/Mass choir, ‘biggest family in Mississippi,’ hits highest notes

Mass choir, ‘biggest family in Mississippi,’ hits highest notes

This is the weekly ‘Sip of Culture. It’s a partnership between Mississippi Today Magazine and The Sip Magazine. Visit The Sip’s website to see more stories such as this and to subscribe to the magazine. August 12 will see the Mississippi Mass Choir perform in Natchez, Mississippi for Make Us One. This fundraising event will support Catholic Charities’ domestic abuse shelter. According to Jerry Mannery, the executive director of Catholic Charities, performances such as this are essential to their mission. Mannery, who was elected executive director in 1993 after the death of Frank Williams, said that ministry is their key word. “Music is just one tool we use to get the message across to the masses. “Our message is the good news about Jesus Christ.” Williams was a visionary who saw music as a way to reach people’s hearts. From his experience in the music business, he knew that music had the power to lift people up during difficult times and provide an outlet for praise during good times. He believed that music was a language that transcends racial and geographic lines and that it could heal people. Williams was born in southwest Mississippi, and began singing gospel music in 1960s. In 1979, he was elected executive producer at Jackson’s Malaco Records. In 1988, he began work on his greatest project, which would be his legacy. He founded the Mississippi Mass Choir with around 100 musicians and vocalists. They would be a powerful group that would spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through the songs they sang. Mosie Burks said, “I was drafted in the choir.” “I didn’t feel qualified enough to meet the standards they required. It was a great experience to be invited to audition and to then be accepted. It has been a joy being with all the saints.” Doris Vickers answered the initial call for auditions in 1988. She laughed and said, “We had so many energy because we were so young.” After the first rehearsal, it seemed that we were just able to hit the ground running. After just five months of rehearsals, we started receiving invitations from all around.” The choir released its first album in October 1988. The Mississippi Mass Choir Live, a self-titled recording, remained at No. The self-titled Mississippi Mass Choir Live remained No. 1 on the Billboard Magazine Top Gospel Chart for 45 consecutive weeks, setting a record for a debut album. The choir has performed across 40 U.S. states, including Spain, Greece and Italy. The group has been nominated or won every major music industry award including the Grammys and the Soul Train Music Awards. They now have 240 members, many of whom hail from Mississippi. Burks stated, “I believe the Mass represents Mississippi like no other,” The Mississippi Mass Choir is unlike any other choir in the world. She said, “I don’t travel as often anymore, but it’s something I enjoy doing when I can.” “We prosper when people turn to God and weak believers become strong through music. After all these years, that’s still what drives me.” Williams’ former members will always be remembered fondly. His legacy continues through their singing today. Mannery stated that Frank was “my best friend.” “I spoke to him almost as often as my wife. It was so hard for us. However, we haven’t strayed from Frank’s vision. He said, “We are focused on the music but there is also ministry.” We have devotions prior to each rehearsal. When people are down or sick, we check on one another. We care for each other. It’s Mississippi’s largest family.” Mannery believes that one of the most important messages the choir transmits is one of reconciliation. Mannery believes this helps bridge the divide between people who are divided. He said, “We believe that we are part of a solution.” We know that there are many issues in the state and country. But we have seen such healing since being a part this group. “We are proud Mississippi is in the name of our choir.” The choir frequently collaborates with groups like the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra or the First Baptist Church of Jackson choir. Ballet Magnificat!, a Jackson-based company that performs ballet, will be joining the choir in Natchez. Dorothy Sylvester is a victim services coordinator at Catholic Charities in Natchez. She said that the Mississippi Mass Choir was a natural choice for their event. She said, “When you witness that display of passion you know it’s more than just another performance.” It’s something that makes this choir unique. It’s our heart’s desire to transcend barriers and that’s what Mannery aims for with each performance. Mannery stated, “And we absolutely desire to minister to people coming to us.” “We preach Jesus, we present Jesus, and we sing Jesus. If you take that out of the equation, we might as well fold up shop and call it a day.” Tickets to Make Us One in Natchez are $20 per person and are available at the door or online at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org/makeusone. The performance will take place at the city auditorium located at 207 Jefferson St. and will start at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. To support this important work, make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.