Three years ago, the greater St. Louis area became synonymous with racial unrest. The aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri showed that this metropolitan area had some long-simmering problems.
It also served as a reminder to the leaders of the Community Gospel Choir of St. Louis that they had the right message and mission.
The choir formed in 2006 specifically to break down racial, cultural and economic barriers in the St. Louis community. Their method: performing and interpreting traditional spirituals and African-American gospel music. It was a bold move because the choir also intended to introduce the music to a wider (and whiter) audience.
Another important goal of the choir was to develop a diverse membership. That’s highly unusual in the world of gospel music, where choirs tend to be either white or black. The 60-member Community Gospel Choir is 25 percent black—nearly the same as the racial makeup of St. Louis County, according to the latest census report.
Diversity is part of the choir’s DNA. The choir also has Asian representation and has had a Jewish rabbi as a former member.
On April 22 the choir celebrated a milestone: it’s 10th anniversary. It will mark the event in high style, with a free all-star concert at Salem United Methodist Church, 1200 S. Lindbergh Blvd. in Frontenac.
Joining the choir on-stage was the Gospel Symphonic Choir, directed by Dello Thedford, and The Legend Singers, directed by Dr. Doris Wilson. The three choirs formed a powerhouse trio including some of the best gospel singers in St. Louis. Cecilia Stearman, who founded the choir 10 years ago, was also on hand.
A notable local singer doubles as the musical director of the Community Gospel Choir. Suzanne Palmer previously performed as a member of Satin in the Fabulous Motown Review. During her career with Satin, she performed twice for President Obama, once during his first campaign and then following the election at the inaugural Midwest Ball.
Now, she and the choir are making beautiful music and hoping to get St. Louisans to live in harmony, too.