29 December 2019 (gig)
01 January 2020
'We love Milarrn!' the Harlem Gospel Choir waste no time buttering up the locals. "The best thing about being here is spending time with the people of Milarrn... and the shopping" of course says George the main compere.
Based in New York where they play Sony Hall for a gospel brunch on Sundays, these singers are literally bursting at the seams with vocal talent. Founded on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, in 1986 (January 15) the Harlem Gospel Choir have performed alongside superstars such as Bono, Diana Ross, The Gorillaz, Andre Rieu, Damon Albarn and Pharrell Williams, so there is no doubt we are in good company tonight.
It's my first time at the illustrious Blue Note and entering precisely two minutes before the band appear is clearly not the done thing. The downstairs is full, all tables taken, the upstairs balcony edge is also full and it's not clear what options are left. Luckily we join a table with two with spare chairs. Hallelujah! Tilting my head skywards I see a vaulted glass ceiling, suddenly the connection to God is made that much easier and with the singing underway in the shape of 'Total Praise,' the rousing harmonies definitely take me closer to heaven.
The nine strong choral choir are in the foreground with drums and keys behind. One by one the featured singer steps forward and regales us with their God given gift. The first Prince number went to Miss Elise with ‘Purple Rain,’ a heartfelt rendition highlighting pitch-perfect vocals. ‘Amazing Grace’ followed sung by Courtney whose original riffs showcased the inspirational power of gospel music.
Deeply rooted in the history of the African-American slave trade, black gospel music can be traced back to the 1700’s when African slaves brought their unique African musical heritage to America and combined it with their new faith, Christianity. Out of the hardship and the trials of slavery, this musical tradition changed music as we know it; Blues, Soul, and Rock-and-Roll all have origins in black gospel music.
'Joy' was the queue to get us on our feet, "Where do you get your strength Jesus?" screams George. Clapping antics ensue, with the audience told to clap high, low, back, forward and every which way.
Prince returned and slowed things down with ‘Nothing Compares To You’, ‘1999’, the Prince penned ‘Manic Monday’, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ formed a lovely Prince medley ot not so Godly song choices. I was under the misapprehension that this was an extension of a Harlem church but it’s a general celebration of music and especially at this time of year, it works.
The HGC also collect for Operation Smile, which helps to fix children’s cleft pallets, a worthy cause. Occasional audience members are asked to join the choir on stage with none so delightful as a nine-year-old girl who was clearly relishing the encore of ‘Happy Days’.
So it was with lifted spirits and reenergised hearts that we left the wonderful Blue Note back into the cold and foggy Christmas air of Milan. A celebratory evening was had by all.
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