Wednesday, March 11, 1998

Singing with Soul, University Wire

Singing with Soul; Pamela Jane Appea
University Wire
Chicago Maroon

(U-WIRE) CHICAGO -- Standing on the Hyde Park Union Church's dark brown pew, Marcel Hamilton, an energetic, bright-eyed kindergartner at Salem Christian Academy, was one of over 400 attendees at Soul Umoja Gospel Choir's winter concert.

The concert, held Saturday, March 7, was entitled "A Love that Conquers All."Hamilton, along with community residents and students, clapped their hands and moved to the gospel music in the tradition of Southern Black Christian churches.

Mike and Gina Thurston, famed Chicago-based gospel singers, Make A Joyful Noise (MaJ'N) of the University of Chicago, and My Father's Children of the South Side, also performed at the three-and-a-half hour long concert.

The 16-member Soul Umoja choir has been a presence on campus since its inception in January 1996. They have performed at two Vigil Against Violence concerts as well as at several other U of C events.

"The concert was extremely impressive. I was so pleased with the choir members, especially the lead singers and musicians of the choir.Soul Umoja had more people in the choir last concert, but the quality of sound from the choir was a lot better," said Jonathan Shepherd, co-founder and executive board member of Soul Umoja and fourth-year student in the College.

MaJ'N started the evening off. The 11-person group sang two light choral pieces. Next up, Soul Umoja's testimonial segment included "Praise the Lord," "Washed Away," and "More than I Can Bear."

Marvin Chambers, a member of the choir and a fourth-year student in the College, recounted a parable in Luke which paralleled the message of the "Washed Away" song.

"[When] Jesus was upon the hill, there were two thieves also there. The first thief mocked Jesus and said, Why don't you save yourself and us?"

Familiar with the story, attendees laughed loudly.

"The second thief rebuked him. Don't you hear God? Chambers said.

He concluded that audience members should learn from the inspirational and redemptive message of the parable and apply it to their day to day experiences.

Continuing the concert, several women, including Adrienne Baytops, a third-year student in the College, and Gmerice Hammond and Shanda Siler, both second-year students in the College, sang a Freedom Song in honor of Black Women in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Soul Umoja's two other segments were entitled "Overcoming Because of God's Love" and "Our Response to God's Love.

"The music performed at the concert primarily employed traditional Christian religious themes such as forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

According to Shepherd, hymns, spirituals, anthems, and gospels all fall under the category of gospel music. Except for hymns, the other music forms have their roots in the early slavery era. The term 'gospel' means good news about the Lord.

"Gospel music originated during the times of slavery when black slaves needed to sing songs that encouraged them during their times of despair and tribulation and also offered praises to God with words that also held Biblical truths," said Andrea Minus, a second-year student in the College.

"For me, gospel is the highest form of art that expresses the vexations of this life and the affirmation of this life. It is at once and the same time a protest of conditions that can be social, psychological, spiritual and also an articulation of the goodness of this life," said Kazi Joshua, a third-year student in the Divinity School.

My Father's Children and Gina and Mike Thurston had more modern interpretations of traditional gospel songs.

Gina Thurston's songs touched on social issues such as homelessness and drug abuse in the black community."Gospel music is uplifting and encouraging," said Regina Sligh, a member of My Father's Children.

"What impressed me about this concert is that when you see the lack of African-American students here at this university is that they are [still] able to put on a concert like this," said Rashad Burgess, A.B./M.A. '97 and co-founder of Soul Umoja.

"The fact that the choir is student-run and student-performed says a lot about the direction that the University of Chicago is moving in." added Bryan Lewis, a former U of C student and a current Georgetown College senior.

Cost for the concert totaled to nearly $3,800. Student Government and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel gave Soul Umoja an large allocation to support the cost of the concert.

According to Shepherd, local churches in Chicago and businesses in Hyde Park supported the choir in financial contributions. The cost for a prepaid ticket to the concert was $5 for a U of C student, $6 for non-students, and $7 at the door for general admission.

Soul Umoja is having its Open House this Wednesday, March 11 at Hyde Park Union Church at 7:00 p.m in order to invite those who want to learn more about the choir.

Everyone is welcome to attend and learn more about the choir.