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Joyful gospel: Harlem Gospel Choir aims to enlighten as well as entertain audiences

By Sarah Kucharski

It was Allen Bailey’s aim to bring about a better understanding of black culture and the church’s role in the local community when he founded the Harlem Gospel Choir on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1986.


“It not only serves our spiritual needs on Sunday but throughout the week you have all kinds of programs going on in the church,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s mother raised five boys on a strictly limited income, relying on the church to provide many basics.

“We would eat at the church, get clothes at the church, and now we give back to the church,” he said.

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The 40-member strong choir ministers its message of joy through music and faith in God all across the world. The choir is a gathering of the finest singers and musicians from various black churches in Harlem. Their songs of inspirations and hope include popular music such as “This Little Light of Mine,” “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Celebration” and “Amazing Grace.”

“It’s so amazing because we just came back from the Czech Republic and Russia and the Baltic states, and they don’t speak our language, but they sing our songs,” Bailey said.

The theme of unity is strong in each Harlem Gospel Choir performance. The Choir will bring its song to Western Carolina University at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Fine and Performing Arts Center as part of a week-long celebration held to honor the memory of slain civil rights leader King Jr.

Over the years the Choir’s success has led to performances with famous artists including Lyle Lovett, Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Brooks and Dunn, Jimmy Cliff, Bono and the Chieftains.

“All this music, this pop, the R&B, the country, they all had their beginnings in the church,” Bailey said.

The Choir was granted a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 2003 in recognition of its charity work. The choir often uses its performances as fundraisers for children’s groups. Currently the Choir is working with Feed the Children.

The Harlem Gospel Choir performance is free. Tonya Williams, general counsel for N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight, will speak on King’s life at a program just prior to the concert at 6:30 p.m.

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