Black harmony singing is neatly divided into the sacred and the secular. Secular artists like Smokey Robinson and Earth, Wind & Fire are regularly heard on the radio. Gospel artists, though, are usually unknown to those who don't frequent Baptist churches. Perhaps the best kept secret is the Mighty Cloud of Joys. Even an atheist could have enjoyed their singing at the Kennedy Center last night.
This Los Angeles quintet has made 20 albums in 20 years. The last two -- under former Motown producer Frank Wilson -- won Grammy awards. Last night they showed why they're the gospel equivalent of the original Temptations. The group's newest member -- Paul Beasley from the Gospel Keytones -- went down on one knee for "I've Got to Hold On." He held a piercing falsetto tremble far beyond all natural limits. Group veteran Joe Ligon led a rollicking number that had the crowd waving hands, clapping on the backbeat and, in one case, literally fainting in the aisle.
The Brooklyn Allstars, who also performed, have recorded 30 albums in 31 years. Last night, though, they suffered noticeably from the absence of ailing lead singer Hardie Clifton. The show was opened by the New Macedonia Choral Ensemble, a congregation choir from the Southeast Washington church. The 40 singers sent up oceanic harmonies that washed over the crowd in rocking rhythms.