7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget- Part I
Atlanta has been the Disneyland of the gospel music world this week. The Gospel Music Workshop of America is holding its annual convention in Atlanta and the city is buzzing. GMWA, founded by the late James Cleveland, is the largest music convention of its kind in the world. Everyone in the industry is in Atlanta.
Tuesday night, J. J. Hairston and Youthful Praise were in the middle of an incredible set. I began to reflect over the countless gospel concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime; some good, some bad, some unforgettable. I began to think about the concerts that, for different reasons, I remember clearly to this day. These are some of the gospel concerts that have stuck with me over the years,
The BlendWrights Concerts- Memphis, Tennessee
Every contemporary Adventist artist owes a debt of gratitude to those amazing ladies from Ohio. They fought the music battle in the heat of the day. They were singing passionate and creative gospel music in Adventist churches when you could get thrown out for singing, “ Elijah Rock!”
As a youngster, Pastor Robert Willis would bring the BlendWrights to Memphis, Tennessee each year and every concert was an event. Their instruments alone were banned in many Adventist churches. I enjoyed so many of those concerts, it’s impossible to pick a favorite.
As impressive as the singing and instrumentation, their lyrics were what changed lives. Songs like, “ Let Down the Ladder”, “All the World Is Mine”, “ How Many Steps to Heaven”, “ Courage”, “ Heaven Came Down”, and Eleanor Wright’s classic, “ Naaman the Lepar” could turn a concert into a full out revival. Unforgettable.
The Midnight Musicals- COGIC Convocations
It was understood that for a solid week each November, you could always find me and my buddies at the annual COGIC Convocation. Memphis is the headquarters for the Church of God in Christ International, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. It’s fair to say that no organization has had a greater influence on gospel music than them.
Groundbreaking artists such as Andrae Crouch, the Clark Sisters, the Winans family, the Hawkins family, and others all have their roots in the Church of God in Christ. Each year at the convocation, midnight musicals were held at Mason Temple. Many of the artists never became household names, but they are legends to gospel music fans. There would never have been a Hezekiah Walker or Ricky Dillard without an Institutional Church of God in Christ Choir. There never would have been a Kim Burrell without a Betty Nelson. I remember those concerts.
Danniebelle Hall – Memphis State University
I came to hear Danniebelle that night in 1978, because she was a popular lead singer for Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. But what I heard that night at the University was different from what I’d experienced before. She wasn’t just singing her hits, but she was leading the congregation in familiar gospel choruses. Some of them I was familiar with, others I wasn’t. But all of them were easy to sing and even easier to remember.
I was amazed at how the atmosphere changed as she wove her testimony through a series of simple, singable songs. I realized later that she and others were pioneering a worship form that’s familiar to everyone now-praise and worship. Before then it was either the deacons droning through a devotional service on Sunday, or “Father Abraham” and song service on Saturday. This was different and it caught on like wildfire.
Next week: James Cleveland, Thomas Whitfield and more. But enough about me. What are some of your favorite gospel concerts and concert memories?