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Harlem Gospel Choir brings religious renaissance to Columbus

Courtesy of the Harlem Gospel Choir

In the musical age of GarageBand, electronica and dubstep, finding a group that can perform live on stage without a MacBook might be difficult. Unless that group is the Harlem Gospel Choir, that is.

Harlem is the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, the art and culture movement that exploded out of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Almost 90 years have passed, but the Harlem Gospel Choir continues to celebrate the black culture exhibited during that time while spreading joy to fans through songs of inspiration.

The Harlem Gospel Choir is scheduled to perform at the Capitol Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Allen Bailey founded the choir in 1986. The idea inspired Bailey back in the mid-1980s when black churches in Harlem would open their doors to foreign choirs from all over the world. His desire to create the choir was strengthened after observing the racial hardships in his native city of Harlem.

Bailey turned to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help solidify the message he wanted for his future choir to express.

“I want to think that Dr. King’s birthday was very significant for (the choir) because during that time, there were a lot of racial things going on in America,” Bailey said. “His theme was always bringing nations of people together and giving something back.”

The choir is a compilation of 60 gospel singers and musicians from several churches in Harlem. Due to the size of the choir, members are often rotated when traveling.

Breaking down communication barriers to unite all people of different nations is something that the Harlem Gospel Choir strives to accomplish through its music. Bailey said the choir has traveled about 2 million miles and has visited more than 100 countries since its formation in the 1980s.

“Our concerts aren’t evangelistic at all,” said Anna Bailey, the Harlem Gospel Choir manager and wife of Allen Bailey. “Our concerts are just about sharing joy, giving hope, inspiration. There is a lot of entertainment, because you can reach people through music even when they don’t speak your language. You have their attention, and they are enjoying it, and they can appreciate what you do. … To see the people leaving the venue with a light in their eyes and a smile is just a joy.”

The choir has performed for leaders such as Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. The group has also been featured on “The Colbert Report” and “Good Morning America.”

Though the Harlem Gospel Choir’s concerts are not evangelistic, Allen Bailey makes it clear that he knows who to thank at the end of the day for the all the group’s success.

“Well, you know, we work for the Lord,” Bailey said. “We only have one superstar in this group and that’s Jesus Christ, superstar. We always say to our choir members when they get out of hand, ‘You know, it’s not about you, it’s about him.'”

As for the Columbus show, Allen Bailey said there will be “90 minutes of non-stop foot-stomping, hand-clapping” entertainment that will be enjoyable for all ages.

“I think that it would be a good event for students even if you don’t share the same faith or beliefs,” said Gracie Fueston, a second-year in communication and Spanish. “I believe it is always good to have a positive message when there is so much doubt and negativity in the world.”

Tickets are $14.50 to $29 and can be purchased at the Ohio Theatre Ticket Office or through Ticketmaster.

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