Monthly Archives: June 2013


On Saturday, June 22, the Spirituals Choir sang at the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration, held at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven.

Gathering before the event. From left: Director Jim, Betsy, Heather, Thelma, Susie (whose face you can't see), and Bob (represented by his cool shirt sleeve).

Gathering before the event. From left: Director Jim, Betsy, Heather, Thelma, Susie (whose face you can’t see), and Bob (represented by his cool shirt sleeve).

In the middle of June 1865, the word finally got to Texas that the Civil War was over and the slaves were free. The slaves had been officially free since January 1, 1863, but word didn’t always travel fast in those days. Some people, it seems, didn’t want the word to get through at all.

According to the history books, Major General George Granger made the announcement in Galveston on June 19, but people got the word at different times and not everyone had a calendar handy, so the date has come down to us as Juneteenth. For more about the history, check out this site.

Jim Thomas, director of the Spirituals Choir and founder of the U.S. Slave Song Project (which the choir is part of), talked about the history and introduced each of the songs.

We sang “You May Bury Me in the East” in memory of Natalie Dickerson, former president of the M.V. NAACP and a singer with the choir in its early years, who passed in May.

Natalie was also present in an interview she did with Ann Bassett, host of the Vineyard View show on MVTV. Natalie herself hosted two MVTV shows, Pathway to Your Health and Pathway to Your Success.

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After the program we all adjourned to the parish house for a potluck feast.

Next Saturday we’ll be performing at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven: Show time is 7:30, June 29; tickets are $15 (to benefit the U.S. Slave Song Project) and can be purchased at the door.


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Upcoming Concert

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Tickets may be obtained online at, or by calling Jim Thomas at 703-407-1207. They should also be available at the door.

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Singing at the Movies

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Tonight was a first both for the Spirituals Choir and the new Martha’s Vineyard Film Center: we sang as a sort of appetizer for the M.V. Film Society’s screening of Cabin in the Sky (1943). The acoustics were challenging, but the audience was appreciative — and we got to watch the film for free. Cabin in the Sky features wonderful singing by Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, amongĀ  others, and an appearance by Duke Ellington and his band as well.

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Choirs Sing for One Fund

Choirs and audience rose to sing the "Sweet Caroline" finale together.

Choirs and audience rose to sing the “Sweet Caroline” finale together.

Members of at least five choirs and choruses — four from the Vineyard and one from off-island — packed Katharine Cornell Theatre last night in a benefit for the One Fund, established to help victims of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. The music directors did an amazing job of fitting everybody in, and yes, we did leave room for the audience.

The M.V. Spirituals Choir was one of the five. In the photo, we’re clustered in front of the stage, facing the audience. Director Jim Thomas is the guy in white standing directly under the chandelier on the right. On the stage is the Vintage Voices ensemble, decked out in their customary red and black. On the right, under the Stan Murphy painting, is the Federated Church choir. Barely visible on the left are some of the “Musicians from the Mainland,” as they were designated in the program, led by Laura Prichard, director of music at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington, Mass. Not visible at all (they were standing at the back of the house) are Katrina Nevin and Dorian Lopes from the Scottish Society, stylishly clad in wool kilts that, as they noted, were not ideally suited to the summer weather.

Also invisible, except for his hands on the keyboard onstage, is Phil Dietterich, who was probably the busiest guy there: not only is he the Spirituals Choir’s accompanist, he also directs Vintage Voices and the Scottish Society choir.

The Island Community Chorus, though not an official participant, was well represented by several members who also sing in Vintage Voices, the Spirituals Choir, and/or the Federated Church choir and by director Peter Boak, who is also the music director at Federated. And pianist David Rhoderick, who played J. S. Bach’s Partita no. 6 in E minor, directs the music program at West Tisbury’s First Congregational Church, so it was represented too.

The M.V. Spirituals Choir sang “Oh, Wasn’t That a Wide River,” “In Bright Mansions,” “Soon I Will Be Done,” “Done Made My Vow,” “Sit Down Servant,” and “My Soul’s Been Anchored.” We were joined by members of the Arlington UU choir, and Jim Thomas introduced each song with a few words about its significance to the slaves who first sang it.

To close the program, Vintage Voices led all the choirs and the audience in Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple at Boston Red Sox games that has become a symbol of Boston solidarity in the wake of the Marathon bombing.

Update: Laura Prichard reports that $1,510 was raised for the One Fund at the concert last night.

The Spirituals Choir’s next appearance will be next Wednesday, June 5, at the M.V. Film Center in the Tisbury Marketplace. We’ll be singing from 7 to 7:30 p.m. as a prelude to the evening’s screening of the classic film Cabin in the Sky (1943).

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