Christmas comes alive through the joyful and inspiring voices of the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir. On Dec. 16, Ives Concert Park presents A Joyful Gospel Concert for the Holidays at 7 p.m. in the Veronica Hagman Concert Hall in the Visual and Performing Arts Center on the Western Connecticut State University’s Westside campus.
“We know after attending this concert folks will become fans, discovering the warmth in their hearts and a newfound exuberance in their soul,” said Phyllis Cortese, executive director of Ives Concert Park.
The concert, part of the Newtown Savings Bank Fine Arts & Family Series, is the park’s first holiday event in the WCSU Concert Hall.
“Gospel music is a celebration of hope and inspiration, a rejoicing of freedom and blessings — the perfect way to share the holiday spirit,” said Cortese.
For over two decades the Harlem Gospel Choir has been America’s premier gospel choir, presenting the inspirational power of gospel music around the world.
“We are very pleased about this concert. We really enjoy bringing the choir’s interpretation of some well known songs to a local community,” said Anna Bailey, manager of the Harlem Gospel choir. Nine singers and two musicians will present rousing renditions of well-known Christmas carols and other seasonally inspiring songs, as well as upbeat pop tunes, including Kool & the Gang’s Celebration and Pharrell Williams’ Happy. Anna notes all the music in the choir’s playlist offers a promising message. A special highlight will be a performance of the traditional, soul-stirring Amazing Grace paired with a jazzy, up-tempo version.
“Music is the universal language. It can be understood by everybody,” Anna said. “It has a way of changing people’s perspectives and giving them strength. It’s something about the music, itself. Gospel is a genre that you have to believe what you’re singing. You have to feel it.”
The choir, based in Harlem, N.Y., is known for contemporary American gospel music infused with a hint of jazz and blues.
“We share that it comes from the gospel tradition and the choir sings songs that are sung in church today, but they don’t preach. It’s not a call to the altar,” notes Anna “We are a gospel choir and we tend to focus on positive messages and not heavily religious formats. Everyone needs hope and inspiration. We want you to have a good time and enjoy.”
Known for its lively, high-energy performances and soul-stirring voices, the choir inspires audience members to sing along, clap their hands, tap their feet, and immerse themselves in the power of the music.
“It’s a happy time. It’s extremely rewarding when they get that positive response from a knowledgeable audience and it’s well received. It gives them energy and it pours out,” she said.
Her husband, Allen Bailey, a well-known leader in the entertainment industry for over 50 years, founded the Harlem Gospel Choir in 1986. At the age of 13, he was the road manager for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and since then his career has brought him to various promotional positions. Allen was instrumental in the Harlem community, coordinating Harlem’s entertainment for the Nelson Mandela celebration at Yankee Stadium, co-directing the Harlem Jazz Festival and serving as entertainment coordinator for Rumble in the Jungle, the heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. Also, Allen was a promotional director for major recording artists and film stars, including Lionel Richie, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Isaac Hayes. In 1985, he assisted in the east coast production of We Are the World, and in 1986 was part of USA for Africa.
As chairman of the Martin Luther King Holiday Campaign in 1986 at the Cotton Club in Harlem, Allen observed how tourists were interested in listening to the compelling songs performed by church gospel choirs. From that moment, he created the traveling Harlem Gospel Choir to allow everyone to experience the amazing music of these outstanding singers. Allen toured full-time with the Choir until 2012.
Over the years, the Harlem Gospel Choir has performed alongside a wide spectrum of well-known singers, including Sia, Bono, Diana Ross, Pharrell Williams, Andre Rieu, Yolanda Adams, KBS Korean Traditional Music Orchestra and more. The choir also performed for noted dignitaries, including Nelson Mandela and President Obama and President Carter, two popes, and the UN General Assembly. The choir also recorded with Keith Richards, the Chieftains, Trace Adkins and others. Last month, they performed at the prestigious London Jazz Festival, the Capital’s biggest pan-city music festival. The choir performs every Sunday at BB King Blues Club in New York City for gospel brunch.
A Joyful Gospel Concert for the Holidays is a journey through uplifting songs and captivating performances.
“These magnificent voices that bring contemporary gospel and a touch of jazz and blues can’t help but warm the heart and soul of everyone who experiences their performance,” said Cortese.
Through song, the Harlem Gospel Choir shares the meaning of the season. “Every show embodies songs of love, hope, and inspiration. I want the audience to feel some kind of renewed hope or perspective — a refreshed sensation,” says Anna. “This concert will touch the depths of your soul, lift your spirit, and take your breath away.”
Doors open at 6 p.m. with the show beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16. Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 at the door. All tickets are general admission. For more information, visit ivesconcertpark.com.