OCC’s Gospel Fest will feature seven local church choirs and plenty of shout-outs to the Lord
Celebrate Black History Month with family and friends in an auditorium exploding with spirited gospel music. On Monday, Feb. 21, 6 p.m., Onondaga Community College’s Black History Month committee invites the entire community to its fourth annual Gospel Fest, titled “One Church.” The musical event will be held in Storer Auditorium, attached to Ferrante Hall on OCC’s campus, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike.
“It’s a multicultural celebration,” says Cory Hudson, director of OCC’s Educational Opportunity Program, founder of Gospel Fest, and this year’s emcee. “It helps us come together, different cultures, in a very festive, lighthearted, joyous occasion to just celebrate life. We’re all in this ship together, so let’s have fun!” Seven church choirs, all local talents, are scheduled to perform: Tucker Missionary Baptist Church Choir, Apostolic Praise and Worship Chorale, Abundant Life Worship Ministry, Descendants of Abraham, Believer’s Chapel Choir, Heaven’s Fire, and Vessels. Each group is invited to bring their accompanying musicians and congregations.
There will be a blend of contemporary and traditional gospel songs adding up to no more than 21 (each choir is expected to sing two or three songs). The performance will last about two hours. “The human voice is one of the best instruments,” Hudson says. “Every one brings a unique flavor to celebrating gospel music. It’s a very festive event.”
Gospel Fest began four years ago as a creative initiative to recognize Black History Month. Hudson recognized that OCC did not have a gospel choir, but wanted to start an annual event to celebrate American heritage through African- American gospel music. He wanted to bring together churches from all over Central New York to reflect on the past and rejoice in the future.
Christina Mancuso, the newly appointed worship director of Believer’s Chapel Choir in Cicero, will lead a group of about 15 to 20 singers for her first Gospel Fest. It will be the choir’s second time as a featured artist, and their enthusiasm is sky-high, she observes. She is most excited to worship collectively with other churches and to finally experience the festivities herself.
Believer’s Chapel Choir is both multigenerational and multicultural. It includes African- Americans, Italians, Latinos, Irish and more. “Black History Month is all about diversity,” Mancuso says. “We all come from different places and have different nationalities, but we’re all believers and we’re all here together. We celebrate every culture.”
The choir will be accompanied by a full band equipped with guitars, bass, and drums. Mancuso describes it as a “full, uplifting, energetic experience.” Gospel music gives the group an outlet to expose what’s in their hearts, she says.
The group will sing two traditional gospel songs that will last about 15 minutes. Since they generally sing anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes every weekend, they’re focusing on making every minute count, Mancuso explains. “When you sing gospel music, you can’t sing halfheartedly,” she says. “It’s a big sound that you have to pull from your toes. You sing everything you feel. You go big or you go home.”
Some audience members will stand at Gospel Fest, others will sit, but most will clap along to the rhythmic music, Hudson explains. He’s seen every age attend past performances and doesn’t expect less. Roughly 200 people showed last year. The auditorium holds 370.
Aside from the live music, a short video of a historically accredited gospel performance will be presented during Gospel Fest. Previously recognized artists include Mahalia Jackson and The Caravans. “We invite our guests to see a little piece of American history through the multimedia presentation,” Hudson says. “This year, we will be selecting another artist to present to our audience to remember American heritage.”
It’s a night of live music and historical remembrance. Gospel Fest has had great success in the past, and Hudson plans on this year’s being the biggest one yet. “We will keep it moving well,” he says. “We’ll keep the energy high. We all need celebration. As we walk day to day, it’s good to laugh and celebrate.”
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and tickets are available at Arts Across Campus, 498-2787. They will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last. Please note that seating is limited. Tickets do not guarantee seating, which also will be on a first-come, firstserved basis on the night of the performance.