‘Level Next: A Celebration of Gospel Choirs’ To Showcase DC’s Gospel Sound at Strathmore

The Washington Performing Arts program will celebrate gospel's history as well as its future.

With more than 50 years of DC gospel music history between them, two of the DMV’s finest choirs, Washington Performing Arts’ Men & Women of the Gospel Choir and Children of the Gospel Choir, join forces and voices in Level Next: A Celebration of Gospel Choirs, Friday, June 7, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore.

Men and Women of the Gospel Choir and Children of the Gospel Choir. Photo courtesy of Washington Performing Arts.

Featuring a special guest appearance by the renowned singer, composer, multi-Grammy-nominee, multi-Stellar Award–winner, and DC gospel legend Richard Smallwood, plus another guest-soloist appearance by DMV-based singer and choir director Monique Steele-Griffiths, this Washington Performing Arts 2018/19 Season Finale concert showcases the proud legacy of choral music in the gospel tradition and takes a joyous look toward the music’s future, with multiple generations of singers performing old-school hits, contemporary classics, and more.

In keeping with the evening’s title, the program celebrates the pure enjoyment of gospel choirs in all their electrifying dynamism and contagious optimism. But Level Next also explores a deeper current in gospel history. From the music’s beginnings, choirs have been central to the growth and spread of the art form, as these institutions provide singers a space for communal engagement and cultural affirmation. While gospel music and artists continue to grow in popularity nationally and internationally, gospel choirs are often not as prominent. Washington Performing Arts’ artistic directors Michele Fowlin and Theodore Thorpe III view Level Next as an opportunity to both honor and advocate for continued support of gospel choirs in their traditional worship contexts and beyond. The concert also extends a WPA tradition begun in 2017 of closing each year’s main stage presenting season with a gospel-choir showcase organized around a unifying theme—including June 2018’s Stay Woke, Still Woke, performed entirely by the Children of the Gospel Choir.

Stay Woke, Still Woke was the inspired vision of the Children of the Gospel students, speaking to their view of social issues faced in current times,” explained Michele Fowlin, artistic director of the Children of the Gospel Choir. “The performance gave a brief context of the history of gospel and its relevance, through social issues, and unveiled the students concerns and hopeful solutions of current situations.  Although this year’s concert, Level Next, does not deal with the same context, we are striving to share the beauty of gospel music through the first heard vehicle of this art form in the church, the choir, from then to now and how we are taking its sound to a higher level.”

Men and Women of the Gospel Choir and Children of the Gospel Choir. Photo courtesy of Washington Performing Arts.

“Although gospel as a genre has flourished over the decades, the key role of the choir in gospel music isn’t always as appreciated as it should be,” added Theodore Thorpe III, artistic director of the Men and Women of the Gospel Choir. “With the rise of praise teams and smaller ensembles leading worship services and concerts, the choir has somewhat been an afterthought. We must remember that the choir is a direct physical, spiritual, and emotional representation of the people to whom they minister. For the congregation, parishioner, and audience member, it is a relationship with which they can tangibly and vocally identify. That powerful distinction cannot be overstated. While smaller ensemble singing has its place within the genre of gospel music, it cannot replace the clear distinction of the choir as the primary message deliverer. In our June 7 celebration, we will perform songs by multiple artists who kept the choir at the forefront and continue to remind us why we fell in love with gospel music.”

Level Next: A Celebration of Gospel Choirs will be presented by Washington Performing Arts’ combined Men, Women, and Children of the Gospel Choirs on Friday, June 7, 2019, at 8:00 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. For tickets, go online.