The Rev. Roosevelt “Doc” Davenport.
“Vocal Music is dying out,” says Charles Jeffreys, a dedicated vocal choir member of First Baptist Church of Cherry Hill. “But, Rev. Davenport has been a strong supporter of vocal music for 30 plus years now, so I think it’s high time we honor him for that.” The Rev. Roosevelt “Doc” Davenport, whose career in ministry began in the Red Hill Community of his native South Carolina, is the senior pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church. His powerful voice and stature encourage the unanimous thought that he is a gentle giant. “Because of his support and influence, if he is invited to another church and he calls on the vocal choir members, they’ll go and support him without a question. The Vocal Choir Union of Baltimore City was founded in 1979 and it was originally a group of 32 churches, but over the years, it’s gone down to 12. There are only about 6 or 7 original choirs left in the union and there aren’t really any young people in the vocal choirs,” says Jeffreys.
Vocal choirs have as their sole instrument their voices and the energy and fervor that resounds from the members individually and collectively.
The Vocal Choir Union’s first meeting was held at New Pilgrim Baptist Church, though the choir in place had formerly been called the Mobley Vocal Choir before the installation of Rev. Davenport. The Maryland State Missionary Baptist Convention of 1986 was hosted by the Rev. Olin P. Moyd, who asked Rev. Davenport to organize a mass vocal choir that would travel every year, from Florida to St. Louis to Kansas City and everywhere in between. “Every choir in the union has a different personality; that includes New Pilgrim Baptist, where the atmospheric culture is largely based on their vocal choir. One of the problems, though, is that whenever a new preacher has to come in, they’ll change the program. They focus on more modern Christian music, which changes the culture of that church. It’s really sad that churches have forgotten their roots,” says Jeffreys, “the messages in the vocal music date back to the times of slavery.”
As part of a union, the choirs are required to meet once a month and pay their respective dues. The sense of unity is deep within the vocal choir community; so deep, in fact, that Jeffreys says, “Even though each choir celebrates their own anniversary, they travel to each other’s churches for the other’s anniversaries.” When asked how many original vocal choir members were still living, Jeffreys said, “Most of the older members of the original choirs have passed away, leaving only 12 current choirs active. Some of the former vocal choir members still come out to celebrate the anniversaries or they will send out ‘Happy Anniversary’ letters.” Jeffreys has been in the union for 10 years and in 2002, his own daughters became musicians at New Pilgrim Baptist under the guidance of Rev. Davenport. Some of the songs that are near and dear to these vocal choirs are, “Let’s Go Down By The River,” “Will You Meet Me In The Promised Land,” “One More River To Cross,” “Green Tree Planted By Water,” and “I Shall Not Be Moved,” just to name a few.
Rev. Davenport is going to be honored 7 p.m., Oct. 24, at the First Baptist Church of Cherry Hill.