College of Alameda’s gospel concert to feature music, message
By Lou Fancher
To achieve a better life, sing a song.
Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as warbling a tune in the shower or imitating a favorite performer at karaoke night. But when singing leads to learning the history behind a musical genre, joining a choir and adjusting to its diverse expression, investigating possible careers in the field and other forms of higher learning, attending college or university, well, then singing becomes a portal to countless opportunities.
Which is exactly the spark behind the “Second Gospel Explosion Concert” May 18 at the College of Alameda. Led by music department chair and Professor Glen Pearson with Los Medanos Community College music director and Professor Silvester Henderson, the concert features the 13-member College of Alameda Gospel Ensemble, solo vocalist Lawrence Matthews (soundtrack artist for the movie “Leap of Faith”), motivational speaker and educator Dr. Khalid White and Bay Area guest artists.
“Gospel music is the common thread in the African-American community. It serves as the conservatory of music training,” Pearson said. “Popular music has countless ties back to the church: Aretha Franklin ties to Mahalia Jackson, the mother of gospel. From James Brown to Otis Redding, you have connections going back to gospel quartets.”
Motivating African-American students to invest in higher education, he said, is made vital when students experience enthusiasm and pride in their identity. Music performance — and gospel singing in particular — is an effective gateway. Pearson has witnessed firsthand the power of vocal music as an equal opportunity springboard.
“I worked with the Boys Choir of Harlem for 11 years,” he said. “There was success in steering young boys’ lives. The outcome was 98 percent of the children going on to colleges after high school graduation.”
The Oakland native and celebrated performer, whose credits include principle keyboardist for Regina Belle and work with Dianne Reeves, percussionist Babatundae Lea, Savion Glover and others, aims at expansion.
“I want to grow the department by reaching out to more underserved communities throughout the Bay Area,” he said.
To reach them, Pearson invited Henderson into the department.
“We met in our youth at San Francisco State University,” Pearson said. “We took different but complimentary career paths. I am a traveling, professional musician and educator: he is an educator and a mentor to youth. The young gospel choir he led at UC Berkeley — I meet students all the time who say his guidance was a big part of their success.”
Role models are essential for inspiring all youths, regardless of whether or not they pursue a career in the arts, Pearson said.
Asked about the impact on African-American students of Barack Obama and his successor, President Donald Trump, he said the change has led students to look inward or to their local communities for inspiration.
“They realize role models exist within themselves, or in local educators, in professionals who are African American,” he said.
“Obama was just a representation of many other Obamas out there. They’ve been exposed to the idea that there are opportunities for achievement, guidance and mentoring from local people.”
Pearson’s perspective knits organically with the message of guest speaker White. The San Jose State University lecturer said gospel music’s and higher education’s legacies are inclusive and offer good news. College education and gospel music create connections and aim to provide a brighter future.
“At its core, gospel music is inclusive, diverse, supportive and it’s global,” he wrote in an email. “It helps to create a place of equity and access for those that enjoy it. Community colleges serve a similar function.”
Two areas in which White sees youth energized to create change are music and education.
“Gospel music is an integral part of African-American history,” White said. “African-American history is an integral part of American history. The African-American church experience and gospel music are embedded in the civil rights movement. Every group in America has seen some benefits from the civil rights movement. It’s never too early nor too late to instill the notions of diversity, equity, civil rights and racial dignity.”
The concert will include brief messages of support from College of Alameda President Tim Karas and a representative from the U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell.