How does Gospel music inspire hope and connect multiple generations?
"Glory Hallelujah!": Gospel Music in Omaha's African American Community
Research compiled by Dwyan W., Alondra P., Matthew R., Destanee B., Nyapuot J., and Jared P.
The church has been very important to the African American community in Omaha. Within these churches, gospel music has been an essential force, adding movement, energy, personal expression, improvisation, and emotion in another form of preaching to the congregation. North Omaha has experienced no shortage of gospel groups over the decades, from quartets and quintets to choirs and choruses. Its groups have traveled the region and country and gospel groups from surrounding areas have been brought in to join in worship. Gospel music has been and remains a key feature of church services here and the group thanks Cherrese Ashby, Michael Dryver, Delores Matthews, and Willie Mae Williams for offering their assistance in better understanding its role. The photograph above shows Cherrese singing at her church, Paradise Missionary Baptist Church.
Published on August 5, 2017
Students created this documentary as part of the OPS Making Invisible Histories Visible initiative.
Being the oldest black Baptist church in Omaha, founded in 1884, Zion Baptist Church originally met in members’ homes until it finally raised enough money in the 1890s for a building. Though that building was destroyed in a horrible tornado on Easter Sunday, 1913, a new one was constructed to fill the void. Zion is located at 2215 Grant Street in Omaha.
Gospel music has been essential to Zion Baptist Church. Groups over the years have included the Harmony Four and Los Cantores in the 1930s, the Imperial Choir of Zion and the Gospel Chorus of Zion in the 1940s, the Miracle Singing Children in the 1950s, the Miss-Master Choir in the 1960s, and many more, including gospel choirs invited from surrounding areas like Kansas City and Des Moines over the years to infuse worship with spiritual enthusiasm. The students were able to interview Ms. Delores Matthews, Minister of Music and Fine Arts, at Zion Baptist, about Zion's musical history about her own career as a musician.
The Soul Seekers were a gospel quintet in Omaha, formed in 1969. Lumie Davis, Tumniel Davis, Essie Finley, Helen Pinkard, and Willie Mae Williams traveled all around the United States singing and spreading gospel while also inspiring other people to create their own gospel groups.The Soul Seekers inspired many women in Omaha to become involved in gospel music. Gospel quintets (five singers) and gospel quartets (four singers) were harmonized singing groups. They were a popular part of Omaha's African American church music scene beginning in the late 1940s. Quartets and quintet groups, like the Soul Seekers, would book engagement at different churches, often for special events. Other well known singing quintet and quartets in community included the Loving Four and the Gospel Travelliers. Our students were fortunate to be able to interview Ms. Williams about her experience with the Soul Seekers. (Flier courtesy of Creola Woodall.)
This is a poster for an album recorded by Salem Baptist Church. Salem Baptist Church, currently the largest African American congregation in Nebraska, long led by Rev. J. C. Wade, from 1944 to 1988, played a key role in bringing modern gospel music to North Omaha churches. Salem introduced modern arrangements and electronic instruments. In 1978, under the direction of Dorothea Wade and in collaboration with legendary gospel star James Cleveland, the Salem Inspirational Choir recorded I Don't Feel Noways Tired: James Cleveland Presents the Salem Inspirational Choir. The recording was a huge success. In 1979, it was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Ashbey, S. (2017, July 18). Pilgrim Baptist Church Choir Member.
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Cattau, D. (n.d.). Omaha Choir Hits Gospel Height. Omaha World-Herald.
Dryver, M. (2017, July 14). Historian and Music Educator.
Jack, T. (2000, 7 1). The Omaha Gospel Complex in Historical Perspective. Great Plains Quarterly.
Matthews, D. (2017, July 18). Zion Baptist Church Choir Director.
Williams, W. M. (2017, July 17). Soul Seekers Quartet Member.
Williams-Jones, P. (1975). Afro-American Gospel Music: A Crystallization of the Black Aesthetic. Ethnomusicology, 19, 373-385.