Music

Free Gospel Sundays spread the word with ‘Singing in the Streets’

Written By Jonel Juste
October 24, 2023 at 11:56 AM

The Arsht Center’s Free Gospel Sundays kicks off with “Singing in the Streets” on Saturday, Oct. 28 and a Free Gospels Sundays show inside the Arsht on Sunday, Oct. 29. All events are free. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Brown)

The Free Gospel Sundays’ music series returns this month for its 15th anniversary. True to tradition, it will spotlight the talents of local and national gospel music artists on the Knight Concert Hall stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center, while bringing the inspirational gospel sounds to the streets across Miami-Dade County.

Free Gospel Sundays began in 2008 as an indoor event inside the Arsht, but in 2022, it broke away from that tradition and began exploring venues across Miami-Dade County, including the Historic Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Miami Gardens City Hall.

Performing on Saturday, Oct 28 at Betty T. Ferguson Park in Miami Gardens are Faith on Full Ensemble, from left, front, Lissa Donald-Minus, Sheray Butler-Johnson, and Ja’Nia Harden; in back, Angie Griffin, Nicole Ferguson, Glory Roberts, Julius Boyd, Erron Cooper, James Cleveland Jones, Desmond Washington, and Tonyessa Pierre. (Photo courtesy of artist management)

Gospel choirs such as Florida Memorial University Ambassador Chorale and the Florida Fellowship Super Choir joned in for an outdoor event titled “Singing in the Streets.” For the first time, the gospel show became an outdoor gathering with less spotlight and more sunlight.

This past March, Free Gospel Sundays went off-site again for the first edition of Gospel Fest at Little Haiti Cultural Complex.

Whether inside or outside, “audiences deeply embrace the experience and the spirit of Free Gospel Sundays,” says Jenni Person, director of community engagement at the Arsht Center.

This season, the street performance experience is back, not only in Little Haiti for the second edition of Gospel Fest in April 2024 but across various locations in Miami-Dade with the return of “Singing in the Streets” on Saturday, Oct. 28.

“Singing in the Streets,” according to Person, “expands our walls to envelop the whole county” with the kick-off as a celebration of the Free Gospel Sundays’ season with gospel throughout the community in North, Central and South Miami.

Cynn Sage performs at Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. (Photo courtesy of artist management)

The outdoor pop-up performances occur simultaneously in three locations: The Faith on Full Ensemble takes the stage at Betty T. Ferguson Park in Miami Gardens, Cynn Sage performs at Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park, and Lady Elaine Nelson is at Larcenia J. Bullard Plaza in Richmond Heights.

“The idea is that the whole community can celebrate Gospel music together at one moment, in unity,” says Person.

And it’s called Free Gospel Sundays for a reason. Everyone is invited at no cost.

“Street performances are an excellent way for the Arsht to interact with various communities on a broader spectrum,” says Isis Roberts from The Faith on Full Ensemble. “By taking it to the streets, they are either introducing or reintroducing themselves to people who have yet to have the opportunity to experience what the Arsht has to offer.”

For gospel artist Cynn Sage, the street gospel performances are a positive initiative because they enable local artists to connect with everyday people on a spiritual level, directly touching their hearts and inspiring transformation. “This initiative demonstrates that the gospel continues to thrive through personal connections among peers,” says Sage.

One day after “Singing in the Streets,” on Sunday, Oct. 29, Free Gospel Sundays heads indoors with Tasha Page-Lockhart as the featured headliner at the Arsht Center.

A native of Detroit and a two-time Stellar Awards recipient, Page-Lockhart gained prominence as the champion of Season 6 on “Sunday Best,” the gospel singing competition on the BET network.

Tasha Page-Lockhart headlines Free Gospel Sundays returning to the Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center on Sunday, Oct. 29. (Photo courtesy of artist management)

On Sunday, Dec. 17, the Arsht Center will present a Christmas performance featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama. With five Grammy Awards to their name and a musical journey spanning over seven decades, the Gospel band will present holiday classics from its Grammy-winning 2004 album “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and from 2014’s “Talkin’ Christmas.”

Person has her own reasons to look forward to the December concert: “I’m really excited about it as they (the Blind Boys of Alabama) were a big part of my own introduction to Gospel music as a kid when I got to see them live.”

On Feb. 25, 20204, during Black History Month, Free Gospel Sundays will celebrate its 15th anniversary with “Music From the Bottom,” a show curated and performed by locally based artists, including some of Gospel’s prominent figures based in South Florida.

“We plan to share a historical perspective of the series as well as celebrate performers who have been a part of it. It will include some of the most celebrated Gospel performers who are based here, so it also celebrates the solid Gospel community we have here that has been nurtured over the years of Free Gospel Sundays,” says Person.

“Music from the Bottom,” she adds, “references not only the location of our community, but it also suggests that music – and in particular the work of these artists – is uplifting.”

To wrap up the season, it’s the return of Gospel Fest at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Sunday, April 21, taking the gospel experience off-site once again. Person says the finale is about engaging the local community and envisioning a collaborative effort that will assemble a community choir made up of voices from across the county.

What does the future hold for Free Gospel Sundays? A continued commitment to Gospel music for the community, promises Person.

Gospel superstar CeCe Winans performs on stage at the Arsht Center on Sept. 17, 2017 as part of Free Gospel Sundays. (Photo courtesy of Sergi Alexander/Eyeworks Production).

“Free Gospel Sundays has been a means to both celebrate and feed the genre in South Florida as well as to uplift and fortify Black culture and community in Miami,” she says, hoping that by continuing this tradition of celebrating gospel music, “we will not only serve the community that is reflected but introduce the wider community to this important genre.”

For Roberts, “it is prevalent for programming like Free Gospel Sundays to exist because it provides a positive outlet for the community.” Sage believes an event like this in Miami-Dade County opens doors for access, “as it should not be restricted solely to the confines of churches.” 

WHAT: Free Gospel Sundays

WHERE: Singing in the Streets: Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex, 3000 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens, Charles Hadley Park, 1300 NW 50th St., Miami, and  Larcenia J. Bullard Plaza, 14508 Lincoln Blvd., South Dade, Miami. Free Gospel Sunday performance, Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Also, Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami, in April 2024.

WHEN:  5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, street performances; 5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 29 and Dec. 17; Feb. 25 and April 21, 2024.

COST:  Free (no ticket required for street performances, RSVP for other shows)

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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