Young and Gifted Gospel Choir will sing at California University

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For the past 20 years or more, the Young and Gifted Gospel Choir at California University of Pennsylvania has staged about a dozen concerts each year on campus, in churches in the Pittsburgh region and at various colleges and universities.

At 8 p.m. Nov. 24, the choir will hold a concert at the Gerald and Carolyn Blaney Theatre in Steele Hall on campus. Titled "Transformed -- The Musical: The Story of African-American Gospel Music," the concert will depict the chronology and development of African-American gospel music from the 18th through the 20th centuries.

"We'll perform a total of 14 songs, some of which many in the audience might be familiar with," concert conductor Randy Tillmutt said.

The 30-member choir accompanied by a 10-piece band will open with two songs. Mr. Tillmutt wrote the first piece titled "Transformed" in October, especially for the concert "to show how God transformed Gospel music." The work will be followed by "Joyful, Joyful," the title track from the Whoopi Goldberg film, "Sister Act II," which has its roots in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The chronological section of the concert will follow with two work, or field, songs from the 18th century that were sung a cappella by slaves in the American South. As narrator, California University student Diarra Brathwaite will guide the audience through the development of gospel music through each stage of its evolution.

In the late 1800s, gospel music saw the formation of smaller groups, mostly quartets, giving the time period the title of the "Quartet Era." At the concert, the choir will sing two songs by one of the most famous quartets of the 1930s and '40s, the Golden Gate Quartet, formed at Booker T. Washington College in Virginia. Mr. Tillmutt chose to feature the music of the Golden Gate, which he said has the sound of a barbershop quartet, because their origins as an educational institution give them an academic link to California University.

Moving along chronologically, the concert will spotlight the musical influences of Thomas Dorsey, often called "the father of African-American gospel music," Mr. Tillmutt said.

"Starting off in the 1930s as a jazz and blues pianist, Dorsey was one of those musicians who had one foot in church and another foot in the world," he said. "With more than 400 jazz and blues recordings to his credit, Dorsey added a jazz/blues influence to the hymns sung in church in the 1950s and '60s."

In this part of the concert, soloist Paige Williams will portray the late singer Mahalia Jackson singing Dorsey's popular "Precious Lord," a song Jackson made famous.

Mr. Dorsey was a mentor to singer, arranger and composer, the Rev. James Cleveland, who, as a boy, sang in his choir in Chicago. Rev. Cleveland is known for establishing the mass choir of 50 voices, and he formed the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

The workshop meets annually at a different city in the United States and attracts gospel musicians who exchange ideas and perform together in a mass choir at the end of the breakout sessions. In the concert at California University, the choir will perform "Peace Be Still," one of Rev. Cleveland's most famous songs, a hymn rearranged for choir.

The concert will close with Kirk Franklin's "I Smile," a song that Mr. Tillmutt said crosses religious boundaries because it's played on MTV and BET, the Black Entertainment channel. "Stomp," another song in the concert's finale, is described by Mr. Tillmutt as a radical gospel song with a hip-hop sound.

Originally from Jamaica, Mr. Tillmutt earned his undergraduate degree from the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston. From the University of Mississippi, he obtained master's and doctorate degrees in music education with an emphasis in choral conducting and piano.

In his youth, he immersed himself in American gospel music at his church, although he said that Jamaica also developed its own style of gospel music from different roots.

In January 2013, Mr. Tillmutt took the position at California University as an assistant professor of music and a Frederick Douglass Institute scholar, a visiting position the university offers to a person who has completed a doctorate in the past three years or is just about to complete it.

Tickets for the concert are $3.50 purchased in advance or $5.50 at the door. For advance tickets: Steele Hall Box Office, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 724-938-5943.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:

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