The American Spiritual Ensemble graced the stage at the Clayton Center for the Arts Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre and filled the hall with historic harmonies.
The show began with thanks offered to the sponsors of the event, so it seems appropriate to begin there. This amazing event was made possible by Alcoa City Center, Blount Memorial and Quality Home Health.
The man of the hour, who seemed to be at the heart of bringing the American Spiritual Ensemble to the Ronald & Lynda Nutt Theatre, was George Williams of the Alcoa City Center and the Richard Williams, Jr. Leadership Development Academy. The audience, including this reviewer, was extremely appreciative that he did as the night progressed.
The American Spiritual Ensemble’s mission is to keep the spiritual alive and to teach audiences about the genre.
This performance did just that.
Passion-filled music permeated the hall as the sound embodied the rich cultural history behind the spirituals. If history classes were expressed with such beautiful and energetic music, there would be more historians.
The audience was able to experience the dynamic of hope and sorrow that was the plight of African-Americans in a way that the history books just cannot adequately convey.
Every member of the audience was enthralled by the stories behind the lyrics and music well, as the personification of the stories by the soloists and ensemble.
These singing history teachers were extraordinarily talented performers who happened to have many different day jobs. These jobs spanned from national and international opera singers and Broadway performers, to music teachers and department heads, to doctoral candidates.
The ensemble was conducted by its founder, Everett McCorvey, who brought it all together.
Songs performed included those we can remember from Sunday school, such as “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Hallelujah,” “Joshua Fit the Battle” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand.” Other well-known songs from acclaimed shows included “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” and “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables.”
Soprano Hope Koehler sang “I Wanna Be Ready” with such gusto that it pushed audience members back into their respective seats.
Maryville College class of 1987 graduate John Wesley Wright was welcomed back home with erupting cheers and applause many times throughout the night. The MC grad added a smooth, bluesy feel to “I Know I’ve Been Changed” and “Steal Away,” reminiscent of a smoke-filled jazz club.
The night came to a close with the fun number “Circle of Life,” from “The Lion King,” complete with animal noises.
The concert was filled with beautiful melodies sung by strong, talented performers, who made it an enjoyable night in the CCA.
This was the second appearance of the American Spiritual Ensemble on the MC campus, and hopefully there will be many more to come.
Most importantly, the American Spiritual Ensemble’s goal of keeping the African-American spirituals alive seemed successful. This was evidenced by the low tunes coming not from the stage, but instead from the audience members singing along with the performers.