Music: Core Message

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir sings of relatable hardship

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The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir is drawn from an American melting pot of faiths, from Bahaism to Buddhism and beyond. Photo courtesy of OIGC.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir’s (OIGC) Terrance Kelly is more interested in lifting hearts than saving souls as the legendary choir comes to the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on February 11 and the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland on Feb. 16, in celebration of Black History Month.

Formed in 1986, the choir draws from persons of all races and faiths—or of no faith—to deliver a spiritualized message that’s powered by slave songs and gospel music. They’ve recently come off of a tour with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, one of whose members lost a home to the recent and catastrophic North Bay fires.

“There were 287 Gay Men’s Chorus members and around 47 of us,” Kelly recalls. “When this guy found out he lost his home, everyone was crying. We asked him, ‘Do you need an emergency flight home?’ He said, ‘No thanks.’ We stayed out and finished the tour.”

It takes a lot of strength to hold on sometimes, and to tour America today is to behold a divided land that’s brittle, angry and over-sensitized about identity politics and cultural appropriation. Kelly is less concerned with questions of appropriation, he says, than with his choir singing black gospel the way it’s supposed to be sung. Many older, black audience members come to him after performances, amazed at the fidelity of the encounter with music forged in human suffering. “When we get that response, we know we are singing authentically.”

All the more reason, says OIGC Executive Director Mark DeSaulnier, to embrace the music sung in Jesus’ name and created in the crucible of slavery. The administration in Washington, he says, “has created divisions, so to speak, of inclusion—no matter your skin color, socioeconomic situation, no matter your sexual orientation, we can stand together and we can celebrate our differences.”

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, oigc.org.

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