By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

The brainchild of world-renowned blues and gospel-singer and social activist Lea Gilmore, Baltimore Community Sing (BCS) was born of her frustration during Baltimore’s “Uprising” in the spring of 2015. “I was feeling helpless during the Uprising and wanted to do something, anything to gather us together,” Gilmore said. “I know that singing is often a bridge over troubled waters. So…inspired by Dr. Ysaÿe Barnwell, founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock, I decided to organize a community sing.”

Baltimore Community Sing (BCS). (Photo Courtesy The Living Well – by Nellaware Photography)

Nearly five years in, and BCS is going strong…so much so that the Modell Lyric Performing Arts Center is hosting a celebratory anniversary sing for the diverse group of vocalists, 6-8 p.m., March 16, in the Lyric’s Grand Lobby. 

Utilizing her considerable experience as a grass roots organizer, Gilmore solicited participation through social media, established a Facebook Group (Be More COMMUNITY SINGS!, facebook.com/groups/115437035465549), inviting any and all who might be interested, and created an e-list, which allowed individuals to receive information about the gatherings, after sending a message to baltimorecommunitysing@yahoo.com in order to join.

Baltimore Community Sing (BCS). (Photo Courtesy The Living Well – by Nellaware Photography)

The inaugural sing was held at the Arena Players, but Gilmore was looking for a home base. She soon found one at The Living Well (http://livewellbemore.com/). “At first, we were transient, and it was good,” she explains, “but The Living Well shared our goal of seeking healing in our community. Its founder, Maurissa Stone-Bass, is a powerful force of good in our city, and I was honored to form the partnership.”

Like Gilmore, Stone-Bass was also influenced by Barnwell after attending a community sing she hosted in the mid-80s. “I distinctly remembered how powerful that circle was for singers and non-singers such as myself,” Bass explains. “Having Lea come and share songs of healing and resistance using the oral tradition was another way to preserve our African-American cultural art form. Residents in our communities were hurting and very much divided. Lea’s community was the perfect opportunity to teach people about the impact of structural and systematic racism for those who didn’t identify as racist. The singing circle also provided a vessel for communication and healing.”

Singing & Healing Circle at Baltimore Community Sing (BCS). (Photo Courtesy The Living Well – by Nellaware Photography)

Nicole Fall, an artist-educator who was teaching in Baltimore City Schools at the time, has been an active participant in BCS from the start. Fall, who moved to Baltimore to attend MICA in 1978 and stayed in the area said, “The Uprising had put me in a very thoughtful place about where we would go from there, wanting to do something but not clear about what to do. I had participated in a chorus in junior high at a highly diverse school. I had enjoyed being part of the group and singing. So, it made perfect sense to join.”

To be clear, Gilmore says, “BCS is not a choir. We are a diverse group of folks who love to sing and enjoy the benefits of doing so together.”

Baltimore Community Sing (BCS). (Photo Courtesy The Living Well – by Nellaware Photography)

To that end, she has created opportunities for BCS to participate in sings with other groups and several churches throughout the city. And, to keep the music flowing, Gilmore has called upon her husband, the Rev. David Gilmore, pastor of New Mount Zion Baptist Church; Maria Broom, Ama Chandra, Joyce J. Scott, Woody Lissauer and others to lead the sings in her absence.

Gilmore has big plans for the future of BCS, which she describes as “Good Change A Coming.” Already, the group has transitioned to quarterly gatherings, instead of monthly, but it is in no way a plan to limit or decrease the group’s participation in sings. Gilmore says, “There will be opportunities to sing at local events, senior living facilities, homeless shelters, and more.  We will seek to organize group singing events and possibly a ‘flash mob’”

Baltimore Community Sing (BCS). (Photo Courtesy The Living Well – by Nellaware Photography)

The upcoming five-year anniversary sing will provide an introduction to Baltimore Community Sing for many and the opportunity to feel the strength of community through song. As Gilmore has been known to say, “It is difficult to hate the person you are standing next to singing.  Singing allows us to know each other on a deeply human level, and it’s just fun!”

The event is free and open to the public (five years and older). However, seating is limited and must be reserved (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lea-gilmores-baltimore-community-sing-tickets-96916105681).