Thursday, September 6, 2012

Part of A Legacy:Calvary Baptist Church San Diego

Those of you following me on Twitter, know that Calvary Baptist Church on the corner of 719 Cesar E. Chavez Pkwy. here in San Diego California, now following the leadership of pastor Dr. Emanuel Whipple Sr.,  had a Youth Choir Reunion Concert this last Sunday at 3:30. Previous and current choir members came from around the nation to join in fellowship and song under the exemplary music directorship of founding mentor Dr. Joseph Slade. They sang "old school" gospel and spiritual selections from a cultural aural tapestry that helped shape not only contemporary Gospel Music (including Holy Hip Hop) but also contemporary Evangelical Praise and Worship music.

Youth choirs have long been a staple of Black churches in America, before the current trend in Praise and Worship Teams. The Youth Choir as a Black church institution helped create an inter-generational continuity of Christian traditions and ideals, from Children's Choir to the Young adult choir, later followed by the Senior Choir or Sanctuary Choir for elders who continued to sing the Lord's praises in life's sunset years. Anointed choir directors and musicians modeled morals, ethics, values, Christian behavior for young people transitioning through the trouble waters from teen to adulthood.

Dr. Joseph Slade reminisced, spoke of the call from then pastor Dr. S.M. Lockridge to start a choir for Calvary Baptist. Dr. Slade also related anecdotes on his process as the choir's director and the legacy that he left for future musicians. I was one of those musicians who responded to the changing of the guard. I served under Dr. Lockridge's last year and into the beginning of now deceased Dr Willie J. Smith's pastorship.

But it took several calls, family intervention, and Jean Wesson's persuasion before I felt ready to assume the accompanist position for the Sanctuary Choir (under Jean Wesson) and the Youth Choir (under Carol Durgan)  several years later. I would attend various rehearsals at that time for various reasons  and watch the musical dynamism of prof. Wesson and Norma Johnson . Their expertise was intimidating. But they were patient, supportive, and nurturing professionals. They along with Dr. Glenn Jones gently embraced me back into being a church musician. Sunday sermons and pastoral patience kept me close, calmed my musical rebellion. Calvary was a known for electrifying, life changing preaching.

                                        Seven Ways King" (aka That's My King)

Many at Sunday's concert recalled Dr. Lockridge's dynamic preaching; his sermonic style has also been preserved on YOUTUBE video with added visuals.

Sunday, feeling a little of the old rebellion, I went to say hello to Jean and Norma. I was promptly told to sit on the pew with the rest of the musicians. Trying to slip away to the back of the church, Jean's voice took on that familiar, cautionary "You are not going to do that," tone. I stopped moving toward the back. Then, Norma (who has been very ill this last year) gave me one of her famous quiet looks that pierced my heart. I leaned into them and acquiesced with a soft,"O--kay. Guess I'm too old for this rebellious front, huh?" Jean and Norma both smiled and nodded in affirmation. I must be mellowing. Used to take several minutes to reach me. Sunday, it only took a few seconds.

Watching professor Jean Wesson of San Diego City College accompany the reunion choir on the organ brought back memories of Sunrise Worship services, Prof. Wesson's blazing parallel thirds and stellar pedal work as she accompanied the Sanctuary Choir during excerpts from Handel's Messiah  and especially his "Hallelujah Chorus" on Calvary's resonant organ.

Norma Johnson at one point during the concert rose to her feet, smiling with pride at the choir's articulation and dynamic control on such old school performances of "The Storm Is Passing Over"  and "On Christ The Solid Rock I Stand." She signed a "two thumbs up" in affirmation of their musicality despite not having sung together for almost thirty years before Sunday's concert rehearsals.

I sat surrounded by a legacy of Christian love, caring, and accepted their acknowledgement. The previous generation, my generation and the musicians who we mentor(ed) basked in the sharing of of Gospel male ensembles, family duets, A cappella singing, and psalmic declamation. Photos by Marion Jones with Cornerstone Consulting, LLC. are on are available for purchase on

This link shows me seated between two African American music legends, mentors professor Jean Wesson and Norma Johnson.!i=2067966535&k=Q738nwG

Dr. Slade, thank you for starting a legacy of excellence to which many of us still aspire.
Thank you pastor Dr. Dr. Emanuel Whipple Sr. for helping to create this precious memory.

( Special note: International Gospel Singer Kim Burrell will be appearing in concert at Calvary Baptist Church very soon. Call the church at  (619) 233-6487 for ticket information.

                                       Kim Burrell and Whitney Houston

Remembering Calvary,
Delores Fisher

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