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Sounds of Harlem

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Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:16 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Iuliana Petre

Killeen Daily Herald

The Harlem Gospel Choir will perform in Temple at the Azalee Marshall Cultural Activities Center at 7 p.m. Feb. 9.

The choir's stop in Temple is the only one in Central Texas during the ensemble's 2009 world tour.

"I have only seen them on You Tube, but they sound fabulous, and I'm really excited about them coming," said Terri Matthew, the executive director of the Temple Cultural Activities Center. "This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase another part of the rich patchwork of cultures that exist in our community and our world."

The choir, a nonprofit, tax-free organization, spends between 200 and 300 days each year traveling and performing for people all over the world. With 70 members, the choir can divide into four smaller groups and send each group to different locations, said Allen Bailey, the organization's founder.

Bailey, now 68, founded the Harlem Gospel Choir on Jan. 15, 1986, on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has kept it going for 23 years, never imagining it would gain so much popularity.

"We started out in the Cotton Club (in New York City). There was a gospel brunch going on there every weekend. We would perform at the gospel brunch and get a free meal," Bailey said.

"Every day I wake up and I'm so nervous because I get these e-mails from all over the world," Bailey said. Most recently, Bailey received an e-mail from someone asking if the choir would perform in Bosnia. Members of the choir have traveled to the Czech Republic, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Papau New Guinea, New Zealand, Japan and many other places, to include stateside locations like the Pentagon two years ago.

"The memories are amazing. You meet new friends every time you travel," Bailey said, adding that even in the countries where people don't speak English they understand the choir's message, they get up and clap and sometimes there are tears in their eyes.

"Gospel music is about people who suffered. Everyone has trials and tribulations. All of our songs are inspirational. The kind of songs people want to hear during these crisis times," Baily said. "I remember when we did the Mass for Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium on April 20, 2008. It was Benedict's first time in the U.S. and the concert was called the Concert of Hope. Benedict mentioned to one of the choir members that the Harlem Gospel Choir is more than a show, it's a feeling," Bailey said.

What has kept the choir so popular for so many years is the fact that it offers family entertainment.

"Our show is family-oriented. Age is unlimited. From babies to grandfathers, it's a family show," Bailey said.

During the show, audience members are invited to participate – sing along, clap, stomp their feet – and the atmosphere during a show emulates what happens at a black church on a Sunday afternoon.

"It's African-American culture. In a time when so many negative things are associated with the black people. We're trying to show the positive things," Bailey said.

But, the Harlem Gospel Choir's first mission is ministry.

"We raise funds for children's charities all over the world. We believe children are our future," Bailey said, adding "I want people to remember to keep working for the Lord. The pay is small, but the retirement plan is out of this world."

With only one performance in Temple and the limited seating in CAC's auditorium, tickets will sell quickly. The CAC's auditorium seats fewer than 500.

"What people would consider the nose-bleed section is actually premium seating," Matthew said.

The Center for African-American Studies and Research at Central Texas College will partner with CAC to make this performance possible.

"These are the types of cultural events that enhance (people's) understanding of African-American culture," said Horace Grace, the chairman of the committee for the Center for African-American Studies and Research.

About 30 students from the center will attend the event, watch the show and talk to their professors about their reactions to the culture and how it impacted them, Grace said.

Tickets to see the Harlem Gospel Choir perform in Temple cost $35 for adults and $8 for students 18 years and under. Expect the show to last 90 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.

For tickets, call CAC at (254) 773-9926 during business hours or buy online at www.cacarts.org.

The Azalee Marshall Cultural Activities Center is at 3011 N. Third St. in Temple.

Contact Iuliana Petre at ipetre@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7469.

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