WMU News

Annual music festival gives spirited look at gospel

Jan. 24, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- A spirited and moving minifestival exploring traditional gospel music is planned for February at Western Michigan University.

"The Old Landmark: Traditional Gospel in the 21st Century," is the title of the Exposition VII Minifest, which will blend lectures with live performances to both educate and entertain audiences Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8 and 9, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. Events begin at 7:30 p.m. each night and are free and open to the public.

An annual event, this year's minifestival will explore gospel music in the Southern style, says organizer Dr. Benjamin Wilson, director of WMU's Africana studies program. Gospel was born in 1906 out of the praise of ecstatic worshippers in Pentecostal churches where traditional European hymns were "gospelized" through jubilant and forceful singing, dramatic testimonies, hand clapping, foot stomping and the beating of drums, tambourines and triangles.

Wilson says that gospel and blues music came into being at about the same time and have strong ties to one another.

"We say that gospel and secular blues are twins, only secular blues became the bad child," Wilson explains. "Gospel is the music of free blacks with lyrics that are existential about the afterlife. Blues talk about more the day-to-day woes of paying the rent and problems with one's spouse."

The festival format for both evenings will begin with a 7:30 p.m. lecutre, followed by a question and answer period and a live musical performance.

On Friday evening, Dr. Horace Boyer, a leading gospel music expert and performer, will lecture on the rise of the gospel tradition. The author of 1995 book "How Sweet the Sound ­ The Golden Age of Gospel," Boyer is a professor emeritus of music theory and African American music at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Boyer will follow his lecture by performing with his brother, James. The Boyer Brothers have been singing and playing gospel music together since there were young and made their first recording at the ages of 15 and 16. They have performed across the nation and in Canada and appeared with such gospel notables as Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward.

On Saturday evening, Dr. Gloria Gibson, an associate professor of ethnomusicology at Indiana University, will give her perspective on gospel music. Her presentation will be followed by a performance by Myron Cobbs & A New Song, an ensemble choir composed of members from churches throughout Kalamazoo. Wilson says that Cobbs, an employee at Pharmacia, has long been known locally for his musical talents.

This is the 14th year for the popular minifestival, which coincides with Black History Month. Previous festivals have explored other African American musical forms, including jazz, blues, reggae and funk.

Festival sponsors include the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and James Norman as well as WMU's Office of the President, University Budgets Office, Office of the Assistant Vice President for Business, the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Education, the divisions of Student Affairs and Multicultural Affairs, the departments of Sociology and English; and the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations.

For more information, contact Benjamin Wilson at (269) 387-2667.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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