yolanda-adams2_fc.jpgThe Hard Rock Live Arena played host to a different type of clientele this Mother’s Day. Nearly 4,000 gospel lovers filled the arena to celebrate and worship with famed gospel singers Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar and Martha Munizzi.

The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Concert on May 11 in the arena at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood proved to be a rousing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping success.

The night was complete with everything you would expect from a traditional gospel concert, mixed in with some contemporary innovation. But the event played more like a church service than a concert. There were Mother’s Day monologues and brief sermonettes about the goodness of God.

The black church has received a bit of a black eye of late, after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s public criticisms of America shook up Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But on Sunday night, the black church put on a wonderful display of optimism and faith.

The Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church Choir helped set the tone for the service with a soulful and groovy remix of the old Negro Spiritual “Hold On.”

Several of the presenters seized on the theme of holding on, holding on despite high gas prices, holding on despite a worsening economic situation, holding on despite injustices, perceived or actual.

By the time Yolanda Adams graced the stage in a long, flowing dress and six-inch heels, the audience was at full throttle and receptive to her message of holding on. Her performance was a masterfully executed blend of narrative and song. She spoke about recent I.R.S. troubles and having to hold onto her faith in God and people.

When Adams sings, it doesn’t seem real. She performs gospel like a jazz singer. She uses her voice like an instrument, weaving it into and out of the musical accompaniment. At one point, she broke out into a three-minute scat reminiscent of freestyle rapping and the best jazz vocal improvisations.

Adams played the middle of the lineup, coming after Munizzi, who isn’t the vocalist that Adams is. While Yolanda stands and serenades, Munizzi bounces, runs, and skips across the stage, imploring the audience to make their praise “Glorious.”  Munizzi’s energy and her worship songs made her set a perfect opener.

After Munizzi and Adams, the matriarch of the night came to stage and instantly made her presence known. Shirley Caesar is old school. It seemed like her set wasn’t scripted, but felt.

I’ve never been to a concert where the headliner came on stage and said, “Gimme an E flat” and then proceeded to sing with no fanfare or big build up. She told the stage hands to cut off the smoke machines.

“Y’all gone dry me out. I’m a gospel sanger. I don’t need no smoke machine,” she said.

Pastor Caesar performed in her reverend authority. She commanded the stage and the audience. She passed flowers out to the mothers in the first few rows, always making sure that if you got a flower, you were somebody’s mom, or taking it to a mother.

Caesar’s voice is more guttural than the acts that preceded her. Where Munizzi is energetic, Caesar is active, walking the stage pigeon-toed in gold heels. Where Adams’ vocal is a beautiful serenade, Caesar’s vocal is a convicting rebuke, but it’s the best- sounding rebuke ever.

After leaving the arena, I felt like I could hold on.

As I walked by the various bars, pubs and unbelievably attractive women, I felt like I could hold on. Thank God. I walked out of the arena and away from the casino, along with thousands of others whom I’m sure felt they could hold on, too.

Photos by Sayre Berman. Yolanda Adams performs during the 4th Annual Mother’s Day Gospel Showcase at the Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena on May 11.