Black and old-time gospel choir music perpetuated itself
through generations, evidenced by the fiery voices and prayerful songs of the Junaluska Gospel
The choir is composed of eight to 14 singing members every Sunday, many of whom are second- and third-generation singers.
The Junaluska Gospel Choir, part of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church at 161 Church St. in Boone, has finished recording the music and is beginning the vocals for its upcoming first album.
The album, not yet named, will be released in April.
The album will feature songs like “Working on a Building,” “I’m Going to Praise Him Anyway,” “It’s Gon’ Be Nice” and an original written by choir director Danny Whittington.
“It’s flat-out good music,” Whittington said. “If you like older and new music, rhythm and blues, that Motown sound and a real soulful gospel sound, it’s good music.”
The choir was featured at Melissa Reaves’ last two sold-out holiday shows in Boone, and Reaves’ vocals will also be featured on the CD.
The choir’s lead vocalists sing solos throughout the album of traditional, contemporary and old-time gospel.
“(The songs) are representative of the kind of literature the choir does,” said Doug James, Appalachian State University professor of guitar, who plays guitar for the choir. “It’s black gospel tradition and a full spectrum stylistically.”
The idea for the album presented itself in the early summer of 2012, when James decided that this long tradition of music should be preserved.
“The first half of each service is nothing by singing,” he said. “This is a unique group, and these are veteran musicians, so it would seem like a shame not to.”
James will be producing the record under an independent label.
He decided to use Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool that allows creators to share community projects and request funding.
The project was launched on Kickstarter on Dec. 14. By their deadline of Jan. 15, the choir received $3,291 of its $3,000 goal, backed by 42 donors.
Whittington has directed the choir for seven years. None of the choir members are professionally trained, but they bring a radiating sincerity and rich tradition.
“The music is very rhythmic, and it speaks to the soul,” Whittington said. “But the purpose of the choir is to convey the message about God in our music. If we don’t communicate that message, we’re just ‘a sounding gong and a tinkling cymbal,’” he said, quoting 1 Corinthians 13.
The diversity and acceptance of the choir is symbolic of the church. The church was founded in 1918 by missionaries who came to assist Emily Prudence, a woman who adopted and cared for white, black and Indian children near Elk Park. At the time, her work was despised by many, but Prudence and the Mennonite missionaries did both, said Brian Yerman, a member of the church for 20 years.
The choir has been active for almost as long as the church has been established. In 1999, the choir and its quartet invited area band The Lazybirds to play with them at MerleFest.
“They’re, by their very nature, soulful,” James said. “We’ve seen people cry; sometimes a singer will cry. I’ve been a professional musician for over 40 years now, and this is really unique. You don’t see this particular kind of energy or soul in any other kind of genre.”
The rhythms were recorded at the Mennonite Brethren Church, and the vocal sessions will be recorded by Andy Owens and completed next month.
Aaron Burleson, the choir’s keyboardist and a graphic designer, will design the album.
“This album has been decade in the making, so once we see how it’s received, we may start talking about another,” James said.
For more information, call (828) 263-0502 or visit http://www.boonechurch.com.