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Seven Local Women share blessings of song

February 10, 1997

By RICHARD BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Theda Davis led the six women to the stage of the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, then sat down at the piano and began harmonizing with them on the great Negro spiritual, "We Are Soldiers in the Army."

It was catching as a cold.

With boisterous rhythm, beaming faces and reverent shouts, the Seven Local Women belted out music that washed over their audience.

Within minutes 250 people, half of whom were school kids, were clapping hands and swaying in their seats, keeping time with the movements of the women on stage.

Seven Local Women performed Friday, the first in a series of noontime TGIF Brown Bag programs at the downtown theater. The women sing again Sunday at the Capitol Theatre, part of an African-American gospel music program.

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Seven Local Women began six years ago when Lois Waters was asked to put on a program in her church. She rounded up women she knew, all of whom sang in their own church choirs. They sang a gospel concert in Waters' church.

"We had no intention of becoming a group. We just came together that day to sing," Waters said. She said the women were surprised at how well they were received. They decided to keep singing.

Besides Waters and Davis, Seven Local Women includes Vicki Kieffer, Doris Carson, Bertha Allen, Frances Slaughter and Bebe Ransom.

Ransom joined in 1993, replacing Antoinette Milner, who had moved away.

At 46, Davis is the group's youngest member. Slaughter is the oldest at 62. Their voices include four sopranos and three altos.

"We are not entertainers. We are just seven women who enjoy singing gospel songs," Waters said. "God has blessed us with our voices and we want to share them with others."

The women have a vast repertoire that runs from old-time religious music and black and white gospel songs to traditional hymns and Negro spirituals.

"We do music that we like. It's across the board," Waters said.

Davis leads the group from her piano. She preaches between numbers, introducing each song with a sermonette.

For "Free at Last," the hymn that followed Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech, she said: "We're all enslaved by something - drugs, work, credit cards, technical difficulties, but we can turn to God. We can say thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."

The women sing about twice a month, in churches, before civic groups, in colleges and in concerts like the one on Friday. For the first five years they didn't charge for their performances, Waters said. "Now we accept love offerings, whatever they want to give."

She said the women want to collect enough money to buy matching outfits for their performances. "We want to look decent," she said.

Waters, Allen and Ransom will travel to Africa this summer to sing gospel songs there.

Six of the women live in Chambersburg. Kieffer lives in Mercersburg, Pa. They travel to their performances in a van that Allen bought. Her husband drives for them. "We call it the Jesus Van," she said.

They hope to put out their first album soon, including some of their own songs.

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