Sunday afternoon spirituals will uplift the heart and mind

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2017

When the Johnson Center for the Arts was exploring opportunities through which to celebrate Black History Month, music kept creeping to the top of the list. Music and art both have deep roots in the African American community, said Vicki Pritchett, JCA executive director.

“On Sunday afternoon, we will celebrate both African American music and art at the Johnson Center for the Arts,” Pritchett said. “At 3 p.m., the Johnson Center will present ‘An Afternoon of African American Spirituals’ featuring five outstanding Alabama sopranos, including Troy’s own Shelia Jackson and LaShea Money. Anna Moore and Tommy Cargill-Easterly of Montgomery and Ashley Knight of Prattville are guest vocalists.

Pritchett said a spiritual is a religious folksong and African American spirituals are one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksongs.

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“We knew that African American spirituals sung by these five outstanding sopranos would be a wonderfully entertaining way to celebrate Black History Month,” Pritchett said.

The term “spiritual” is derived from the King James Bible translation of Ephesians 5:19: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Jackson said the scripture speaks to what the Sunday afternoon concert will be.

“Spirituals are biblical and they are sung to uplift hearts,” she said. “We will sing to uplift hearts.”

Songs the audience might expect to hear include “Deep River,” “There is Balm in Gilead,”

“Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot” and “Give Me Jesus.” 

“All of the singers are very talented and have performed throughout the United States,” Pritchett said. “Each of them will sing three songs and they will also sing together.”

Henry Terry and Milton Williams will accompany the singers on the JCA’s 100-year-old piano and Patrick Jackson will be on saxophone.

Terry will also have program notes on the spirituals so the audience will have the background of the songs being sung.  Some spirituals will be sung in the original arrangements. Others will be contemporary arrangements.

Following the concert, a dessert reception will be held in the JCA’s lower level gallery.

“Everyone will be invited to join us at the reception and encouraged to take the opportunity to meet the singers and musicians and to also view the two art exhibits in the gallery and meet the artists,” Pritchett said. “Debra Riffe’s ‘I learnt to sing a glad new song’ and Belinda Harrison’s ‘Varieties’ are great examples of the artwork being done by African American women.”

Tickets for  “An Afternoon of African American Spirituals” are $10 and are available at the Johnson Center for the Arts at 300 East Walnut Street in downtown Troy. Tickets will also be available at the door. All proceeds from the concert will benefit the JCA.