No matter how foul your mood, it’s ridiculously difficult not to smile like a fool at a gospel concert, and the World Famous Harlem Gospel Choir had the whole audience doing just that Friday night at the Jazz Fest.
With nine singers—three men and six women—a keyboardist, and a drummer, the choir had the packed audience at Théâtre Maisonneuve singing, dancing, clapping, and praising the Lord. Not only was mass audience participation paramount, but individual people in the audience were also singled out to sing a solo chorus of “This Little Light of Mine,” or to come onstage and dance and/or sing with the choir. One young woman was actually right at home up there trading phrases during “Oh Happy Day” with one of the most powerful female chorists. Energy levels were consistently sky-high, and the electricity rubbed off on everyone: by the end of the show there wasn’t a single soul sitting down.
The Harlem Gospel Choir is nothing if not passionate. Each member of the choir had a turn to shine, and some of these solos were truly outstanding. The solo rendition of “Amazing Grace” was among the most moving I’ve heard, bringing tears to eyes which soon enough transformed to smiles when the entire choir joined in, in a funked-up, bluesed-out version of the classic. Whitney Houston’s “I Love the Lord” was similarly virtuosic and gut-wrenching. The rich harmonies and upbeat rhythms of “Do You Know Him” pumped everyone up, as did other classics like “Every Praise” and “Chasing After You.” The choir is at their best when they’re backing up a soloist, or singing in harmony; personally I found the unison sections a little less interesting.
With their emphasis on audience participation, it’s no surprise that the concert ended with about a dozen audience members showing off their dance moves onstage to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” and Pharrel Williams’s “Happy.” And indeed, never has praising the Lord been such a happy celebration.
The Harlem Gospel Choir performed at Théâtre Maisonneuve June 30 as part of the FIJM.