Gospel music is ingrained in the fabric of American culture and is particularly precious to African Americans, whose ancestors sang songs of heartache and jubilee during slavery. This music became a gift to future generations of Americans and proliferated into jazz, the blues and modern day soul music. At times, the essence of gospel music and the Black experience has been captured in other art forms, including quilt-making, dance and the spoken word.
Shawn James uses art as his conduit for expression.

The muralist has created works in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and was recently announced as the winner of Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound Public Mural Initiative. The artwork – a vibrant image of gospel singers dressed in traditional church choir robes surrounded by an urban landscape – marks Verizon’s commitment to the annual “How Sweet the Sound” national gospel choir competition.

James said he was inspired by Psalm 28: 7, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”

“When I think of gospel music I think of rejoicing, and the Verizon ‘How Sweet the Sound’ mural initiative wanted something that was concurrent with gospel music and with what they were trying to do with that event,” James told the AFRO.

The “How Sweet the Sound” mural features bold colors, easy-to-read wording and simple shapes, the artist added, so “when the public is driving by or walking by they can take it in with one glimpse and keep going.”

James works as the director of the Baltimore Mural Program and is the community arts coordinator for the CityPaint 2010, an initiative hosted by city Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. The lifelong art-lover and self-proclaimed “military brat” said he hopes his work will inspire city residents.

“I am so honored that Verizon’s ‘How Sweet the Sound’ has given me the opportunity to share my art in such a public forum,” James said. “My hope is that every resident of Washington, D.C., will see themselves and our city’s culture reflected in the mural.”

James and muralists from nine other cities across the nation will receive a $7,000 grant toward their project and publicity on the competition’s website. The inspiration for his work, the uber-competitive “How Sweet the Sound” singing showcase, takes place at the Verizon Center on Sept. 18. Local groups will shake the rafters with praise while vying for bragging rights, up to $16,000 in cash and prizes and a chance to be named “The Best Church Choir in America” in November at the nationwide face-off.

For more information about Shawn James, visit muralsmastersinc.com. To learn more about Verizon’s “How Sweet the Sound” choir competition and to purchase tickets ($5-$7), visit howsweetthesound.com. Visit afro.com for more coverage of the 2010 competition.


Kristin Gray

AFRO Managing Editor