Celebrating 25 years of gospel music

BREANNA MANLEY | Staff Reporter

The lights went down, the curtains of Clowes Memorial Hall opened and melodic singing boomed from the auditorium for the next three hours.

Butler University presented the 25th GospelFest on Feb. 1.

The program is an evening celebrating fellowship, ministry and song for all denominations of religion.

“It’s celebrating gospel as a genre of American music and its impact on American and world culture,” said Valerie Davidson, director of diversity programs and the Efroymson Diversity Center.

In addition, Butler hosted two Grammy award-winning gospel singers, Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams.

Other performances included the internationally-acclaimed Chicago Mass Choir and several Indianapolis choirs.

“We’ve been very fortunate; we’ve had a great track record tracking Grammy and award-winning artists,” Davidson said. “They never hesitate to come back. We are very proud of that.”

Davidson said the first annual GospelFest in 1989 was held in the Johnson Room of Robertson Hall. The fest featured one choir with seating for 75 audience members.

Twenty-five years later, it has grown into a three-hour production of award-winning artists, capturing the heart of Indianapolis gospel with an audience close to 2,000 in Clowes Memorial Hall.

New to the GospelFest lineup, 85 members of the Chicago Mass Choir graced the stage to showcase their talent and spiritual leadership within the community.

“Because of the caliber of singers we have, singers for a number of years, we promote quality in the music,” said Feranda Williamson, Chicago Mass Choir president and CEO.

Williamson said she looked forward to a night filled with hand clapping, toe-tapping, spirit-filled praise.

“People are encouraged and they know that Jesus Christ is their savior,” Williamson said. “If they are feeling depressed and need a sense of hope, versus hopelessness—people are hurting—we let them know that God is with them.”

Tyrone Smoot, a member of the Butler student choir Voices of Deliverance, performed six songs during GospelFest.

Smoot said he enjoys being a part of the organization primarily for singing the glory of God.

“Not only is it gospel practice, it’s a time for fellowship to talk about Jesus our savior and his miraculous wonders,” Smoot said.

Smoot and a dozen others singing in Voices of Deliverance took the stage in their black, white and blue attire, not only singing the songs, but really feeling the songs, he said.

Butler students also stepped up to participate in the festival through volunteering.

“It’s something close to my heart, and it’s an opportunity to work with some of my favorite artists and just be a part of a celebration that’s ministering to the community,” junior Akeira Jennings said.

Jennings said she was eager to hear the voices of the Chicago Mass Choir, as her father was once a member, as well as taking time out of her schedule to thank God.

Davidson said she hopes the GospelFest continues for an additional 25 years of success.

“Music is a universal language,” Davidson said.

“Gospel is like a world music almost because it captures the human spirit—spirituality. I think because of that, it attracts a diverse audience, and that’s what we’ve always wanted. It’s a celebration of music.”