God’s Community Choir ends 40-year run

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — God’s Community Choir held its “Sunset Celebration Concert” to a full house at the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown recently. The ecumenical 17-voice choir has been together for 40 years singing traditional church music. They marked their departure from the church sanctuaries at the church at 25 W. Johnson St. last Saturday.

The farewell program opened with a procession to the African hymn, “Siyahamba.” Drummer Jeffrey Johnson and bassist Charles Beasley accompanied the vocal ensemble as they garnered thunderous applause singing down the aisle to the main sanctuary. After the Rev. Tracy Mallory of Canaan Baptist Church said the prayer, Ralph Vaden gave the welcome.

The choir sang many songs that were exclusively arranged for them by Cora T. Wells, the choir director for the last three decades. Among these were “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “The Lord is My Light.”

“I just cannot believe that we’ve been doing this for (40) years,” said Wells, a retired music and English teacher. “We still have most of the same people. The Lord has been with us for all this time. We’ve traveled so much, but the concert we will always remember was when we performed at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.”

During the concert the Rev. James Buck Jr., the new pastor of Grace said that the type of songs that the choir sings is part of the Black Church legacy. He noted that these were the types of songs sung by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the highlights of the program was when soprano Gloria Howell sang a solo, “Great Is They Faithfulness.” It was followed by mezzo soprano Karen Rudolph leading the choir in singing Bob Mayes’ “Keep on Singing.” Both selections brought spontaneous applause from the full sanctuary.

“This is just a unique choir,” said Howell, who flew in from Florida to reunite with the choir. “You really do not hear church music in churches anymore. Sometimes they sing the hymns so that you cannot recognize them. Or they call the music gospel when really it is [contemporary] music. This is part of our heritage and there is nothing like gospel music and hymns.”

“This is a bittersweet concert,” said William Lipscomb, a member of Emanuel AME Church in West Philadelphia. “It’s always an honor to sing with this choir. I am the bass voice that helps them out when they need it.”

Ken Austen, the vice president of the choir, now lives and attends church in Delaware. He said that he is the social media guru of the group chronicling their last days. “On our Facebook page I put that we have sang together, prayed together, mourned together, praised together, fellowshipped and dined together as a Christian family,” Austen said.

The choir was the brainchild of the Rev. George W. Thompson Jr. He initially organized the Providence Young Adult Choir in 1977. This was made up of singers ranging in age from 14 to 25. By 1979 the choir changed its name to God’s Community Coir and a new choir director, Diana T. Newman, led them for 10 years. When Newman became ill her sister, Cora T. Walls took over the choir in 1987.

God’s Community Choir has performed at dozens of churches throughout the Delaware Valley region. They have also performed in nearby states, like New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and have done special concerts as far away as North Carolina

“God was with us from the start,” Newman said in her public remarks. “This is God’s choir.”