Good Lord willing, I hope to return next year to “The Detroit Spiritual Festival 2020” …and I hope to see you ’cause you oughta been there too!