World-famous Harlem Gospel Choir visits Stockton PAC

Written for The Argo by Esmeralda Rivera

In honor of Black History Month, the legendary Harlem Gospel Choir has visited Stockton’s campus, wowing the crowd in the Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 17. The choir showcased their strong voices and amazing talent with passionate gospel songs that touched audience members’ hearts and spirits.

The Harlem Gospel Choir has traveled all around the world, their destinations including the USA, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Morocco. They have also performed with many famous voices like Diana Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Pharrell Williams, Sia, and many more, even performing for three U.S. Presidents and two Popes. They were founded on Jan. 15, 1986— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday—by Allen Bailey.

Angela Harris posing with her various works of oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Rivera.

In the lobby, there were many tables set up for people to buy art and photography of Black culture and history. One of the visiting artists was Angela Harris, who creates oil on canvas paintings. “I’ve been creating original artwork and oils for almost 40 years, and I came to Stockton because I love the Harlem Gospel Choir and I thought I would bring some pieces that related to music and the celebration of African-American culture during Black History Month,” Harris stated.

Her artwork, along with the other tables of African-American art, showed off the rich history and culture of the African-American population, attracting many of the visitors as they waited for the PAC doors to open. There were some tables advertising music lessons like piano, vocal, and other classes.

The doors soon opened, allowing the thick crowd to flood inside. The choir and musicians performed beautifully, surpassing many expectations— which were already high enough. The audience was delighted as they clapped and danced along to many old and famed gospel songs written by Black gospel songwriters like Hezekiah Walker and Richard Smallwood, which included songs like “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and “Oh, Happy Day.” The latter started with the classic warm-up “la-la-la’s” many remember from Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act.

Professor Beverly Vaughn (left) and myself (right) at the PAC. Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Rivera.

The choir sang with a strong passion and energy, praising sincerely. During the songs, the crowd could be heard singing and shouting praise to God. The musicians were just as passionate, dancing to the beat as they played the keyboard and drums. Each member of the choir performed a solo, encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along. The show was very interactive, with a lot of fun and laughter shared by those in attendance. Among the attendees was one of Stockton’s Music professors, Dr. Beverly Vaughn, the director of the Handel’s Messiah choir, as well as the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Ian Marshall. The choir even encouraged any aspiring singers in the audience to audition for them.

With audience participation, some bold members even got free prizes during the show, like their ‘God Bless the Children’ bracelet, their CD, and their USB with many of their songs downloaded. The bracelet is part of their mission to support Operation Smile, an organization dedicated to helping children with cleft lip and cleft palate, and guests could buy them after the show for only 1 dollar. Toward the end of the show, the choir performed Kool and the Gang’s iconic “Celebration” song, then Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” as a finale, inviting the Chicken Bone Beach kids’ choir up on stage to dance and sing with them. Vaughn also happily joined them.

One audience member, Sharon Forrest, commented, “I loved the show. I loved the energy, the love, the skill, [how] they sang— their voices were so beautiful! I loved the arrangements. The musicians… oh, it was wonderful! I would come back tomorrow!” She wished that they had a second showing at Stockton.

Two other audience members, Gladys Rivera and Miriam Bermudez, thoroughly enjoyed the performance. “It was just amazing. I felt happy. They made me feel… like I wanted to dance, I wanted to clap, I wanted to sing with them. I enjoyed every minute. It was amazing,” Rivera commented. Bermudez added, “As singers, they have a beautiful voice. The rhythm was just perfect. It gets to your soul. I enjoyed it.”

Gladys Rivera (left) and Miriam Bermudez (right) in the Performing Arts lobby. Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Rivera.

Vaughn herself commented on the show. “I particularly liked [how] at the end they included the children,” she said. “They gave everybody a chance to shine. They sang with such excellence and exquisite singing. But…all that they sang, [they sang] with such power and passion. You could feel the presence of God.”

The choir members joined the guests in the lobby to autograph programs and the ‘God Bless the Children’ bracelets. The line was long, with adults and kids eager to meet the members and get their signatures as a keepsake, and take photos with the members at the tables.

Julian Summers, the musical director for the Choir and also a tenor singer, enjoyed his time at Stockton with his fellow singers. “I felt great! It’s always great to perform for amazing people, especially here at Stockton,” he said. On their Instagram page, @harlemgospelchoir, they shared a clip of them performing “Every Praise” at the PAC and captioned it with: “We have been treated so royally by the team @stocktonupac. Wonderful attention to details and such kind hospitality from the time we arrived this afternoon, 2 hours early. And the audience is amazing,” tagging the Stockton PAC Instagram.

The next act in the Performing Arts Center will be the Spring Dance Concert, held on March 2nd-March 4th at 7:30 p.m. The performers will be from Stockton’s very own Dance program.