Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
ForoveradecadetheOakland Interfaith Gospel Choir earned national recognition for its powerful and energetic interpretations of traditional spirituals and contemporary gospel songs. Under the direction of Terrance Kelly the choir imparted its message of hope, joy, unity and justice via numerous live performances from San Francisco to Canada and Australia.
Founded in Berkeley, California, the choir extended its audience through recordings with gospel stars like Tra-maine Hawkins, and jazz and pop artists such as Linda Ronstadt and Peter Gabriel. It was profiled on CBS’ Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt and in the award-winning documentary This is Our Story, This is Our Song by film director Skip Brown. By 1999 the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir had produced two recordings and received the Gospel Academy Award for Best Community Choir of the Year for the fifth time.
The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir had its origins at the acclaimed Cazadero Jazz Camp, sponsored by the city
Members include 55 vocalists; David Belove , bass; Rahsaan Ellison , keyboards; Ben Heveroh , keyboards; Terrance Kelly (born October 29, 1962 in Oakland, CA), director; former accompanists include Juan Forte , drums; Ellen Hoffman , keyboards; Ed Kelly , keyboards; Troy Lampkin , bass.
Founded in 1986; performances in churches and at benefit events in the San Francisco, CA area; performed with the Duke Ellington orchestra at the Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music, 1990; performed with jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders at Oakland’s Calvin Simmons Theater, 1990; first performances abroad in Vancouver, Canada, 1995; performed at the International Music Festival in Sydney, Australia, 1997; recorded backup vocals for Tramaine Hawkins, Take 6, The Clark Sisters, Walter Hawkins, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Pharaoh Sanders, Stan Getz, John Denver, Malrena Shaw, and Jeffrey Osborne; released The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir —Live!, 1991; second album We’ve Come a Mighty Long Way recorded live at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, released December 1995.
Awards: Gospel Academy Award for Best Community Choir of the Year, 1997 and 1999; Arts Organization of the Year Award from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, 1998; Gold Award for promotion of cultural understanding through music at the International Music Festival in Sydney, Australia, 1997. Terrance Kelly: Emmy Award for arrangement of “Circle of Friends,” 1995; Gospel Academy Award for “Best Director,” 1997.
Addresses: Management —2421 Prince Street, Berkeley, CA 94705, (510) 848-3938. E-mail—[email protected]
of Berkeley, California. Gospel choir directress and pianist Faye Kelly taught a one-week gospel singing workshop at the camp. After Faye died her son Terrance Kelly took over the workshop. In 1986 some of the faculty members and workshop participants decided they wanted to turn this short but uplifting experience into a regular activity. The choir, christened the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, took off.
Only three and a half years after the choir was founded it was being praised for its sound and symbolism alike, both of which were influenced primarily by director Kelly. Kelly, the son of jazz pianist Ed Kelly and grandson of a preacher, took on the job after some eager gospel workshop participants had approached him. It seemed like an almost impossible goal: to teach white singers to sound like “real gospel” and make them sing their souls out even if they didn’t believe in the same gods.
Kelly taught the choir about black singing—shouting, pronunciation, hand clapping and rocking—simply by doing it, and letting the choir imitate him. He rewrote some lyrics to make them more acceptable to the non-Christian choir members, telling the New York Times “Jesus every now and again is O.K. … Jesus every breath is too much.” Kelly’s baritone voice, covering over three octaves, earned him reputation as one of the choir’s soloists.
Over its history the choir numbered between 55 to 60 members from more than 20 different faiths including Jews, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Rastafarians, and Baptists. In a 1989 New York Times article, soprano Sheila Daar explained the group’s mission: “In a society where race and religion divide us, our message is it’s possible to maintain your differences, yet come together.” Kelly encouraged non-Christians to “mentally insert the name of [their] own God into the music,” singer and producer Kathleen Enright told the Daily Republic.
Right from the beginning, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir took its message not only to churches, but also to benefits on behalf of the homeless, children, victims of AIDS and Alzheimer’s Disease, poorfamilies, and even prisoners. The choir also performed with the Duke Ellington orchestra at the Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 1990. They performed at various other festivals including the 40th Annual Atlanta Arts Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. At one notable performance in 1994, the choir accompanied a sermon by South African Bishop Tutu held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Their first trip abroad took the choir to Canada in 1995 where it performed to large audiences in Vancouver.
Several pop and gospel stars took notice of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir’s stellar reputation. The group sang backup vocals on singer Linda Ronstadt’s 1989 album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, on gospel star Tramaine Hawkins’ Tramarne —/Vein 1990, and on Hammer’s 1991 album Too Legit To Quit, all of which won Grammy Awards.
In 1990 the choir’s fifth Christmas Concert—a sold-out performance with jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders at Oakland’s Calvin Simmons Theater—was recorded and released on tape. The choir’s search for an appropriate record label proved to be difficult, however, as Christian labels could not be convinced to support the group’s philosophy of religious tolerance. Ultimately the group decided to finance and produce theirfirst album independently, and The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir—Live! was released in 1991.
“The sounds of praise hit like drumbeats, backed by a funky bass line and an organ that demands you to move,” wrote Anita Amirrezvani of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir in the West Country Times. Amirrezvani was not alone in her opinion, as the choir soon began building a reputation outside of San Francisco. In December of 1995 the choir released a second self-produced album, We’ve Come a Mighty Long Way.
Recorded live at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, the album’s mix of traditional and contemporary gospel included classical as well as jazz arrangements, and ballads as well as rocking songs. Kelly wrote and arranged most of the music for both of the choir’s albums, while his father was among the accompanists on organ and piano. In 1995, Kelly won an Emmy Award for his arrangement of “Circle of Friends,” which the choir performed for a public service announcement on KGO Channel 7. Two years later he received the Best Director Award at the 27th Annual Gospel Academy Awards.
In 1996 the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir performed at the State of the World Forum in San Francisco, which was attended by several global leaders. The following year the choir performed in Australia for the first time at the International Music Festival in Sydney. While there they received a Gold Award for promotion of cultural understanding through music. In December 1997 the group was featured in This Is Our Story, This is Our Song, a one hour documentary by filmmaker Skip Brown. Originally aired on KGO TV, This Is Our Story, This is OurSong later received a Bronze Apple Award from the National Educational Media Network.
The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir—Live!, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, 1991.
We’ve Come a Mighty Long Way, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, 1995.
Linda Ronstadt, Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, Wea/Elektra Entertainment, 1989.
Hammer, Too Legit To Quit, Emd/Capitol, 1991.
Tramaine Hawkins, Tramaine —Live, Sparrow Records, 1990.
Daily Republic, February 28, 1997.
Diablo, December 1996.
New York Times, December 25, 1989.
Oakland Tribune, December 1, 1991; November 27.
San Francisco, December 1998, p. 67.
West Country Times (Oakland, CA), December 1, 1995.
Additional information forthis profile was provided by publicity materials of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and by choir member Kathleen Enright.
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