A Historical Musical Journey
Gospel Highlighted at Bowie State
By April C. Thornton
Before coming to Bowie State University, Dr. Joan R. Hillsman was the supervising Director of Music for the District Colombia public schools system and then retired after 32 years of service. She is internationally known for her workshops and African-American research. Her doctorate in ethnomusicology specializes in gospel music and other musical forms. Dr. Joan R. Hillsman is director of the Bowie State University Gospel Choir.
Gospel music has a long and deep history that tells a story about our African-American heritage. Hillsman said, "In Africa they sang and danced. Going to the new world though the middle passages some did not survive. The Negro spirituals as they were called many of them today have been arranged or trained voices."
After the decline of slavery, contemporary gospel entered the picture. Thomas A. Dorsey is known as the father of gospel. Dorsey's unique blues and jazz sound and his piano skills made gospel music an interest to many people. Gospel has several classical components and arranges from different genres, for instance: Mary Mary, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Sisters, Shirley Caesar and the list continues. Hillsman said many cultures are included in gospel, for instance contemporary Christian music, and the list goes on.
The Bowie State University Gospel Choir's musicianship was on full display at a recent noonday concert in the MLK commons during the Dept. of Fine and Performing Arts' Spring Arts Festival. The up-tempo rhythm had the audience clapping their hands and tapping their feet on the concrete floor. The choir's amazing voices had people feeling like they were attending church service on Sunday, with the audience offering up shouts and praises. The gospel Choir sang "Chap your Hands," "Grateful," "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior," "I'm Gonna to Wait on the Lord," "I Don't Want No Trouble at the River" and senior Simon Frazier sang, "Wasn't that a Wide River" and other delightful song choices. The uplifting sight of choreography was added to the mix, which included praise dancing.
Prof. Latonya Wrenn recently came to Bowie State University as a concert artist after receiving her master's degree in piano at Howard University. Wrenn played a classical selection at the end of the spiritual songs. After her graceful performance the audience gave her a standing ovation.
The concert would not be complete without the instrumental sounds of Steve Garrison, playing a smooth and mellow saxophone; Gerald Norris, playing the drums with his heart and soul; Dr. Tom Newman and PJ Edmund, strumming the guitar, and Paul Mitchell and Derrick Pew playing the soulful sounds of the keyboards.
The choir ends its most recent tour on venues in New York and New Jersey later this month.