Music: Spreading the good word

The Harlem Gospel Choir sings of hope and inspiration.

November 17, 2016 22:10
4 minute read.
The Harlem Gospel Choir

The Harlem Gospel Choir. (photo credit: ANNA BAILEY)

Some of us may need a pick-me-up these days, which makes the upcoming visit of the Harlem Gospel Choir all the more welcome.

The sunshine-infused 13-member troupe, including a keyboardist and a drummer, will return to these shores from New York four years after its first visit here. Anna Bailey says she is delighted to be coming back here and enjoys her work with the singers. She has been the manager of the choir for the past 16 years, during which time she has done her fair share of globe trotting.

“It’s been a great joy working with the choir, traveling all over the world, meeting all kinds of wonderful people and spreading a little hope and inspiration,” she enthuses.

But, of course, you’d expect gospel singers to impart positive vibes. There is something almost intoxicating in the heartfelt and dynamic delivery of the music, not to mention the uplifting lyrics of the church-borne songs.

Over the years, the ensemble has worked with some of the biggest names in the entertainment sector across a wide swathe of fields, such as U2 front man Bono, Diana Ross, rapper Pharrell Williams, Dutch violinist-conductor Andre Rieu and British DJ JamieXX. It has also performed for three US presidents, two popes and a UN general secretary, as well as enjoying recording stints with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, stellar Irish group The Chieftains and country music singer Trace Adkins.

Bailey says she never tires of the choir’s output. “It’s a constant renewal, at least for me, because every performance is different. Even if there’s no tour, we have at least one performance in New York every week.

We are resident at BB King’s Blues Club for Sunday gospel brunch, and we’ve been there 15 years. Every Sunday there is at least one performance by the choir, sometimes two and sometimes three.”

Bailey tries to catch as many of the gigs as she can. “You’d think I’d get a bit tired of going to the shows. But the wonderful thing about gospel music is that it’s very driven by the spirit so that every single performance, of even the same song, is different. And the audience is different. That combination gives you a totally different experience each time,” she explains.

Gospel shows on the Christian Sabbath sounds about right, and the troupe’s titular location is a natural fit, too. “There are many African American churches in Harlem, and we’ve become so established that now we are drawing wonderful singers not just from Harlem but also from all over the New York area, New Jersey and Connecticut and even up to Massachusetts,” she says.

The choir’s US appeal is not confined to Bailey’s hometown. “We also have another resident gospel brunch in the Howard Theater, which is a very historical, traditionally African American theater in Washington DC.

We have a show there on Christmas Day, which will be a very busy day for us,” she says.

All told, the full choral complement takes in some 60 singers, with around a dozen or so participating in each gig. That is partly due to some having non-musical commitments but also by sheer dint of the choir’s popularity.

Yuletide is a particularly hectic time for the Harlem singers.

“We have a performance in New York, a performance in DC, and we are performing at the Rome Gospel Festival in Italy,” she continues.

Over the years, the choir has churned out music sourced from a wide variety of areas, naturally all fused through the gospel prism. Bailey notes that wherever the choir is performing, the emphasis is on providing value for ticket money and giving something of the singers.

“With every performance, we go out not as missionaries and there’s no preaching. We go out to share. The choir members go out to share their feelings, their belief and their passion.

But they do it through the medium of music, and it is entertaining and it is happy,” she asserts.

That will be the case next week in the Holy Land, too, she adds.

“When we come to Israel, the singers will be sharing and will be inviting people to participate through music. This year, the concert will include an homage to Adele. We have done several Adele concerts in New York, and they sell out immediately and are so well received,” she says.

The concerts in Israel will be a mix of some gospel and some Adele songs, Bailey says, adding that there is an educational element to the troupe’s offerings as well.

“We always like to show how important gospel music is in terms of the development of other forms of music, for example jazz. So we’ll include a couple of songs that have a more jazzy feel or we’ll put a jazzy spin on a gospel song. Basically, we’re trying to spread some positive hope and inspiration,” she says.

Sounds good.

The Harlem Gospel Choir will perform on November 24 at 9 p.m. in Kiryat Motzkin; November 25 at Zappa Herzliya at 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; and November 26 at Zappa Tel Aviv at 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. For tickets and more information: Kiryat Motzkin: http://; Herzliya and Tel Aviv:

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