The Oklahoma History Museum presented a history of gospel music titled “150 Years on the Wings of Song” on Thursday, November, 7. Doors opened at 6pm and the program began at 7pm. We briefly chatted about the evening’s possibilities in anticipation of listening to the Ambassadors Concert Choir’s harmonic voices. A large crowd formed outside the museum anxiously awaiting the 6pm opening. As the concert began, every seat in the large hall was occupied but I was even more astonished by the numerous visitors standing along the walls of the massive hall.
The Ambassadors Concert Choir took center stage with such silent presence that the audience immediately began to applaud without having been notified that the concert was beginning. I admire this choir’s professionalism and poise. As the choir came to the stage we, the audience, stilled with suspense and excitement as they opened the program with “Wade in the Water”. The song was followed by narrative forming the evolution of gospel music from then until now, and its impact on Oklahoma. I knew that I would enjoy the music but was pleasantly surprised to find that I would be treated to educational facts throughout the evening.
The narrator informed the audience that news of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not reach Texas and surrounding areas until June of 1865. This is the origin of Juneteenth. Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad used songs such as “Get on Board” and “Steal Away” to alert escapees of whether it was safe to travel or if trouble was headed their way. This was indeed a journey of gospel music that carried visitors back beyond the Negro spiritual to our origin. We discovered ring shout, call and response, and lining the hymn, which all came about as a means to sing and learn the hymns without having to know how to read or write, this is how the slaves learned the songs.
This spiritual awakening paid homage to great hymnal and gospel music composers and was a warming treat to my busy week. Thank you Isaac Watts, John Wesley, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, William Dawson, Wallis Willis, Glen Burleigh and many others for giving glory and honor to God and proving that we “ain’t got time to die.”