WMU News

Contemporary gospel is focus of annual Black History Festival

February 9, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- The controversy surrounding gospel music's place in society, outside the hallowed walls of the church, will be explored Feb. 19-20 at Western Michigan University as part of Black History Month.

"Exposition IV: The 'Rap' on Contemporary Gospel," will be presented Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20. The event will run from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night in the Dalton Center Recital Hall and is free and open to the public.

Presented by WMU's Black Americana Studies Program, the annual music festival will feature lectures by four experts in African American culture, music and gospel music. The lectures will be highlighted by performances by traditional and contemporary gospel music artists from Michigan.

According to Dr. Benjamin C. Wilson, professor of Black Americana Studies and coordinator of the festival, many gospel aficionados consider contemporary gospel music by artists such as Kirk Franklin and BeeBee and CeeCee Wynans to be sacrilegious, viewing gospel music as sacred and belonging in a house of worship. These "zealots" as he calls them, say contemporary gospel music is performed in a manner that is secular.

"What they don't recognize is that contemporary gospel is designed to appeal to youth. You have got to find ways to bring them back to church," says Wilson. "To get kids to church, you have to be able to hook them and contemporary gospel is that tool."

Friday evening's program will feature two lectures and a musical performance by The Priests of Neiavah. Dr. Fred McElroy, associate professor of African American studies at the University of Indiana, will address "Church Celebration Days and Accompanying Traditional Congregational Singing." His colleague, Dr. Gloria Gibson, associate professor of African American studies and film at Indiana University, will speak on "The Incorporation of Black Popular Music on Contemporary Gospel Used by Television Evangelists." Contemporary gospel artists The Priests of Neiavah of Battle Creek will perform following the lectures.

On Saturday, Dr. Horace Boyer, an Afro-ethnomusicologist from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, will talk about the transition of the gospel music form "From Traditional to Contemporary Gospel." He will be followed by Dr. A. Onipede (On-ee-PAY-DAY) Hollist, assistant professor of composition at University of Tampa, who will address the "Pervasive Nature of African American Pop Culture -- A Continental Perspective."

"You would be surprised at how pervasive African-American popular culture is around the world, especially in Africa," Wilson says. "Americans go to Africa looking for the pristine country of the 1800s and are shocked to see them in African-American clothing like the baggy pants and the hat being worn backwards. Women in Ghana are dressing Western and listening to Tupac Shakur and Erykah Badu."

Musical performances on Saturday will be by Eternal Life, a traditional gospel group from Kalamazoo, and Randy Scott , a saxophonist from Southfield, Mich.
Rev. Tim Troxler, youth minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, will serve as the festival's master of ceremonies for both evenings.

This year's festival is the 11th year the popular annual event has been held on campus. In the past, programs have focused on such musical styles as funk, reggae, rhythm and blues and music from films.

Major sponsors for the event include the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and the WMU units of the Office of the President, Division of Minority Affairs, Vice President for Student Affairs, College of Education, Department of Communication, Office of University Budgets, Office of Assistant Vice President for Business, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of Admissions and Orientation and the Black Americana Studies Program.

For more information, call the Black Americana Studies Program at (616) 387-2665.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
616 387-8400