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Community Mass Choir Celebrates 50th Anniversary Beginning Friday

Birmingham Mass Choir (Provided photo)

Special to The Times

Birmingham Mass Choir (Provided photo)

The Birmingham Community Mass Choir will celebrate is 50th Golden Anniversary this weekend. The celebration will be held Friday, June 22 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 24 at 6 p.m. with gospel recording artists, Chester DT Baldwin and Kathy Taylor.

All events will take place at New Hope Baptist Church, 1740 Cleburn Avenue, Birmingham, AL 35211 where Dr. Gregory L. Clarke is pastor. Friday and Saturday events are free. Admission for Sunday is $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

During the three-day celebration, the Birmingham Community Mass Choir will reflect on its rich history of singing praises to the Lord. “I remember being at a program at Bethel Baptist, Pratt City, where the choir was on program”, said Dr. Prince E. Yelder, minister of music. “I had not become a member. Dr. John David Brown was their director. He walked up to me, threw me his keys to hold. He went up and directed the first song and then turned and asked me if I remembered the song, ‘I’ll Be A Witness’ by Dr. Robert Fryson. I said ‘yes’ and he pulled me up. We had church!”

The next night, Yelder joined the choir and has remained a part for 33 years. “Since age eighteen, I haven’t had to wonder what I was going to do on Monday nights,” said Yelder, minister of music for 28 of the 33 years.

The Birmingham Community Mass Choir began in 1968 when the late Rev. James Cleveland had a dream of organizing a chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA).

Cleveland asked Ed Smith of Detroit to come to Birmingham to find someone who could lead the Alabama area for the GMWA. He went to WENN Radio Station and spoke with Rev. Erskine Faush, who had a daily morning gospel program. Faush recommended Mary K. Elsaw, who was serving as pianist and assistant director of the daycare at New Pilgrim Baptist Church.

She called upon several musicians and directors including: the late Andrew Bernard Sneed; the late Carlton Reese; the late Cora Ross Brown; the late Alphasteen Billups, and the late Dr. John David Brown. Work began to organize the choir, originally called the Birmingham Community Choir. The first meeting and rehearsal was held at New Pilgrim, where rehearsals were held for many years.

“As we celebrate 50 years of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ through song in the community and abroad, we recommit ourselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said event organizers. “We reach out to the community and touch broken lives with the gift of music and love that only comes from God.”