MIAMI — Gospel Sundays, a series of free gospel concerts, opened last weekend with Gospel Cantata at the Adrienne Arsht Center  for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.

The concert filled the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall at the center with stimulating, high-energy sounds from some of the top gospel choirs in the county.

Spectacular and timeless performances delivered by the Jubilate Vocal Ensemble, the C.E. Jenkins Inspirational Singers, Professor Stephen D. English and the Fellowship Choir and Speaking Hands brought spirit-filled concert goers to their feet throughout the evening on Dec. 14.

Jerry Sawyer and Kevin Moyd of WMBM AM Radio 1490 emceed the event.

WMBM, a South Florida gospel station, partners with the Arsht Center to present the concerts.

The series, scheduled to run over six months, is supported in part by a $100,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“We partner with local church groups, mostly from Dade County,” said J. Ricky Arriola, chairman of the Performing Arts Center Trust board of directors. “We have reached out to South Broward as well. Typically, we will have two to three different gospel choirs at each performance. We try to partner with choirs that are best in their class and high-quality performers.”

Arriola said he works with Bishop Victor T. Curry, president and general manager of WMBM, to select the choirs. Curry is also pastor of New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka.

“We chose the Arsht Center because of its magnificent performing space,” Arriola said. “The concert hall in which the series is held is acoustically the best in the entire world. It’s also a community institution filled with energy. ”

The Cantata, preparing the crowd to share in its holiday theme, opened with powerful performances of “Joy to the World,’’ “Celebrate’’ and “Joy’’ by the Christmas Mass Choir, a group comprising all of the performing choirs.

The Jubilate Vocal Ensemble, a Miami-based non-profit music organization directed by Nelson Hall, then transitioned into “The Christmas Story.’’

“I loved listening to them,” Mary Lee Jones, 68, of Overtown, said about the Ensemble. “They really have a soulful presence, and that Dr. Hall is a fabulous man.
I’ve heard them sing in the past, and each time they outperform the last.”

Hall, taking a break from his piano, walked enthusiastically to the edge of the stage and engaged the crowd in hand praise during “Tell Me A Story,’’ bringing many to their feet.

The C.E. Jenkins Inspirational Singers of Mt. Hermon AME Church in Miami Gardens, born out of a merger with the Young Adult Choir and the C.E. Jenkins’ Specials, opened with the evening’s second performance of “Joy to the World’’ and “Don’t Forget Jesus.’’

Shay Wells, 72, of Opa-locka, said she enjoyed the performance [Inspirational Singers] so much that she “wanted to take them home for a private concert. Their performance of “Don’t Forget Jesus,’’ for me, was personal. It reminded me of when my mother was alive and going to my home church for Sunday school back in Georgia.”

The uplifting and moving performance by Professor Stephen D. English and the Fellowship Choir not only roused the crowd physically, but stimulated vocal
participation. Their powerful veteran voices, delivered by the Arsht Center’s perfect acoustics, and on-stage energy made their performance unforgettable.

“What a performance!” Mavis Spencer, 70, of Atlanta, said about the Fellowship’s performance. “I had no idea what I was in for this evening, and I certainly didn’t know they could do Gospel like this in South Florida.”

Two well-deserved standing ovations were given to Speaking Hands after their dynamic signing performances to “Now Behold the Lamb’’ and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.’’

The group, comprising young people ages 12 to 20, aggressively took the stage and immediately affected the audience with their energy and skilled movement.

The Plantation-based group is directed by Claudette Barrett.

“They [Speaking Hands] were the best part,” said 11-year-old Arnesha Wills of Cooper City. “I never thought about people talking to God with their hands.”

Arriola described the event as “a community celebration” and said he is hoping that people from all over the community will come and support Gospel Sundays, as well as their local choir.

“It’s an interesting occasion to see the churches come together,” he said. “It may be a one-of-a-kind opportunity for many to witness other choirs and the way they worship in song.”


WHAT:  Gospel Sundays

:  Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

:  The next concerts are on Feb. 15, 2009 at 4 p.m. and on April 19, 2009 at 4 p.m.

:  Free and open to the public.

:  To reserve tickets (recommended), 305-949-6722 or Tickets will also be available on performance days at the Knight Center Concert Hall beginning at noon (subject to availability).