Music

Choir Singers from 19 Area Churches Come Together for GospelFest 2024

Written By Jonel Juste
April 17, 2024 at 11:26 AM

The second edition of GospelFest gathers singers from throughout South Florida’s churches to create a single community choir with a performance at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 21. (Photo by Alex Markow, courtesy of Adrienne Arsht Center)

Singers from nineteen South Florida churches under the direction of four Miami choirmasters will raise their voices as a single community choir for GospelFest 2024. On Sunday, April 21, GospelFest at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex is the final production in this year’s Gospel Sundays series produced by the Adrienne Arsht Center. 

 The choir was prepared and rehearsed under the direction of Meachum Clarke, previously the pastor of worship and creative arts at The Bethel Church and now CEO of Meachum L. Clarke Inc.; Deborah Brown, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Florida-based Zamar School of Performing Arts; Stephen English, founder and CEO of the Music and Arts Fellowship of Miami, and Danielle Davis, a minister of music and choir director and the founder and director of community-based gospel choir Revolution. 

The community choir reflects the diverse fabric of South Florida, involving singers from 19 different churches spanning the region, from “top to bottom and east to west,” according to Jairo Ontiveros, president of education and community engagement at the Arsht Center.

Attendees at the first edition of GospelFest last year at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. (Photo by Alex Markow, courtesy of Adrienne Arsht Center)

The participating churches are Antioch Miami Gardens (The Dwelling Place), Mt. Bethel Baptist Church, Greater New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Central Missionary Baptist Church, First Deliverance Church of God in Christ, Bethel Apostolic Temple, St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church Dania, 93rd Street Missionary Baptist Church, Cathedral of Praise, M.E.C. Ministries Miami, New Birth Baptist Church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Ebenezer United Methodist Church, Second Baptist Church Richmond Heights, Oakland Park Church of God of Prophecy, Breakthrough Deliverance and Healing Ministries, Community Christian Church of Tamarac, St. Paul A.M.E. Church, and Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. 

The mass choir tradition holds a significant place in Miami’s gospel music heritage, says Brown. “(It) stems from great artists and musicians such as Dr. Walter T. Richardson and Lehman Beneby, who were part of the original Miami Mass Choir connected to the Grammy Award-winning Florida Mass Choir,” she explains. 

Emphasizing this point, Clarke notes Miami’s rich history and impact on the nation’s gospel music scene, highlighting the Miami Mass Choir as a pivotal contributor. He elaborates further, stating that, “while the mass choir concept hasn’t been as popular, the Gospel and community choir tradition has abundantly flourished in South Florida for decades.”

Creating a choir from throughout South Florida brings together people with a shared interest and skill to share in the process of making music together, says Ontiveros. “Because they come from all over and from different congregations, it is likely that they didn’t know each other before and now this has introduced them in an active and creative way.”

The Arsht Center collaborated with the Miami Dade Alliance of Gospel Music Professionals and community choir leaders to identify and engage singers from various churches. 

Presented by Adrienne Arsht Center, GospelFest started in 2023 at Little Haiti Cultural Complex as one of the performing arts center’s off site community engagement efforts. (Photo by Alex Markow, courtesy of Adrienne Arsht Center)

Clarke emphasizes the importance of the community aspect, stating, “Centered around songs of hope and healing, this event promotes unity. Our community needs that.”

Similar to last year, the event organized by the Adrienne Arsht Center will be held outdoors at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. “We stretch the walls of the Arsht Center beyond its campus in an effort to fully engage the community in the arts. Between Free Gospel Sundays, Family Fest, and Arsht on the Road, we bring the arts into communities throughout the county at least monthly,” says Ontiveros.

GospelFest was originally dreamed up in partnership with Arsht Center’s Free Gospel Sundays Gospel Council, which is made up of community leaders from the Gospel, congregational, and Black communities. Ontiveros recalls, “Everyone loved the idea of bringing different churches together through representation in a choir.”

Attendees of GospelFest 2024 can expect a wide array of gospel music genres and styles, including classic gospel hits, choir anthems and hymns, traditional gospel, contemporary gospel, Caribbean gospel, and country gospel music. The event will showcase the cultural tapestry of South Florida’s gospel scene.

But GospelFest is not just about the main event on Sunday. The festival kicks off with a free masterclass at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. The masterclass, led by the choir masters, aims share the tools and techniques of successful gospel choir practice.

Meachum Clarke, author, producer, musician and vocal coach, left, along with Danielle Davis, were two of four choir masters who rehearsed the community choir for this year’s GospelFest. (Photos courtesy of artist management)

“This is an opportunity for anyone in the community to learn more about the practices and techniques of gospel choral singing,” says Ontiveros. “The sessions will cover voice techniques, choral singing, ear training, breathing, ministry development, and stage presence.”

Brown, who brings over 40 years of experience in teaching and directing choirs, says she’s excited for many reasons about the masterclass. “During the masterclass, our expert instructors will offer hands-on learning in the areas of Gospel Art Form Appreciation,” she says. “They will learn how to keep gospel choirs alive, develop, train, build, and grow a choir with success.”

Deborah Brown, Ph.D., left, brings over 40 years of experience in teaching and directing choirs, and Stephen English, founder and CEO of the Music and Arts Fellowship of Miami, will also host a masterclass to provide a deeper understanding of gospel music. (Photos courtesy of artist management)

English highlights the importance of the masterclass in preserving gospel traditions and educating the community. “The GospelFest Masterclass will help those who may not understand or would like a better understanding of gospel music,” he explained. “Topics will cover the history of gospel, sound and techniques, breathing techniques, and performance.”

The event is open for free to anyone who would like to participate, according to Clarke. “It’s about empowering and impacting beyond just a mere performance.” 

WHAT: GospelFest 2024

WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday, April 21

WHERE: Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 or  arshtcenter.org

 ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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