The Museum of Natural History was rocked by a rousing gospel concert last night, much of it sung by the audience. Sweet Honey in the Rock, The Voices Supreme, the Boyer Brothers and J. Robert Bradley performed before a standing-room-only audience as part of "A Salute to Five Black American Composers."
The tribute, which continues at the museum today with a 2 p.m. colloquium entitled "Gospel Pearls," was planned to coincide with the meeting of the National Baptist Convention being held at the Convention Center through Sunday.
Bernice Reagon of Sweet Honey set the tone for the evening at the beginning of the first number, "We'll Understand It Bye and Bye." After the a cappella chorus quintet sang the first few verses, they stopped and Reagon told the audience, "We're going to do this congregational style. That means that when you walked in the door, you passed the audition." That was all the encouragement the audience needed to join in whenever it wanted over the next three hours.
Halfway through the program, Pearl Williams-Jones led the audi ence in singing the gospel classic "Precious Lord," asking them to try to "send the vibrations to Thomas Dorsey," the song's composer, who is ill in Chicago. Dorsey, considered by many to be the father of gospel music, was featured in the documentary film "Say Amen, Somebody," which chronicles the growth of the art form, and was one of last night's honorees. The others were Rev. Charles Albert Tindley of Philadelphia, Roberta Martin of Chicago, and Lucie E. Campbell and Rev. William Herbert Brewster of Memphis.
Brewster, the most prolific of the composers, was in attendance last night. Sallie Martin, who was Dorsey's partner, was also introduced to a standing ovation.
The songs were grouped by composer, with each artist performing a selection from each composer in their own particular singing style. The crowd seemed to single out for praise The Voices Supreme's rendition of "He'll Understand and Say Well Done," Sweet Honey's "Ol' Landmark" and "In the Upper Room," Bradley's "Speak to Me Jesus," and The Boyer Brothers' "Surely God Is Able."