Gospel Music Heritage Month had a grand celebration in the nation’s capital, Sunday, September 16. The “Evolution of Gospel” concert was held at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The line formed early to get into the concert that celebrated the rich legacy of gospel music through song and narration.
The concert was emceed by ABC 7 news anchor Cynee’ Simpson and WYCB’sWinston Chaney. The star-studded musical roster included Yolanda Adams, Maurette Brown Clark, Damita Haddon, Lil’ Mo andPhillip Bryant, Crystal Akins, The 7 Sons of Soul, and the Washington Performing Arts Society Men and Women of the Gospel Choir (WPAS).
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has successfully led efforts since 2008 to ensure the contributions, history, and sound of Gospel music are recognized and honored throughout the nation by passing resolutions that designate September as Gospel Music Heritage Month. Gospel Heritage Foundation Chair Carl Davis called Congresswoman Lee a “lady of valor.” Congresswoman Lee, Davis and Verity Gospel Music Group Executive Vice President/General Manager James “Jazzy” Jordan presented each honoree with their award.
Musical performances included Yolanda Adams singing “Never Give Up,” Maurette Brown Clark, “It Aint Over” and 7 Sons of Soul, “Be Encouraged.” WPAS directed by Stanley Thurston performed rousing renditions of traditional gospel songs, including “Down By the Riverside.” The concert concluded with participants taking to the stage singing “Souled Out.”
Gospel Music Channel founder, Charley Humbard, Stellar Awards producer, Don Jackson, and D.C.’s own Gospel music icon, Mrs. Shirley M.K. Berkeley were honored with the Gospel Music Heritage Living Legend Award. Mayor Vincent Gray declared “Shirley M.K. Berkeley Day” in honor of the celebrated gospel industry icon affectionately known as “Ma Berkeley.” The proclamation was presented by Rev. Dexter Nutall of New Bethel Baptist Church who was appointed to head the District’s Office on Religious Affairs by Mayor Gray.
Ma Berkeley’s musical career spans more than 65 years. During her career she held positions at eleven churches and is the Minister of Music Emeritus at First Baptist Church of Glendarden. To top it all off, she and her husband, Deacon William Berkeley, Sr. also celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary on Sunday.
DC Host Committee chair, Ron Magnus and Vice-chair Jared Sawyers along with the DC Host Committee of the Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation did an outstanding job of pulling together a diverse array of artists and executing a foot-stomping and worshipful celebration. The concert threw a powerful spotlight on the significance of gospel music through the annals of time as told by Minister Howard Watson.
Honoree Don Jackson was so impressed with the concert that he told Congresswoman Lee that next year he would provide the concert with visual support. He stated he had archival footage ofJames Cleveland, a young Yolanda Adams and other artists including “Donnie McClurkin when he had hair,” he joked. Jackson said that his company would edit the footage “at our expense.”
The recent tragedy experienced by America was not far from Congresswoman Lee’s mind. The congresswoman asked the audience to engage in a moment of silence in honor of those who died at the U.S. Consulate in Libya. She said that many in Congress knew the victims personally.
Many from the gospel music industry came out in support of the event including Stephen Hurd, Anthony Brown, radio host Rev. Tony Lee, Y’Anna Crawley and producer Justin Savage. The celebration of gospel music continues throughout the month and a concert is scheduled September 28 in Houston, Texas, Congresswoman Lee’s home state.