Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sacred Sunday: When the Church Rocks

Editor's Note: Blog originally posted Sunday, October 24, 2010; revised Sunday, January 6, 2019.

This video of Queen Esther White Young singing the song “If Jesus Goes With Me, I Can Go Anywhere” at the Tabernacle Echoes Grand Reunion Concert stirs up so many images and stories of the rich tradition of African American gospel music and choirs.

Uncle Willie Johnson (1917-2000)
Uncle Willie's Stories. Although the speed of this song is not extremely fast, but rather a slow-medium speed, it  reminds me of stories I heard from my Uncle Willie Johnson (1917-2000), a brother of my maternal grandmother Emma Johnson Thornton (1922-2011). In describing the church services of his youth during the 1920s and 1930s in Warren County, North Carolina, Uncle Willie enthusiastically recalled the days of his family’s church when there was no piano or musical instruments. “As we walked through the woods towards the church, you could hear the church rocking and the Saints of God singing and clapping and praising God!” he recalled. “Then we would walk or run a little faster to get to church.” These were also the days when rural churches typically had wood floors, so I’m sure Uncle Willie also heard foot tapping along with the singing and hand clapping.

The Choir Rock. One thing I noticed in this video which stirs up memories is the choir rocking from side to side in unison to the beat of the music. Sometimes a Choir Director gestures to the choir which direction to begin moving. At other times, some choir members may just begin moving to the music on their own. This takes me back to my days singing in the church and college gospel choirs during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Choir’s Attire. I knew this had to be a special occasion concert just by looking at the attire of the choir members with the ladies all dressed beautifully in various styles of  black dresses accessorized with a red flower, white beaded necklace and earrings, and the men dressed in black suits with white shirts and red ties. The red flowers and red ties are the accessories which make these various styles of dresses and suits look uniform.

The Soloist. Sister Queen works this song and I love it when she comes down into the church aisle. You can hear and feel the electricity in the audience as she walks down the aisle bellowing this great tune. As the music gets faster and the hand clapping gets louder, members of the congregation feel compelled to stand, which is a tradition in the black church when the music gets good. Oh, the church is ROCKING now! This is the point where my mind drifts back to Uncle Willie’s recollections of the church rocking during his youth as I sit in front of my computer singing, clapping and swaying from side to side in my chair enjoying this music and letting my mind travel down memory lane.