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The Harlem Gospel Choir

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 3rd Jun 2011 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

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The Harlem Gospel Choir

Reviewed at Darlington Civic Theatre

You may not instantly recognise their name but the chances are, somewhere along the line, you’ll have seen The Harlem Gospel Choir perform. Whether it was back in 1989, in the iconic video for Madonna’s number one hit Like a Prayer, or more recently at the internationally broadcast memorial concert for Michael Jackson, the world-famous choir group occupy a well-earned position in popular culture.

Since forming in 1986, at Harlem’s Cotton Club, they have become America’s premier gospel choir and have performed with a wide range of contemporary and traditional artists such as Diana Ross, U2, Scissor Sisters, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Gorillaz, Razorlight, Jon Hendricks, Lisa Marie Presley, Josh Groban and Whoopi Goldberg. They have also had the honour of performing in front of royalty, Popes and presidents, including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

Inspired by the work of Dr Martin Luther King Junior, Allen Bailey founded the original choir after attending a celebration of King’s life. The theme of every performance is “bringing people and nations together and giving something back”.

The Harlem Gospel Choir shares its message of love and inspiration, through its dynamic performances, with thousands of people around the world and raises funds for many children’s charities in the process. From China to Australia, Russia to Alaska, they have travelled more than 3 million miles with their rich harmonies and songs of hope. Now, as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, they are back in the United Kingdom after a six year absence.

Staying true to their original form, the choir still draw their core singers and musicians from black churches in the Harlem and New York area and continuously strive to educate and share their African-American culture and the inspirational relationship between Gospel and the black church.

Their uplifting and spiritual concert attempts to emulate the atmosphere and joyousness of a Gospel church service – the audience are even referred to as members of ‘the congregation’. Participation is central to the choir’s objectives and hand-clapping, foot-stomping, arm-waving and hip-shaking are all actively encouraged.

The show is divided into two distinct halves. The first draws heavily upon the Christian beliefs of the choir and, subsequently, the mood is one of meaningful praise and heartfelt worship. After the interval, things become far more mainstream and, dare I say, even commercial. Many of the numbers performed (including Kool & The Gang’s Celebration and USA for Africa’s We Are The World, the US equivalent of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?) had ‘the congregation’ singing along. The charismatic MC and founder of the choir, Allen Bailey, even encouraged audience members onto the stage to join in!

Whatever your religious beliefs may be, it is impossible not to find yourself becoming immersed into this soulful and celebratory concert. The enthusiasm of the choir is positively infectious. Indeed, experiencing the phenomenon that is the Harlem Gospel Choir raises your spirits and touches the depths of your soul!

Steve Burbridge.

For tour dates and venues visit






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