By Tonya Holmes
October 28, 2011
Los Angeles, CA – The Staples Center is accustomed to the sound of cheering but was it prepared to handle Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound competition in its search for “America’s Best Church Choir?” Up for grabs was the Verizon People’s Choice Award for $5,000, the Runner Up Prize of $15,000.00 and the Grand Prize of $25,000 to the National Winner. The crowd could look forward to a performance by Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton who were there to promote their upcoming movie “Joyful Noise.” We would also have the pleasure of honoring gospel music legend Andrae Crouch.
The debonair Donald Lawrence and the beautiful CeCe Winans would serve as our hosts for the evening. Shirley Caesar, Marvin Sapp and Israel Houghton were the trio of judges for the 4th Finale of “How Sweet the Sound.”
The show began with Donald, CeCe and Marvin singing Donald Lawrence’s “Right Now,” and then we would hear the first of the nine choirs representing cities across the country. Atlanta regional winner, All Nations Life and Praise Church Choir (Stockbridge, GA) sang “I’ve Got a Reason.” With a powerful lead singer, the choir in red robes with white sleeves and gold embroidered collars started the night off right in high praise as the lead singer’s riffs, runs and trills, accompanied the choir’s spirit filled praise and dancing and in the end excited the crowd. The choir has been singing together for 10 years and it showed.
Metropolitan Community church of Greater Saint Louis (St. Louis, MO) represented the city of St. Louis. They each paid close attention to the choir director as they sang “Let Our God Arise.” The group sang with “enthusiasm and passion” noted judge Marvin Sapp.
The Anointed Voices of Higher Ground Young Adult Choir of Higher Ground Always Abounding Assemblies, Inc. (Columbus, OH) sang “Glod Blocked It.” They were the winners for the Detroit region. They looked great with women in white ruffled blouses and vests and men in black suits. Judge Israel Houghton commented that he “liked their uniformity.” Judge Marvin Sapp said “every level, unbelievable.” He added that they “did all of that movement and stayed on pitch.”
The Chicago Regional Finalist, All Nations Choir of The Lighthouse Church of All Nations (Alsip, IL) sang Donald Lawrence’s “Prayer of Jabez (Bless Me).” The choir dressed in black with the women wearing shimmering black blouses. After they sang, Donald Lawrence said “Increase!” where the choir along with the audience took an unscheduled praise break. Pastor Sapp said, “I declare and decree that the rest of your days shall be the best of your days!”
James E. Jordan, Jr. Adult Choir of Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ (Riverdale, MD) representing Washington, D.C. donned silver suits for men and emerald green dresses for women singing “The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now.” Marvin Sapp stated that the choir director was “One of the coldest choir directors I’ve ever seen.” Judge Shirley Caesar said, “It’s all about the annointing. My choir sings that song, but not like that,” which drew some laughs from the audience.
The Living Legend tribute to Andrae Crouch was next and Chaka Khan introduced the icon and segued into a video featuring interviews and backstory about his life. CeCe sang “The Blood that Jesus Shed,” Marvin sang “To God be the Glory,” and Donald, backed by a choir sang, “We are not Ashamed.”
“Thank God for where He’s sending music,” said Andrae Crouch. “If you really want God to use you, give Him your all. Your gifts won’t diminish.”
After the intermission, Mervyn Warren played keyboards for Queen Latifah & Dolly Parton as they sang a song affiliated with their upcoming movie “Joyful Noise.”
Decked out in blue and white robes was Dallas regional winner, St. John Church Music Ministry (Grand Prairie, TX,) who sang “Awesome God.” The choir has been together for 20 years and Pastor Shirley Caesar said they had “diction with conviction.”
Christian Life Center Mass Choir of Stockton Christian Life Center, Inc. (Stockton, Calif.) with “A Blessing from the Lord is Here.” They were energetic and the audience stood to their feet and praised right along with them.
Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir of Salvation and Deliverance Church (Tarboro, N.C.) represented Charlotte, N.C. Dressed in black and yellow robes, they sang the “Hallelujah Chorus (A Soulful Celebration)” in a very restrained perfected vibratto to begin, took off their robes and unveiled a preppy look of white shirts with ties and cardigans, while singing in Latin and German amidst choreographed moves. This choir brought the crowd to their feet.
Last but definitely not least was Family Life Center Sanctuary Choir of Family Life Center Apostolic Church (Whiittier, CA) who represented Los Angeles, CA sang “Holy City.” Their lead singer drove the song as she danced across the stage. Their large contingency of supporters could be heard praising and cheering them on in the audience.
The moment of truth arrived and it was time to deliver the results, but just before that, Israel performed “I Am A Friend of God,” and Shirley Casesar sang “Sweeping Through the City,” much to the crowd’s delight.
People’s Choice Award went to Family Life Center who received a check for $5,000.
National Runner Up Christian Life Center Mass Choir received $15,000.
National Winner Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir won the title of “America’s Best Church Choir” and was awarded a check for $25,000 and is slated to perform at the gospel music showcase at the 2012 Super Bowl.
The show ended with yellow and red confetti falling from above and “It’s Your Inheitance” as the finale song.
Root Magazine had an opportunity to speak with the winning choir’s director Kristian Herring who said, “the money would be used to buy new choir robes” and “towards a ministry called Weight On The Lord that would help those wanting to lose weight.”
When asked how the win felt, Kristian simply said “awesome.” That’s the word that could describe an evening dedicated to celebrating gospel music which proved to fill the Staples Center with a “sweet sound.” Congratulations to the winners and all of the participants as the evening showcased the creativity and craftsmanship of choirs across the country who sing God’s praises.