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South Salt Lake Journal

Calvary Baptist Heritage Choir Concert 
presents the color of love

Mar 29, 2019 09:37AM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

“We going way back home, way South,” James Anderson of South Salt Lake, told the congregation. Anderson trembled as he powerfully belted out the words to “God Is My Everything.” (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

When we think of a choir, many of us envision matching robes, a reverent, tightly structured program with printed programs, and, most importantly, melodious, inspirational music.

Salt Lake’s Calvary Baptist Church’s Heritage Concert, held Feb. 24, euphorically focused on delivering the third: melodious, inspirational music.

The jubilant concert delivered a lot more, too, and the focus was not on the performances, but on song, movement, and dance all being forms of worship. 

“Love” was the concert’s theme, based on 1 Corinthians 13:13, the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

Not just a ‘concert’

“You call it a ‘concert.’ We call it worship,” Rev. Robert Merrill told the congregation. His comments were met with loud applause. Applause is an aspect of this congregation’s worship that may be unfamiliar to many people across the Salt Lake Valley.

“Neighbor, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I’m gonna get my praise on,” the smiling reverend said.

Merrill is aware that the Heritage Concert brings a lot of guests to the 1,000-person church hall, where services are held weekly at 8 a.m. and again at 11 a.m. A Calvary greeter helped late-arriving guests find timely, orderly parking.

The color of worship

The concert is as colorful as the fabrics adorning choir members, many of whose colors and patterns represent aspects of African heritage, as well as other spiritual intentions.

The many faces in the audience are also colorful — the blackest of black, the whitest of white, varying degrees of color among them. Most smiling, many singing along, some shouting out throughout the concert, even during the invocation or opening prayer and as lines of scripture are read from the pulpit.

The concert is as colorful as what adorns many of the heads of those faces – colorful African-style headdresses, traditional American Sunday-go-to-meeting hats, and a variety of “kufi” or African skullcaps.

“The diversity of the audience was so heartwarming,” said Lakeysha Austin Mapps, a West Valley City-based customer service agent. “I thought to myself, ‘This is what Heaven is going to look like. It's going to look like this audience.’”

Expanding ‘Black History Month’ to include our diverse heritage

Veteran musician Laura Eady-Popwell is the music ministry leader. Eady-Popwell said she has seen an increase in diversity in the choir and the overall church membership since moving cross-country to Utah in 1994.

“There were a few Caucasians in the membership, but I cannot remember a whole lot of diversity,” she recalled. Today’s choir, she said, includes Mexican immigrants, African refugees, and white and other contributors, as well as the core African-American or black congregation.

Eady-Popwell also explained the Heritage Concert used to be more related to Black History Month and now is celebrated every year during the month of February as Heritage Month.

“We include more people than just black Americans,” she explained. “We celebrate our heritage, no matter what color we are.”

The Calvary Dancers, the God Squad, Angel Choir, Praise Singers, and other worship teams

The concert opened with music and dance honoring African roots of the choir’s predominantly black congregation. The Calvary Dancers file in from the back, finding their way to the floor in front of the pulpit, where they dance in unison. Many wear small-to-medium dots of bright face paint, which symbolize hope, purity and light.

As opposed to a performance, where the strongest dancers are traditionally strategically aligned to be front and center, The Calvary Dancers are more of a true ensemble, with an overall impression of strength and beauty.

The Angel Choir, comprising youth age 3 up to 12, follows the dancers, with young men dressed in black, with bowler hats. Choreographed dancers are accompanied by musical youth soloists and the backup musicians comprising a keyboardist, bass and lead guitarists, a grand piano player and organist, a drummer, and multiple percussionists.

A standing ovation – in church?

The congregation gives a standing ovation when a young boy and girl each sings solos in the “I Want To Be an Influencer” number.

A young man dressed as stylishly as America’s popular musician, Bruno Mars, solos in a young adult-group’s sharing of “Reckless Love” and “Love Theory.” He is none other than Dieudone M. Sangano, from the African Congo and now living in Herriman. 

When veteran performer James Anderson kicks off his contribution to the Heritage Concert, many would, perhaps, feel more familiar with this type of song, gospel music, in the church setting.

“We going way back home, way south,” the jubilant Anderson declared, prefacing a “God Is My Everything” tribute where the singer trembled in belting out the song’s words, inviting amped-up background music and clapping.

Also amazingly high-energy is the “God Did It Again” rendition, where veteran soloist Hope Williams of Salt Lake City boldly sang from the stage, then made her way around the audience. Her interaction with Calvary Choir Director Brian Hesleph appears joyous. Hesleph accompanied numerous songs on the grand piano.

‘These aren’t songs just to sing’

Lakeysha Austin Mapps credited the role of Calvary Baptist, in both her spiritual, as well as her cultural identity development.

“This church gave me my spiritual foundation. I was molded and shaped into the strong African-American woman I am today because of the religious foundation I acquired at Calvary Baptist Church,” she said. 

“Some of you may think of this as performance,” Rev. Merrill reminded the audience a second time, toward the close of the concert. “It is worship. These aren’t songs just to sing.”