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Summer 2009 | Volume 32, Number 2 | Campus

GospelFest Mass Choir Brings the Seattle Community Together

Celebrating a Musical Heritage

Stephen Newby at GospelFest in Royal Brougham Pavilion.
SPU Associate Professor of Music Stephen Newby leads a 500-voice choir at GospelFest, a community celebration of the history and art form of gospel music held in Brougham Pavilion.

Stephen Newby has experienced the power of gospel music. He saw it bring the black and the white communities of Detroit and Ann Arbor together in a way few other things could. Now director of University Ministries and The Center for Worship at Seattle Pacific University, Newby approached McDonald’s of Western Washington about their sponsorship of a regional talent show of spiritual music McDonald’s called GospelFest.

He saw instantly how important an event it would be to the Seattle area if it were repurposed this year to honor the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and the cultural heritage, historical narrative, and rich traditions of the enslaved American Americans he helped to set free.

McDonald’s said yes to Newby’s vision, and GospelFest 09 was born. Co-sponsors were the SPU Center for Worship, the SPU Music Department, and The Seattle Public Library “Seattle Reads My Jim” program. The novel My Jim by Nancy Rawles re-imagines Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the slave’s perspective. “It made GospelFest not only a ministry but also a valuable academic experience as well,” says Newby.

Held in Brougham Pavilion on the Seattle Pacific campus, the May 2 event drew an audience of 1,200 to hear a 500-voice mass choir made up of 11 church, college, and community choirs. These included SPU’s Gospel Choir and Concert Choir, the Total Experience Gospel Choir, The Sound of the Northwest, JudahSong, SureHouse, the Mount Zion Massed Choirs, the University of Washington Gospel Choir, and the choirs of Antioch Bible Church, Canyon Hills Community Church, and University Presbyterian Church.

Five music directors, each with more than 35 years of experience in the gospel music world, received special honors for their community service and contributions to the gospel music genre. Among them was Juan Huey-Ray, director of The Sound of the Northwest, a group of singers dedicated to preservation of the Negro spiritual.

“Within the spiritual is a message of survival, of hope, of love, of our connectedness to God,” declares Huey-Ray. “Gospelfest brought a variety of people together from different races, cultures, and ages. It brought the church community together with academia all around the theme of worship. That made it special.”

Others in the African-American community said they gained a new perspective of the University because GospelFest demonstrated that SPU considers gospel music a serious art form.

—Photo by Luke Rutan

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