Critics say it takes three attributes to earn respect as a gospel quartet in Washington: a fabulous wardrobe, tight harmony and a foot-stomping beat that can stir souls.
These characteristics were honored at the University of the District of Columbia on Saturday as the Washington Metropolitan Area Quartet Association handed out its sixth annual awards to the region's leading groups.
"I love that driving beat," said Winston Chaney, morning radio personality on Spirit 1340 WYCB. Chaney hosted a program that featured groups with colorful names such as the Queens of Faith, the Gospel Travelers and the Recovering Angels.
Jonathan Shanks, a member of the Southern Gospel Singers and president of the quartet association, said the Grammy-style awards program was organized to recognize musical excellence in a region filled with artists who pause every weekend to sing gospel.
"This has been an opportunity to take quartet gospel to a new level," Shanks said. Winners of the awards were decided based on voting held in June at the Family Day Gospelfest at Langdon Park in Northeast.
The Zion Hill gospel singers won first place among the mixed groups; the Southern Gospel singers won first place in the best traditional male category. Spirt 2 Spirit won as the best contemporary group; the Recovering Angels won first place for a cappella male; the Stars of Hope won a cappella female; and the Spiritual Voices won first place as best new group.
"I just really love playing gospel music on my guitar, because it makes me feel good down inside," said Billie Beatty, 69, a male lead guitarist for the all-female Queens of Faith singing quartet, which had people jumping and shouting with their selections.
Beatty sported a gold suit, blood-red shirt and matching shoes as he danced around the stage while picking spiritual licks on an electric guitar.
Queens of Faith lead singer Rose Thomas said her group's goal is simply to encourage people through song. "If we can help somebody along life's way, then our singing won't be in vain."
Horace Thompson, lead singer and bass player for the Sensational Nightingales, served as one of the award presenters. The Nightingales, along with the Gospel Keynotes and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, are among a half-dozen well-known groups that have traveled the country since the 1950s.
Thompson collected CDs from new artists hoping to get major deals. "Gospel music is my life," said Thompson, who has been singing with the Nightingales for 41 years. "So many things have transpired over the years. We have been down, but through God's grace, we haven't been counted out."