The Georgia Mass Choir was one of many large ensembles that had a hit song in the gospel music industry. Whether or not the mass choir will survive, or even make a return post-pandemic remains a mystery. (Courtesy photo)

By Marnita Coleman
Special to the AFRO

Once upon a time in the city of Baltimore, Sunday morning radio permeated the airwaves with the crème de la crème of gospel music. There were selections that suited every music lover’s appetite. Radio stations like 92Q were banging out the hits on the Praise Party, serving the youngsters gospel hip hop. The old-schoolers were tuned into WWIN’s Sunday Morning Joy for its traditional playlist that touched the center of their hearts. But, the real deal was spinning on the 1s and 2s at WEAA’s Gospel Grace where the standard was contemporary gospel music and the best mass choirs from across the nation. Still reverberating through the corridors of Holmes Hall is the foot-stomping sounds of “Ride On King Jesus” by the Wilmington Chester Mass Choir. The question now is will the mass choirs ever return to the magnitude of that day? I have enlisted the help of the gospel industry’s finest minds to tackle that question and to reminisce about the greatness of the mass choir era.

Renowned musician and Minister of Music at First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore, H. Buddy Lakins, Jr. seems to think mass choirs are capable of a comeback. Lakins stated, “Hezekiah Walker, Ricky Dillard, Patrick Riddick, Patrick Lundy, Kevin Lemons and more are doing very well and still picking up steam. I formed the Apostolic Mass Choir from 5 other choirs at the church. As a whole, the church loves large mass choirs more than small groups, ensembles, praise and worship, and the power and energy they bring.” 

The AFRO talked with Lady Voncile Belcher, former lead singer of the Georgia Mass Choir’s mega hit, “Look Where He Brought Me From.” Lady Voncile passionately stated, “The mass choir is a place where all voices are blended together to make one sound. There are no superstars, it cuts down on competition because everyone is together for a common cause. The members are humble, teachable and interested in learning. Those who desire to sing can fit in without being the greatest singer. The choir offers a variety in voice and style, even the musicians are actually different. The mass choir brings everybody together like a family.”

Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS documentary, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song depicts the Black church as the core of African American life. Robert Marovich, founder and editor-in-chief, of Journal of Gospel Music shared that “Gospel music is the music of the church. The two are inseparable. The earliest gospel music grew out of the needs of Northern churches to appeal to migrants who were traveling North in search of a better life. Their style of worship ‘down South’ was more congregational and spiritual in manner, but when they arrived in big cities such as Chicago and New York, they found the churches to be very conservative. Too conservative for their taste! These churches sang anthems and hymns and did not do a lot of shouting or congregational singing. Some even thought spirituals were beneath them! Consequently, migrants ‘stole away’ to the local Pentecostal churches where emotional worship and singing were not only encouraged but essential to the worship experience. Pastors of mainline Protestant churches realized that if they did not welcome gospel choirs and singers into their company, they would be unable to grow their ministries. But it took a while, though the gospel music movement started in earnest around 1932, it would not truly catch on until the early 1940s. Today, churches foster gospel music as the primary music of praise and worship.”

It has always been heaven’s intention to accompany the message of Christ with the songs of the saints. Music proclaims the gospel. Throughout the scriptures, people of God are told to sing praises unto the Lord for His mighty deeds. In Colossians 3:16, Apostle Paul instructs believers to, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” 

Whether or not the mass choir will return in a pandemic-altered landscape remains a mystery. One thing for sure, the mass choir has made an indelible mark in history and according to the Billboard Gospel Charts, is currently charting in the Top 20 across the nation and in the hearts of all who listen.

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