Review by Valerie Medeiros
Photographs by Rudy Lu
The second annual “Gospel Jubilee” at Proctors in Schenectady was a roof-raiser from the start. The Jubilee Mass Choir and the Emmanuel Baptist Church Praise Dancers opened with “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” a traditional song delivered powerfully by the 60-odd voices and band. The choir was rewarded with immediate audience participation, including enthusiastic hand clapping along with the choir. Several energetic young members of the EBC Praise Dancers left the stage and took to the aisles, jumping, dancing, clapping and waving colorful banners, bringing the audience to their feet.
Pastor Annetta Dix-Howard delivered an invocation encouraging all to praise The Lord, and the audience responded resoundingly, “Praise The Lord!” Producer Sara Hill asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, then gave free rein to emcee Mark Thompson, Pastor of the New Day Christian Empowerment Center in Schenectady, and musical director the Rev. Elgin Joseph Taylor Sr. of the Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Albany.
Soloist Annette Harris joined the Jubilee Mass Choir for “Psalm 145, He’s Greatly to be Praised,” an uptempo number with the church band – two keyboards, organ, drums and a rockin’ electric bass – which set the tone for an evening where worship and performance were a simultaneous experience for both the performers and audience.
Soloists Theresa Odom Surgick and Antonia Brown sang “There’s No One Like You,” and it was clear that Ms. Odom was praying as she sang, igniting the choir and shifting the mood from a performance to that of a church service – tears flowing, and the crowd once again on their feet. Ms. Antonia Brown took control of the audience leading them in worship with her powerful presence as a minister of song. Sharon Fullard offered “I Came To Lift Him Up,” a praise song that energized the audience.
The most touching part of the ceremonies were the heart-felt tributes to members of the Capital Region church community. There was a moment of remembrance for the late Annette DeLavallade, and the inaugural Annette DeLavallade Scholarship Award was presented to Princess Lumpkin, a student at Hudson Valley Communiy College in Troy. The Rev. Albert Holman, retired pastor of Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Schenectady, was honored as a compassionate soul with a strong mind and gentle heart who served the community for 33 years. The audience screamed, “We love you!,” bringing the Pastor to tears, thanking the audience for not having forgotten him. The choir then sang “Farther Along,” an old spiritual by W.B. Stevens and a favorite of the pastor’s:
“Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by…”
Seeing this man touched so deeply brought me to tears, and I was not the only one. The Rev. Holman blessed the church, saying someone said if you miss me singing and praying down here, look for me in heaven.
The emcee brought some levity back to the program by joking about how the audience was clapping along, he taught the audience both the 2 and the 4 and the 1 and the 3. The he said, “I don’t care which one you do. You are responsible for getting your blessing, maybe by osmosis, but if you respond you will be better leaving than when you came. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.”
Baltimore’s Kenny Hamber, a national recording artist who has sung with Gladys Knight among others, came onstage saying, “Put your praise on!” and launched into “I’m Gonna Do Your Will,” a pop-influenced tune heavily laced with R&B. With “Setting Up My Temple” he appealed to the older crowd with the cadence of a spiritual lullaby. And with “Get Ready For Your Blessing,” he waded into the audience, getting everyone to participate in the call and response, “God has a blessing with your name on it.”
During intermission, the audience used the time to socialize and shake hands, being a close knit church community where everyone knows everyone quite well.
Back for the second year, the EBC Praise Dancers mimed a minister’s message, “Whatever you say after ‘I am’ is what the universe is programmed to find you! So say, ‘I am kind, strong, beautiful.'” They received a standing ovation, as the message clearly struck a chord with the audience.
Miss Melba Moore – four-time Grammy nominee and Tony Award winner came out in a beautiful diva gown of sparkling midnight blue. Singing “Precious Lord, take my hand,” she demonstrated an incredible vocal range and powerful presence that has not diminished with age. She played with extemporaneous vocalizations as she sang, like an artist doodling on the page, which made the audience gasp.
With “Power in the Blood,” she danced across the stage, the Sunday-go-to-meeting dance. “I got a new hip and a new knee,” she said, “so I feel like shoutin’.”
She then launched into “Lean On Me,” a song written by Van McCoy for Aretha Franklin (not the Bill Withers song). “I’ll take the crumbs from the Queen’s table any day,” she said. She seemed to have fun playing with her higher vocal register and received a standing ovation. For the encore, she returned to the stage with a spectacular deep blue curling ribbon long coat, closing with “Can’t Stop Praising His Name.”
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy presented her with a key to the city, and as she departed the stage, she took the mayor’s arm, which charmed the audience.
At the end of the evening, Sara Hill announced that the suspect in Boston had been captured – seemingly a fitting end to the praise and worship performance, as if the answer to all our prayers…