Community choir to celebrate anniversary with concert

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Alberta Sims of McDonough says some people were just born to be singers.

The Henry County Community Senior Choir at a 2014 performance. Special photo

She says she is looking forward to taking the stage with such individuals when the Henry County Community Senior Choir celebrates a milestone this month.

“I think it’s good for the community,” says Sims of her involvement with the group. “It brings people together, and it gives people a chance to sing. It’s just one big family.”

The 80-member choir will mark their second anniversary with a concert April 26 at 3 p.m., at Shiloh Baptist Church, 262 Macon St., in McDonough. The choir specializes in old-time gospel music which, Sims says, appeals to a wide variety of audiences.

“We do gospel songs, and it is a gospel choir,” says Sims, a tenorette who attends services at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Locust Grove. “The older people, they enjoy gospel music and they get a lot out of it. The younger people enjoy it, too.”

The choir’s song list for the concert includes such gospel tunes as “Order My Steps,” “Jesus Can Work It Out,” “A Change is Going to Come,” and “Highway to Heaven.” The anniversary celebration will also feature performances by: choirs at Shiloh Baptist and Tabernacle of Praise Church International; the E.D. Thomas Male Chorus from Beulah Baptist Church; the Hall Sisters; David Walker and God’s Creation; and violinist Stephen Lawrence and the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc.

Shawn McClain formed the choir in April 2013 and organized its first concert in September of that year. He says the group serves as a venue for its members to use their musical gifts, including some who have sung in choirs at other churches in the past.

“It’s an activity and a ministry that keeps them motivated,” says McClain. “It serves many roles, but it allows the members to be used again in ministry.”

McClain says the choir harkens back to generations past, when music brought people together and local churches interacted with each other more often than those of today. He hopes the group will help to strengthen bonds among local places of worship once again, with God as the focus of what they do.

“Our constant drive is to unify the community and to bring churches together in unity,” says McClain. “People want that togetherness again. People want to come in and listen to gospel again, and I think that’s the recipe for success – to get us back to a unified state of fellowship.”

Melissa Smith of Jonesboro, the co-founder of the choir, plays the organ and piano for the group’s performances. She also serves as minister of music for the choir at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Hampton.

Smith says when she and McClain collaborated to start the group, they wanted the choir to help compensate for changes in gospel music over the years. That strategy, she says, has worked well for the group.

“When Shawn and I put our heads together, we decided it should be for seniors age 45 and older,” she says. “We noticed that there were older people in our churches who were no longer singing because the format of gospel music had changed over the years. Our last two concerts that we have had, we’ve had to go to a bigger church because the church couldn’t handle the number of people who came. We’ve had a total of 900 people in attendance at each of our last three concerts. It gives us a chance to reach out to the community and to invite others to join our group if they so desire.”

Smith adds that she enjoys seeing the camaraderie that exists among members of the choir, and the dedication they put into their performances.

“I think our oldest member is 91 years old,” she says. “The majority of the people in the choir, they never miss a rehearsal, and the look forward to the fellowship of getting together.”

Lillie Whitlow of East Point has been in the choir for two years, as a soprano. She says the group provides her with an outlet, both musically and spiritually, and that the group’s efforts have been well-received thus far. “People have been amazed at the number of choir members that we have, and how good we sound.”

“I really enjoy singing, and it was another way of expressing my love for God by ministering through song,” says Whitlow.

As for which song she is most looking forward to belting out with her fellow choir members, Whitlow says that question is not an easy one to answer.

“They’re all my favorite,” she says. “Being a musician myself, I don’t want to pick just one. I love them all.”