Saturday, September 13, 2008

Portraits of Gladys Knight's Mormon choir

Tonight my wife and I attended a Mormon church (or "stake") for the first time in our lives, at the invite of a friend of mine. It was a missionary service dominated by a choral concert. I occupied my time sketching faces in the choir, which are reproduced here. Colored pencil and crayon added (badly) later at home.

We didn't attend because we are shopping for a new worship experience. My wife is comfortably Catholic, and I'm all set with my American Indian spirituality. (Our daughter has learned to identify my church, perfectly accurately, as "the trees and the frogs.") We were drawn to the St. Louis North Stake in Hazelwood because of the choir director: Gladys Knight McDowell, of The Pips fame. Her choir, based in Las Vegas, is Saints Unified Voices.

They were backed by a smoking organ trio (organ, keys, bass, with drum samples), which gave the choir a rhythmic boost and a lot of flavor. The choir itself was evidently a stretch for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints faithful, as the speakers who (tactfully) delivered the missionary message in between sets spent a lot of time marveling at how far-out this concert must seem to the Mormons in the crowd. It struck me as decidedly high-church, though there are some sweet voices in the choir, and I'll not soon forget the experience of having Gladys Knight sing ten yards from my face. Her voice has lost nothing.

Sister can preach, too. She met the guests right where we were - puzzled at to what she was doing in the Mormon faith. She was witty and passionate about her path. My wife and I left the stake assured in the same faiths we brought into the service, but there can be no question that Gladys and her choir will win some converts to the church of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.

As a strange aside - a confluence - I owe my introduction to a Mormon stake to Dred Scott!

Last year, I was recruited to serve on a committee dedicated to organizing a year of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision. Mormons are big into genealogy, which was one reason they had a seat at the organizing table - our year was studded with new revelations about Dred and Harriet Scott's family that were discovered by area geneaologists.

Dana King (no relation to me) was a great help on our Dred Scott committee, and she was nice to turn us onto an intimate night with Gladys Knight.


Mormon Soprano said...

Thank you for sharing this nice review - I appreciated hearing your perspective. I am so glad that you took advantage of attending the event! I love Gladys. She is a remarkable human being; a tremendously talented musician, and an example of perseverance through great trials. Her faith is heartfelt and sincere, and Latter-day Saints are truly blessed to have her as a fellow sister. I think her 'non-traditional' choir and expression of testimony is in perfect harmony with who 'Mormons' really are.

Sending my best wishes to you and your family in all your endeavors.

Confluence City said...

Thanks, Mormon soprano! I don't guess you are in Gladys' choir, or you would have said so. And my family returns the well wishes to you and yours!

Whitney Johnson said...

Interesting post. Fun that you shared your sketches.

Confluence City said...

Thanks for reading, Whitney.

t5winmom said...

See, given the chance, Mormons can rock the Gospel with the best of 'em!
An outside viewpoint of another's religion is always helpful. Yours was very generous & insightful. Glad you enjoyed the meeting!
And thanks to Gladys - may she win hearts for the Lord. I don't care if they join the LDS church or not - I just hope her message can inspire others to increase their faith in our Creator & good works toward their fellow men.
And thanks for sharing your sketches! They've got personality!

Confluence City said...

I'm glad my respectful feelings were communicated. The LDS friend who invited us (Dana King) is a good example for your faith.

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