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Originally published: 2014-02-27 10:27:36
Last modified: 2014-02-28 08:27:33

Boone Mennonite Brethren Church Gospel Choir releases CD

by Sherrie Norris

For a number of years, the gospel choir of Boone Mennonite Brethren Church has held captive countless audiences across the High Country and beyond with its traditional and unique spiritual message in song.

Officially known as the Junaluska Gospel Choir, representing not only a historic church in the heart of Boone, but also the area's oldest predominately African-American community, the group of talented vocalists and musicians has long been known for its enthusiastic, passionate and eclectic sounds.

On behalf of its choir members, the church is hosting a celebration at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 2, to launch the choir's newly released CD, "Rough Side Of The Mountain." 

Those in attendance will be treated to a live concert by the choir, which will include some of the 15 songs featured on the recorded project.

Lynn Clayborn, who said she grew up in the choir and has sung under various directors through the years, has expressed delight about the new CD and its upcoming launch.  

"We have been working on it for about a year and are really excited that it is now complete," she said. "I enjoy singing. It's always been a part of my life and a lot of lot fun."

Since the passing of Virgil Greer, longtime choir member "and one of our main vocal leaders," Clayborn said, "it's not been as easy for us."  

Clayborn said that the leadership of choir director, Danny Whittington, and his fellow musicians, has made the finished product possible. 

"We have the best musicians in Boone," she said. "Doug James, music professor at Appalachian State University who also plays guitar for us, came up with the idea for the CD and agreed to produce it. Without him and Danny, Aaron Burleson, David Brewer and Brian Yerman, we couldn't have made it happen. They make music come alive for us."  

 The church has a really long tradition of singing, said James in an earlier interview with reporter Anna Oakes. "Some of the choir members are second- and third-generation singers."

With only eight to 14 participants at any given time, James described the choir as "small, but enthusiastic." 

With recording experience under his belt, James agreed to spearhead the CD project when discussion began in early 2013. 

At that time, he said he was constantly amazed at the "vast catalog of music" from which choir members can instantly produce multiple-part harmonies - without practice and without sheet music.

"It's a very different tradition than what you would find in ... traditional American churches (that) sing from the page," he said. "The natural talent and the oral tradition (are) so strong. They just know lots and lots of songs."

Several choir members lend their voices to solos on the recording, which features several traditional selections and includes an original written by Whittington.

A press release earlier this week said that gospel music has been a constant source of spiritual inspiration for the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church for the nearly 100 years of its existence, adding that "the little white church on the hill has long been home to some of the region's most talent-rich ensembles."

The choir's "unique and eclectic sound," was described as one having evolved into a passionate blend of gospel styles, combining classic black gospel with elements of funk, rhythm and blues, country and soul. 

The choir offers frequent performances at various venues across the High County area and has been featured at Melissa Reaves' last two sold-out holiday shows in Boone. 

In the CD production, James was assisted by world-renowned musician and recording artist, Andy Owens, who recorded much of the CD from his Lonesome Pines Studios near Deep Gap. 

Church pastor, the Rev. Mike Mathes, choir director Danny Whittington, and the entire church family invite the community to join them for this special occasion on Sunday. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. 

Copies of "Rough Side Of The Mountain" will be available for $15. 

Discs can also be purchased online by clicking to boonechurch.com/choir. 

For those unable to attend the event, keep in mind that the choir can be heard on Sundays at the church's 11 a.m. services. 

Boone Mennonite Brethren Church is located at 161 Church Street in Boone. 

For more information, visit http://www.boonechurch.com or call (828) 263-0502.