Monthly Archives: June 2014

Time Change: Lola’s

The Spirituals Choir’s performance at Lola’s Sunday brunch has been moved back to 12:15 p.m. We’ll be singing at Lola’s next Sunday, July 6, and the Sunday following, July 13.

Lola’s is located on Island Inn Road, off the Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The Sunday brunch menu is to die for. Check out this sample!

Hope to see you there.

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Marching On

20140628 KC

On Saturday, June 28, Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir performed at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. The presentation concluded with a rousing “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” featuring Chris Seidel on snare drum. The “Battle Hymn” isn’t a spiritual, but it’s closely identified with the fight against slavery. Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics during the Civil War to the tune of “John Brown’s Body,” which memorialized John Brown, the white abolitionist who was hanged in December 1859 for leading an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

We have three presentations scheduled for early July. On two successive Sundays, July 6 and July 13, we’ll be singing for brunch patrons at Lola’s restaurant, on Island Inn Road, off the Beach Road in Oak Bluffs. Brunch is from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Our presentation will begin at 12:15 p.m.

In between those two Sundays, on Thursday, July 10, we’ll at at the Chilmark library at 5 p.m.

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West Tisbury Debut

The sopranos and altos

The sopranos and altos

Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir gave a presentation this evening at the West Tisbury Free Public Library. The library reopened in March after a 15-month renovation and expansion — and the new community program room is just wonderful. More than 50 people turned out to hear us.

This Saturday we’ll be giving the first of our two benefit performances for the U.S. Slave Song Project, of which we’re a part. Come on down to Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at the door.

Two more performance have been added to our summer schedule. On two consecutive Sundays, July 6 and July 13, we’ll be singing for the brunch patrons at Lola’s restaurant, off Beach Road, Oak Bluffs. Lola’s food is legendary. You will not be disappointed. The appointed time for both gigs is 1 p.m.

We perform in the West Tisbury library's new program room. That's Jim at left in blue. At the keyboard at right in the red shirt is Phil Dietterich, our fearless accompanist.

We perform in the West Tisbury library’s new program room. That’s Jim at left in blue. At the keyboard at right in the red shirt is Phil Dietterich, our fearless accompanist.

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Our Busy Week

This is a busy week for Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir!

Last Saturday we sang at the NAACP’s annual Juneteenth celebration.

Tight quarters in the choir loft at First Baptist Church

Tight quarters in the choir loft at First Baptist Church

Jim explains the significance of the songs.

Jim explains the significance of the songs.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 25, at 6:30 p.m., we’ll make our West Tisbury library debut. The expanded and renovated library now has a beautiful new performance space. The program is free and audience members are encouraged to comment and ask questions after the program.

On Saturday, we perform the first of two benefits for the U.S. Slave Song Project, of which the choir is a part. This one is at Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door. Percussionist Chris Seidel will be joining us on snare drum for our finale, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The second benefit will be at Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs, on Saturday, July 19.

2014 KC card

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Juneteenth 2014

This Saturday, June 21, Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir will take part in the annual Juneteenth celebration sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP. The event begins at 1 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, corner of Spring and William Streets, Vineyard Haven. The choir’s presentation is scheduled to start at 2:30.

The celebration also includes an intergenerational panel discussion on “Speaking Truth to Power” and a potluck supper in the parish hall next door. Bring a dish to share or a $5 donation. (The food last year was scrumptious.)

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Legally the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. But it freed only the slaves in the rebellious states, and made exceptions for some in the slaveholding states that had remained in the Union. Its moral force was great, however, though it could only be implemented through military victory. The Civil War ended with the Confederacy’s surrender on April 9, 1865, but it wasn’t till June 19 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the war was over and all slaves were free.

Word reached the various towns and plantations on different days. Slaves weren’t always aware of the exact calendar date, but everyone knew it was the middle of June. Hence the end of slavery has been celebrated ever since as “Juneteenth.”

No new spirituals have appeared since the end of slavery. Once they were free, the former slaves no longer needed to communicate in secret. The last authentic spirituals celebrate emancipation: “Great Day,” “Free at Last,” and “Oh Freedom over Me.”

Next year, 2015, will mark the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth. For more about Juneteenth and its celebrations, check out this website.

Hope to see you on Saturday!

Jim Thomas (at left) and some of the choir at last year's Juneteenth celebration

Jim Thomas (at left) and some of the choir at last year’s Juneteenth celebration

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Sunday in Chilmark

chilmark churchThe Spirituals Choir opened its busy season in earnest this morning by participating in the Sunday service at the Chilmark Community Church. Sunlight streamed through the windows of the classic New England church, which was built on Middle Road in the late 19th century and moved to its current location on the Menemsha Crossroad in 1910.

Before the congregation’s children go off to Sunday school, they come to the front of the sanctuary to hear their own sermon. Choir director Jim Thomas gave this week’s sermon. The slaves were often considered “dumb,” he said, because they came from somewhere else and had dark skin. He spoke of how they learned to communicate with each other, often right under the masters’ noses, and he demonstrated a “talking drum” and other percussion instruments crafted by slaves from whatever materials they could find.

Jim Thomas displays an instrument to the children.

Jim Thomas displays an instrument to the children.

The spirituals we sang included “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Wasn’t That a Wide River,” “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” “Climbing Up the Mountain,” and “Done Made My Vow.”  Jim provided a little background on each song.

To close the service, the congregation joined us in “We Shall Overcome.”

This Tuesday, June 17, at 1 p.m., the Spirituals Choir gives a presentation at the Anchors (the Edgartown Council on Aging).

On Saturday, the 21st, we’ll be part of the annual Juneteenth celebration organized by the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP. That takes place at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven and begins at 1 p.m.

See the 2014 Schedule tab above for our performance schedule.

 

Part of the choir. Standing on the left is Janet Holladay, who gave us our starting notes in the absence of regular accompanist Phil Dietterich.

Part of the choir. Standing on the left is Janet Holladay, who gave us our starting notes in the absence of regular accompanist Phil Dietterich.

Jim directs the choir.

Jim directs the choir.

 

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NegroSpirituals.com

This is an interesting website organized by Spiritual Workshop, Paris. It includes a general history of the songs we sing in the Spirituals Choir and carries it forward into and through the twentieth century. You’ll also find links to more information about the songs and some of their singers.

Especially cool is the alphabetical song index. Each first line links to the lyrics of the song. In some cases more than one version is given. Most of the songs we sing are there.

spirituals website

The NegroSpirituals.com homepage (partial view)

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