Junaluska Gospel Choir to record album
by Anna Oakes
Those who haven't yet heard the soulful, joyous singing of the Junaluska Gospel Choir -- whose home is the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church at 161 Church St. in Boone -- will soon have their chance with the release of a new album.
Based in Junaluska, Boone's historic black community believed to have originated during the mid- to late 1800s, the Junaluska Gospel Choir is an institution of sophisticated singing talent in the black and old-time gospel traditions. The choir is led by Danny Whittington and accompanied by some of the area's best rhythm and blues musicians.
"The church has a really long tradition of singing," said Doug James, an Appalachian State University music professor who plays guitar for the choir. "Some of the singers in the choir are second- and third-generation singers."
James said he agreed to spearhead the CD project because of his experience with recording.
"The effort is already underway -- it's really at least half done," he said. "Everybody's real excited."
The choir is loosely organized, James said, with between eight and 14 singers joining in any Sunday.
"It's not a huge choir at this point in time. That's a thing that always surprises people. It's small but enthusiastic," said James. The musician said he is 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 is so strong. They just know lots and lots of songs."
Several choir members lend their voices to solos on the record, which features such numbers as "Working on a Building," "I'm Going to Praise Him Anyway," "It's Gon' Be Nice" and an original written by Whittington.
"The remarkable thing for me is just how strong a number of the folks are. Easily half the choir sings solos on the record," said James.
The powerful vocals of Melissa Reaves will also be featured on the CD. The choir has been featured at Reaves' last two sold-out holiday shows in Boone, and (Reaves will) show up every now and then and just sing with the choir," James said.
Earlier this month, the choir launched a campaign via Kickstarter.com, an online fundraising apparatus that locally has bankrolled such projects as music albums, puppet parades and even a new tour van for a hometown band.
The choir's goal is to raise $3,000 through Kickstarter for the costs of creating the album, including engineering, mastering and production of CDs. If the choir does not reach its goal by Jan. 15, 2013, it receives no funding.
The choir hopes to complete the album by April 2013.