Singing for social equality
By Olivia Currey
During Sunday evening’s Martin Luther King Jr. Gospel Festival at the Koger Center, choirs will be singing in honor of the past and for the future.
The annual Gospel Fest is a musical and spiritual tribute to King, and will feature the Brookland Baptist Gospel Choir and Pastor Shawn Jones and the Believers, an all-male gospel quartet from Rockford, Alabama, that has performed at gospel festivals nationally since 2010.
For Carl Wells, director of the University of South Carolina Gospel Choir, the event offers the chance to understand King’s legacy through music and explore its relevance today.
“Did the freedom songs influence the civil rights movement, or did the civil rights movement spur the freedom songs? One cannot recall the civil rights movement without also recalling the music they sang during that time,” Wells said.
Wells believes that activists sang for strength; that music was more than just art for the sake of art. Music aided their survival and gave people the emotional energy they needed to keep moving forward.
This still rings true for activists today.
“It is very applicable because the movement that’s been sparked in response to a number of events happening nationwide is part of the next generation of what was happening in the 1960s,” said Wells. “Even if you think about what’s happening on college campuses, those students are mirroring what they recall happened from their own studies of history and the civil rights movement. So the movement continues and stays relevant.”
Harold Brooker, UofSC alumnus and choir director for Brookland Baptist Church that will perform at Sunday’s Gospel Fest, said the opportunity to be a part of King’s legacy is meaningful.
Both the civil rights movement and music have had a powerful influence on Brooker. His father was one of the first black business owners in West Columbia. Their family owned a general store, a barber shop and a liquor store. Brooker went to UofSC to study music, and today, he directs the largest gospel choir in South Carolina.
“Music has always been a part of our stride for social justice and equality. There’s a song that comes to mind that Dr. King used a lot, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ That was a song that rooted the idea that your future is bright and whatever is happening now, you will overcome it. That to me is that no matter who you are, what background you come from, what race you are, it doesn’t matter. We can walk hand-in-hand as brothers,” Brooker said.
If you are going
Tickets to Sunday’s Gospel Fest are $10 per person and $8 students and are available at the Koger Center box office. For more information about UofSC’s 2016 MLK commemorative events, call 803-777-3854 or visit the Equal Opportunity Programs website.
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