Delivering a strong and powerful message of hope and revival, Gospel music has its early roots in the American Deep South when slaves combined the African rhythms and melodies of their work songs with the Protestant hymns they sang in church through the call-and-response between preacher and congregation. Over the last century, Gospel has expanded and evolved, influencing popular culture and other genres of music such as pop, R&B, and rock.
Signature Opening Concert
On April 18 in the Concert Hall, Richard Smallwood hosts an all-star concert featuring Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, and a cappella sextet Take 6. Smallwood is a Howard University alumnus; Grammy Award, Stellar, and Dove Award (gospel music's highest honor) winner; Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee; and the minister and Artist-in-Residence at D.C.'s Metropolitan Baptist Church. Grammy Award _winning vocalist Franklin has topped both the gospel and R&B charts. Grammy, Stellar, and Dove Award winner Caesar, known as Pastor Shirley, has recorded more than 40 albums since the 1960s and is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The Grammy _ and Dove Award _winning a cappella gospel sextet Take 6 integrates R&B and jazz into their devotional songs.
On April 21 in the Terrace Theater, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson brings her immense voice and talent to spirited gospel arrangements of works by Johnson, Hogan, Curenton, Smallwood, and Jones. Also on the program, in her Fortas Chamber Music Concerts debut, Simpson sings classical works by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert. With "her tone, rich and glorious, she endows everything she sings with uncommon intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.
One show only! Soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of VH1's "100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll," both with The Staple Singers and on her own, is responsible for blazing a rhythm and blues trail while never relinquishing her gospel roots. On April 23 in the Terrace Theater, she performs works from her release Hope at The Hideout, a live album recorded in June 2008 during a performance at Chicago's renowned venue The Hideout. "Staples sang with a voice that has long distinguished her from the R&B greats of her era and those who reach for that crown today" (The Chicago Tribune).
National Symphony Orchestra
Curated by Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., the National Symphony Orchestra, together with a local mass choir and special guests, performs newly commissioned orchestrations along with classic and popular repertoire in the Concert Hall on April 24. The program pays homage to gospel roots, while also making a lasting contribution to gospel music by breaking new artistic ground. The 180-voice mass choir features members of the WPAS Men and Women of the Gospel Choir, Stanley J. Thurston, artistic director, and singers from across the DC metro area.
Nubian Gents + Feminine Fire Gospel Step Teams
New York _based gospel step teams bring rhythm, slides, dips, and dives to the simplest of movements: taking a step. Winners of competitions and major acclaim the world over, they bring their fancy feet to the Family Theater on April 24 & 25. Born out of the longstanding tradition of African American college fraternity and sorority step competitions, the Nubian Gents + Feminine Fire perform synchronized routines that go beyond entertainment and into art. With all their moves set to soaring gospel music, both of these incredible groups inspire wonder. For age 5 and up.
Explore the Arts
In Beyond Gospel: Music, Spirituality, and the Freedom Struggle on April 22, join Mavis Staples and Dr. Paul Kwami of the Fisk Jubilee Singers along with Dr. Billy Taylor and other special guests for a discussion on the impact of spirituality on music and society.
The free Harmony and Lead: Gospel Vocal Style lecture and demonstration takes place April 24 at 2 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. The Clark Sisters, Cedric Dent of Take 6, and Richard Smallwood give a glimpse into the variety of ways vocal gospel music is translated to the world.
Visit Kennedy Center.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor for Kennedy Center News.