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Grammy-Winning Rev. Milton Biggham and Friends Give Exhilarating “Story of Gospel” Fundraising Concert for Seth Boyden

 

Griot John Jenkins, Rev. Biggham, and the choir had the audience on its feet (including the Seth Boyden chorus, foreground).

John Jenkins as griot (left), Rev. Biggham and the gospel choir (background left), and the electrified crowd on their feet, including the Seth Boyden chorus (foreground).
 
Grammy-winning gospel music producer and singer Rev. Milton Biggham brought the house down with his fundraising educational concert for Seth Boyden on March 26, “The Story of Gospel: A Unique American Art Form.”  More than 400 people attended the concert.
 

The legendary Rev. Biggham gathered a host of veteran gospel musicians for the event, including Alvin Darling, who has sent five albums up the Billboard Gospel Chart; Su Su Montgomery, “one of the signature voices in Gospel House Music over the last decade” (last.fm); and A. Samar Biggham, whose single “Every Praise” was released last year.  Other extraordinary artists made up a 25-voice choir that backed Rev. Biggham’s famous baritone.  Accompanying the singers was a five-piece band featuring local horn player Bruno E. Lee, “The Trumpet Man.”

 
Narrated by John Jenkins as a griot (a revered storyteller and tradition-keeper), the concert presented the history of gospel music in four chapters.  The first part, “Spirituals,” highlighted the unifying role of such songs as “Oh Freedom” and “There’s a Lily in the Valley” among enslaved Africans in America.  Seth Boyden music teacher Leah Van Doornik conducted the Seth Boyden Chorus of fourth- and fifth-graders for three spirituals:  “This Little Light of Mine,” with the audience singing along; the haunting “Wade in the Water”; and the soaring “Woke Up This Morning.” (“We had a dance party behind the curtain while we were waiting for our turn,” Ms. Van Doornik reports.)  Rev. Biggham’s son Courage, a second-grader at Seth Boyden, was slated to sing as well, but because a stomach flu had sidelined him, his mother, Kasoundra Clemons, unleashed her jaw-dropping voice in his place. 

Seth Boyden music teacher Leah Van Doornik led the Seth Boyden chorus in three spirituals.

Seth Boyden music teacher Leah Van Doornik leads the Seth Boyden chorus. 
 

The second and third movements of the concert, “Traditional Gospel” and “Gospel Choirs/Mass Choirs,” presented gospel songs of the 1950s onward, starting with the classic “Precious Lord” by the father of modern gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey.  Several numbers, such as the 2007 anthem “Thank You,” came from the songbook of the Georgia Mass Choir, founded in 1983 by Rev. Biggham himself and deemed “an American institution” by Billboard (Nov. 23, 2002).  In the fourth chapter, “Modern/Contemporary Gospel,” A. Samar Biggham and Friends got the crowd on their feet with two joyous original numbers. The inspiring finale, “I Still Have A Praise,” came from the new album by Rev. Biggham and Georgia Mass.  

Rev. Biggham and the gospel choir in action.

Reverend Biggham and friends perform the uplifting "Joy," a Georgia Mass Choir staple. 
 
The audience buzzed with excitement well after the final curtain.  West Orange resident Trina O’Gorman, who grew up listening to gospel with her mother, raved, “It was beautiful – so well done!  It moved me to tears and filled me with strength.”  Thanks go to the Vanessa Pollock Team with Keller Williams Midtown Direct Realty for sponsoring the event; PTA president Rachel Fisher for leading the organizing committee; graphic artist Jesse Reyes, also a Seth Boyden parent, for the eye-catching concert posters; and most of all Rev. Biggham, whose generosity with his time, talents, and connections ensured that “The Story of Gospel” was a phenomenal success.
 
Photos: Anna Herbst, Alison Poe
Story: Alison Poe