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Gospel fest celebrates song

February 05, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Melissa Clark looked like she was trying to herd puppies as she pointed to where she wanted the children to stand before they sang.

Once she got the children in place, some as young as 4 years old, she directed them through a rousing set of gospel songs.

The Asbury United Methodist Youth Choir opened the ninth annual Gospel Night Celebrating Black History Month at Shepherd College's Reynolds Hall Thursday night. February is Black History Month.

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"They're excited to sing, no matter where we go," said Clark, 27, the choir director at the Shepherdstown church. "Everybody enjoys seeing them sing. We have fun doing it."

About 180 people attended the gospel festival, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Services and the newly formed Shepherd College chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The gospel night also served as a coming-out celebration for the local student chapter of the NAACP, which was formed after Shepherd student Mariama Darboe helped work at the state convention last summer.

Darboe and fellow student Greg Fleisher were able to generate enough interest from 25 students to form the chapter. They received official recognition of their chapter in December.

Thursday night, the students and others from the area listened to the voices of church choirs.

"I'm really glad to be here. They really did a good job," said Karin Stine, a Shepherdstown resident.

Carmella Rice, 30, a member of the Ambassadors of Christ Choir at Asbury United Methodist Church, said she's been singing with the choir since she was 16 years old.

"I just love singing, praising God. It's a big part of my life," she said.

Sharon Wright, choir director of the Lily of the Valley Evangel Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., said her group sings unaccompanied because they cannot afford a piano.

She said they make do without it.

"It's the spirit of God helping me," Wright said.

"We just want to try to show the students it's exciting to be saved. It's not boring or dull at all," Wright said.

The group drew an enthusiastic response from the audience with their complex harmonies.

"God brings you peace and love," Wright said.

Jim Tolbert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the NAACP, said gospel music played an important role in black history.

Slaves would disguise messages about freedom in their songs and the music continues to hold important messages of maintaining faith and determination, Tolbert said.

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