Review by Valerie Medeiros
Photographs by Rudy Lu
My companion and I arrived early, and I was able to see the capacity-filled audience come in. I was immediately struck by the sense of community. Many ladies of the church in their lovely finery and Sunday-go-to-meeting hats, men dressed properly in suits shared warm laughter, greetings and good will. Rather than addressing each other as Mr. and Mrs. It was Brother and Sister so and so, and how are you?
It got me to thinking, was this going to be a performance or a praise service – in other words, church? I was hoping for the latter. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but this middle-aged white lady grew up in the Pentecostal church in the “wrong” side of town. The only white church family member, singing in the choir, the Preacher’s kids used to giggle and call me the cream in the Oreo cookie. All in good fun. “Sing out! Sing out,” my Pastor Bright used to shout. I had high expectations for the event.
The Jubilee Mass Choir and the Hamilton Hill Steel Drummers opened with “I Hear Music in the Air.” A choir is all about out of many one, and in one voice they did a hand clapping high energy tune to set the mood for joyful praise, and they meant business!
Sara Hill, the Marketing Manager/Producer at Proctors, told her story of going to Refreshing Spring Church here in Schenectady as a teen and how she considered it her community and family. Gospel, she said is the core of our experience – our heritage of celebration. African Americans were converted to Christianity, but expressed Negro spirituals in native style, holding Bush meetings in secret. It is this heritage that was celebrated this evening.
Mistress of ceremony Antonia Brown then did a reading of the origin of gospel music as the choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a very moving piece. They then launched into “Wondrous Grace.” The band from the New Bethel Community Church of God in Christ really shown in this song of salvation, as the bass player gave just the right amount of pathos and an almost funk feel. For me, the bass line made the song. The choir broke out into a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, full-out gospel praise, bringing the audience with them. Let’s all get excited about redemption of the soul!
The Emanuel Baptist Praise Dance Troupe from the Bronx, dressed in robes and masks told the story of the Resurrection – he is not here, for he has risen as he said, hallelujah amen! Their dance was very expressive art. They also acted out the passion of the Christ in a rather literal fashion with a young dancer hanging from a cross, making a strong point about the sacrifice of salvation.
Paul Tonko, our congressional representative, then spoke. He paid tribute to Dr. Georgetta Dix, who, with husband Eugene Dix, lived her life as an advocate for the community of Schenectady. She was a devoted, dedicated, force of nature with a message that touched all she knew. A force for good with a message that resonates today, that faith and family changes lives for the better.
The Georgetta Dix video tribute was for me a highlight of the evening. It showed several candid pictures and video of Dr. Dix through the years. Her openness and energy as minister, advocate, mother and activist showed clearly through the film. At the end, there was a shot of Dr. Dix dancing in the spirit. It brought peels of delighted laughter, tears and joy in the audience, as if meeting a long lost loved one after many years. The feeling was genuine and cleansing.
The Russ Sisters sang “Order My Steps,” a fitting song to remember Dr. Dix who dedicated her whole life to the ministry.
Musical guest Bishop N.D. Lewis then took it from a performance to a praise service with the choir with “The Presence of the Lord Is Here.” Oh, yes he sang out, the Hammond organ and bass were rocking and the whole audience was on their feet clapping hands. It was a full-out call-and-response spiritual that everyone participated in. A few members of the audience just couldn’t help themselves and danced “In the Spirit” with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
His next song, “I Won’t Complain,” was a minister’s message of gratitude. “Alright, we been to church!” he said, “and we are thankful! We have gratitude, and we dare not complain!”
The entire concert was made so special not only by the choir, but also the band from New Bethel Church. Featuring bassist Micheal Dickson, organist Horace Micheal, pianists Steven Flenory and Steve Dixon, drummer Jovan Dixon and guitarist Hayes Fields, they had the perfect blend of old school blues, R&B and contemporary funkified gospel. They rocked the house as professional church musicians used to the changing mood of a congregation and playing accordingly. They could easily perform for independent films, plays or gospel concerts anywhere in the country.