Verizon Wireless’ How Sweet the Sound 2010 came to a dramatic close in Washington, D.C. last weekend, with my favorite co-hosts Donald Lawrence and CeCe Winans. And don’t misconstrue my use of the word dramatic… I’m just talking pure, theatrical drama and performance.
I’d like to dedicate a new word – choir-ography – to this year’s finalists because I don’t know if I’ve seen that much “organized” movement by a choir on stage before. But lest we forget, regardless of how much jumping and swaying is going on, the vocals still have to be tight.
That’s where this year’s judges, Marvin Sapp, the beautiful Karen Clark-Sheard and part-time comedian Fred Hammond, came in. They had the unenviable task of picking a winner from the talented pack of singers. If you were there, you’ll remember that Karen was quite “appreciative” for each choir! (inside joke)
But on to the winners…
Out of more than a dozen choirs from 14 cities across the nation, Voices of Destiny from Greater Zion Church Family from the Los Angeles region was the National Overall winner of $40,000 in cash and prizes and the title of Best Church Choir in America. Not to mention, as the winning choir, Voices of Destiny will perform at the 26th annual Stellar Awards and travel to sing during the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration in 2011.
The Compton-based chorale roused the sold-out crowd in D.C. with a dynamic reinterpretation of Byron Cage’s “The Presence of the Lord is Here.” If you hadn’t heard the song before (shame on you) you probably wouldn’t have recognized it that night.
Showing impressive musical acumen, the choir led us through a series of movements that included major, minor and diminished inversions under the guidance of their director – who also happens to be the pastor! Their set wrapped with a breakout file-and-shuffle dance number (think season 5 opening of the Cosby Show). They even synchronized a dramatic “fall”. Yes, they laid out on the stage. It was very West Side Story and “grand,” as one might say. Nice job Compton. I’m sure they made the choir director Ricky Dillard, who was in the audience that night, more than proud.
Second place honors went to the Greater First Church “GFC” Chorale out of the Chicago region. They walked away with a not -to -shabby $15,000 prize. Secretly, GFC Chorale was my favorite to take the top prize, and although they didn’t, I was still pleased that they were recognized. GFC Chorale gave us a lesson in musical genres over the last century as they performed the traditional hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” What began as opera, turned into Negro spiritual, and then to jazz, ragtime, salsa and contemporary gospel before concluding in a full-out praise break. In a word, their rendition was accomplished. I mean these folks really know music, period.
My good friends over at Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church didn’t leave empty handed either. The Greater Mt. Calvary Men of Valor nabbed the V CAST People’s Choice Award which was good for a $5,000 prize and plenty of hometown pride for the large DC-area showing in the audience.
As if the 14 choirs weren’t enough, Marvin, Karen and Fred each performed songs from their most recent albums. I don’t think it hurts to say yet again, either, that my adopted auntie Karen looked absolutely amazing, even if she got stuck using the word appreciate during judging.
It was truly an evening of great music. And for me, it was also full of great conversation. I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Brandon Frazier, the hilarious director of West Atlanta Pentecostal Choir, last year’s winner of How Sweet the Sound. From what he told me, in between making me laugh unstoppably, ensures that Voices of Destiny is in for the ride of their lives.
Congratulations again to all the choirs, and I can’t wait to see Voices of Destiny at the Stellars and the Super Bowl next year.