It was part competition, part lovefest, but mostly worship experience Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in D.C.
A night of gospel music was punctuated by soul-stirring performances, candid testimonies from the judges and praise breaks shared between choir directors, the hosts and gospel music fans with many waving their hands and rejoicing God’s impact in their lives throughout the night.
Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound is a search for the nation’s best choir and the latest stop was in the nation’s capital. Eight choirs from the mid-Atlantic region competed in two categories for small and large groups. Participants across the country are eligible to compete for up to $16,000 and the chance to perform in the grand finale in Los Angeles and up to $50,000. Each local choir receives $3,000.
The event pays tribute to the genre and showcases the work of local churches, said Verizon’s vice president of corporate communication Marquett Smith.
Acclaimed recording artists CeCe Winans and Donald Lawrence co-hosted the event. Judging the contestants were award-winning producer/composer/recording artists the Rev. Dr. Marvin Sapp and Fred Hammond as well as iconic Pastor Shirley Caesar, who is poised to work on her 50th recording. Other gospel star judges throughout the nine-city tour include Byron Cage; Beverly Crawford; James Fortune and FIYA; Kurt Carr; Dorinda Clark Cole; Richard Smallwood; Ricky Dillard; Mary Mary and Israel Houghton.
And fans repeatedly shouted how they loved each of them or dashed in front of the stage to take pictures using cameras and mobile devices. In attendance were individuals prominent in the local gospel industry including Maurette Brown Clark , Cheryl Jackson of PraiseDC/104.1 FM radio station, Sunday Best 2 winner Y’Anna Crawley, and media personality/lifestyle reporter Jawn Murray.
Grammy Award-winning arranger/producer/songwriter/singer Andrae’ Crouch received the Living Legend Award; he appeared in a video to accept the honor.
James E. Jordan, Jr. Adult Choir of Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ in Riverdale, Md., won the regional competition as well as best large choir and people’s choice. From the first note to the end, the group’s inspiring take on “The Lord is Blessing Me” moved the crowd and judges, prompting a standing ovation and several minutes devoted to giving God praise.
“In Jeremiah,” Caesar, who pastors a church in North Carolina, said before many people waved their hands, clapped, declared “Yes!” and nodded knowingly about the Biblical passage she started to quote.
“ ‘Like fire shut up in my bones.’ … I got to tell them, the Lord is blessing me, right now,” she said as she explained at that moment the spirit of the Lord was evident in the arena and that regardless of how far in the competition the choir would go, “you will not be the same after today. You are truly blessed. There’s an anointing here. … A fresh anointing, no show, but a fresh anointing.”
The best small choir was the Tribe of Judah Choir from the Redeemed Christian Church of God Victory Temple, a Bowie, Md., congregation established in 1996 by Pastor Bayo Adeyokunnu of Nigeria. The choir’s powerful rendition of Richard Smallwood’s classic, “Total Praise” and authentic African costuming and melodies connected with the judges and the audience.
“While listening to you, I started to feel a tugging on me,” Hammond said after explaining how his touring has taken him several times to different African countries and how humbled he was to witness worship lasting for several hours.
“My heart connects to authentic worship. Not worship that is seen, but is felt. … It was fierce,” Hammond said, complimenting the choir.
The night’s HopeLinner winner was the Voices of Cedar Street choir from Cedar Street Bapist Church of God in Richmond, Va.