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Singing Struggle and Victory

Annapolis hears two powerful local African American choruses in one weekend

The chorus from Glen Burnie’s Fresh Start Church has as many as 40 singers and is backed up by a four-piece band.
     The civil rights movement raised its courage and renewed its hope on the music of faith that sustained black America through slavery, Jim Crow and oppression. The national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday makes this a weekend to hear that music loud and clear. 
     Two local African American choruses sing in Annapolis this weekend, both at St. John’s College.
      Twenty strong voices of the Glen Burnie Fresh Start Gospel Choir sing the 28 songs of I Have a Dream, the civil rights musical nearly continuously running for more than 40 years that’s making a one-night stand in Annapolis Saturday, January 13. 
     These are musicians from a single church, Glen Burnie Fresh Start, founded a decade ago by Eastport’s Bishop Craig Coates. With the church came the choir. “I’ve always done community choirs, since a child,” Coates says. “Good music is part of my life.”
     The full Fresh Start Choir stretches to 40 voices plus a four-piece band “spreading love and joy in diverse settings, bringing people from diverse backgrounds together around a common thing, music.”
     True to the mission, the Fresh Start Choir is a First Sunday Annapolis regular, appearing at Tsunami.
     For I Have a Dream, the Fresh Start Choir sings songs characteristic of the civil rights movement, encompassing struggle as well as victory. Listen, Coates says, for “I’ve Been Duped And I’ve Been Scorned” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” — songs that portray the militant and persistent attitude of protestors — to songs of hope like “We Shall Overcome.”
Sat., Jan. 13, 7pm, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $35 w/discounts, rsvp:
     The Extensions of Faith Praise Choir, a chorus of 30-plus voices accompanied by bass guitar, drums, percussion and keyboard, sings vibrant interpretations of Gospel music, traditional spirituals and hymns.
      “We try to be an advocate for good gospel message and music,” says Ramocille Johnson, founder and director of the interdenominational choir that includes singers and musicians from 22 churches. “When there’s a wonderful message, we look to convey it through good music.”
       The choir formed 30 years ago, Johnson says, “as an idea brewing in my spirit that we decided to let come forth.” Some of the core remains, including Walter Caldwell on drums, Bernard Johnson on bass guitar and soloist Lorrine Johnson. Bernard and Lorrine were teens when Ramocille Johnson, a veteran church music director and later North County music teacher, first heard them.
      For all those years, Extensions of Faith Praise Choir has been a mission of faith. “We don’t audition,” Johnson says. “We just ask for an exuberant spirit to work and understand the level of the work.”
      Extensions of Faith return to St. John’s College Mitchell Gallery for a second Martin Luther King concert, having sung last year during the Ruth Starr Rose exhibition of paintings and drawings of 20th century African American life on the Eastern Shore. 
     “It’s a good thing to bring community together for someone who spoke for peace and brotherhood,” says Mitchell Gallery art educator Lucinda Edinberg. “They’re just fabulous, and we’re lucky to get them to come back for an encore performance.”
Sun., Jan. 14, 3pm followed by reception with refreshments, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, free: