Celebrating Black History Month with gospel music

The Evolution of Gospel Music, a concert conceived and directed by York music Professor Karen Burke with keyboardist Corey Butler, celebrates black history through live music, drama and dance showcasing five eras of gospel.

The concert brings the power and spirit of gospel music to the centre stage at York’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall on Friday, Feb. 6 at 7:30pm. It will be repeated on Saturday, Feb. 7 with a special performance at Scarborough’s Global Kingdom Ministries. Featured in both concerts are performances by members of the York University Gospel Choir and the Juno Award-winning Toronto Mass Choir.

Left: Karen Burke

Burke, the founding director of both choirs, will lead the vocal components of the evening. Music director Butler, who accompanies both choirs, leads the professional rhythm section. Burke has assembled a top-notch team of powerful soloists for her front line singers, including vocalists Marlene O’Neill, Amoy Levy and Peter Moncrieffe, all leading lights of Toronto’s gospel scene.

The Evolution of Gospel Music relives the tale of a people thrust into a new land and stripped of everything but their music. This spectacular multimedia production charts a triumphant legacy that spans the early days of Negro spirituals, through the turmoil of the 1960s, to the influence of gospel in today’s contemporary urban music.

A voyage through the golden age of gospel, the show celebrates the music of Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and other iconic artists of the age. Special guest artist Aadin Church (The Lion King, Miss Saigon) leads the journey as a character called "The Traveller" in scripted scenes that he wrote to give historical context to the great music. This context is further enhanced by the choreography of Jasmyn Fyffe, performed by her As the Spirit Moves (ASM) dance troupe throughout the show. The drama and dance will be complemented by photo and video projections.

"I find that many gospel fans are very knowledgeable about what’s going on in the current scene, without a clue about the gospel greats whose shoulders today’s singers are standing on," said Burke. "With this concert, I want to share this intoxicating history and showcase the great talent in this city and at York University. ‘Wow’ is the reaction we expect!"

The concert’s performers sang a selection of songs from the show at the Ontario Black History Society’s kick-off brunch on Jan. 25. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Black History Month in Toronto.

The Evolution of Gospel is one of many special events marking York’s 50th anniversary. A celebration of York University’s proud history, ‘York to the Power of 50’ events will take place throughout 2009.

Tickets are $20 or $10 for students and seniors and are available through the York Box Office Web site or by calling ext. 55888. Tickets for Saturday’s performance at the Global Kingdom Ministries, 1250 Markham Rd., Scarborough, Ont., are $20 or $10 for students and seniors and are available through the Toronto Mass Choir Web site or by calling 905-794-1139.