Los Medanos College presents lecture and gospel concert
By Lou Fancher
If words are powerful persuaders and harmony is a unifying force, then public pronouncements or divine declarations set to music are especially potent. Arguably, few things are mightier than political speech and gospel music.
Combining Black Nationalism and gospel hymns, the Los Medanos College Division of Choral Music on March 28 presents a community lecture and concert, “Post Civil Rights and African American Church Music.” The free, public event features scholar and author Dr. James Lance Taylor from the University of San Francisco and LMC Professor Silvester Carl Henderson directing the Los Medanos College Choir.
“I totally believe in honoring one’s culture, community, heritage, linguistic uniqueness and artistic and creative independence,” says Henderson.
He invited Taylor to join the choir in delivering a message that affirms the beauty and dignity of communities and people of color. “Dr. Taylor’s views are in alignment with my academic, social and cultural beliefs.”
Themes from Taylor’s 2011 book, “Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama,” are likely to be central to his presentation. These include, among others, historical discourse involving black nationalism’s early 19th century religious origins, the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights era, prominent figures like Martin Delany, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, Black Power, the Million Man March, Black Politics, the hip-hop generation’s adoption of Black Nationalist themes, grassroots activism and the election of Barack Obama. Taylor’s lecture will further address the way in which gospel music has shaped and supported the politics of African-Americans and may include examples from historic singers like Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Thomas Dorsey and Edwin Hawkins, according to Henderson.
Contemporary application of the broad sweeping topics gains urgency for Henderson in part because African-American church music—or gospel music—he believes is “radical, culturally unique” and holds a critical position in music arts. “As much as I adore classical music, my heart, soul and body support African-American church music. I eat, drink and get drunk from black gospel music. This is my heritage and no one can change my belief in its cultural artistic independence and value.”
Hip-hop, Henderson says, can also be overlooked, dismissed or shuffled into a short-sighted category. Although often viewed askance and legitimately but perhaps simplistically written about for it’s antiestablishment, misogynistic and profane language and a culture seeming to endorse violence and gang politics, hi-hop in its best form introduces Black Nationalist principles.
“The post civil rights (movements) fought hard to create cultural identity and pride from dress, walk, talk and language styles,” Henderson says. “Current gospel music endorses a declamatory right to praise one’s higher power or God. Hip-hop speaks the same language through strong words and belief in one’s self.”
The choir’s performance of Juanita Bynum’s “Jesus, What a Wonder You Are” and “Rock of Ages” by Tim Harris, Henderson says will be on the program as “bridge-builder” songs that pay tribute to classic faith and contemporary ideals. Students of color, he insist, must see and hear their value and culture represented by higher education institutions. “Talk is not inclusion. Equitable improvements happen through actionable change. Policies sit on shelves; actions improve life,” he says.
It’s unlikely any audience could sit still while listening to contemporary gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp.” Henderson offers the work of solo artist Franklin as a role model for young people. Franklin’s Grammy Award-winning “Sunday Best” BET program and numerous recordings meld gospel, christian, hip-hop and R&B influences. Gospel and hip-hop and the words of Taylor, Henderson says, “support black and brown people’s right to be heard, not abused and treated fairly in all aspects of society.”