"Everyone can relate to Gospel music because everyone has had some tragedy in their life at one time or another," said Allen Bailey founder of the Harlem Gospel Choir. "Our music is really inspirational music. You come there you can't help but be inspired."
Portlanders will have an opportunity to experience some of the best gospel music anywhere next Tuesday, March 18, when the internationally acclaimed choir visits the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
Bailey founded the Harlem Gospel Choir in 1986 after attending a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the renowned Cotton Club in Harlem. He brought together some of the finest gospel singers and musicians from Harlem's Black Churches and from the New York area and set out to bring the joy and inspiration available every Sunday in Harlem to audiences all over the country – and the world.
"What we try to do is to emulate what happens in the Black church on a Sunday afternoon in Harlem," Bailey said. "It's the type of music that everyone can join in and have a good time. It's 90 minutes of nonstop foot stomping and hand clapping for the whole family.
Twenty-two years and 86 tours later, the choir is living up to its theme, "Bringing people and nations together and giving something back."
In May the choir will take their message of joy in faith to one of the most troubled cities in the world — Beirut, Lebanon. And before the year is out, the choir will visit the Czech Republic, Martinique, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Not to mention U.S. tour dates in cities as varied as Miami, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and, of course, New York.
Since its inception, the choir has performed internationally for Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Elton John and alongside many musical legends, including U2, Diana Ross, Cindi Lauper, and Lyle Lovett.
"The fact is that people really appreciate our culture," Bailey said. "It's not like a number of churches around the world where it's very quiet and sedate and laid back. In our church you've got to really get involved."
The choir's repertoire includes spiritual songs such as "Amazing Grace," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "I'll Fly Away," – all designed to leave audiences uplifted and inspired.
The choir's mission is to promote greater understanding of African American culture through music, compassion for the less fortunate through charity fundraisers, and above all, a world filled with peace, love, and acceptance.
Gospel music is an ideal way to do this, Bailey said, because the Black church has a unique role in Black culture.
"You've got to remember that the Black church is a really important institution in the Black community," he said. "It not only serves our spiritual needs on a Sunday afternoon but throughout the week it serves the people with social programs and health programs and senior citizens programs – you name it. The Black church is really involved in the community.
"The pay is small but the retirement plan is out of this world."
The Harlem Gospel Choir: 8 p.m., March 18 in the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus, 5000 N. Willamette Blvd.
Tickets are currently on sale at the Chiles Center box office, at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (503) 224-4400. Individual tickets are $15, and group tickets (for 5 or more people) are $10 each.