Friends of Gospel Group Combine Old and New Gospel Music to Bring Forth Words of Life, Faith, and Hope

4798 They know their history; it's gospel to them. 

They drop names like Thomas Dorsey, the father of black gospel, or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the first to combine church hymns with rock 'n' roll -- long before Elvis Presley swiveled on scene.

From left, Sheridan Wallace, Ray Chelle Williams and Melissa Bolden sing as The Friends of Gospel choir rehearses.

They can sing "Amazing Grace" with the best of 'em, but that sort of stuff -- the "Free Bird" of gospel, as it were -- is best left to the churches.

Instead, their modus operandi is busting out with contemporary gospel tunes before an unsuspecting audience -- music and lyrics that are as amazing as they are graceful.

They're called Friends of Gospel.

Formed three years ago, the result of different members from community churches coming together, they've become the talk of the town. They're the must-see group, 15 singers strong on a good day, if they're not too tired from their day jobs.

They've appeared at all sorts of events in Las Vegas, both big and small -- from Mandalay Bay's highly publicized Gospel Brunch to Feburary's outdoor concert venue at Springs Preserve to honor Black History Month.

And now, this Sunday night, free of charge -- yes, free! -- they will perform at the Dream Center, 911 G St. in historic West Las Vegas.

Doors open at 5 p.m.

Look for the gospel group in the lime green.

This is a group whose talents are so immense they could easily fill in for the gospel crew that serves as the backup to the Rolling Stones.

"Who are we? What are we? How could we best be described? Hmmmmm," muses Curita Hall Blakely, the choir's manager. "You know what? I'm gonna go with contemporary gospel music ... a form of 'hip-hop pop.' But we can sing the traditional music with the best of them.

"That's no problem."

It's no problem because, "hello" -- sing it -- they've got the sorts of vocal chords that come with countless years of use -- from the time they could virtually crawl.

And they're locals, the real deal, from places like North Las Vegas, or the historic west side, long before it became the Historic West Side.

Nearly all of them went to grade school, middle school and high school here. There's Sheridan Wallace, Ray Chelle Williams, Melissa Bolden, all bold sopranos. And there's Rochanda Batts, Crystal Hill and LaVashia Johnson, the altos. There's Cleo Bias and Chanel White.

And virtually all of them have some sort personal connection to somebody who has succeeded in gospel professionally or whose work influenced them personally -- Gladys Knight, Celine Dion, Natalie Cole, Aretha Fanklin.


Source: Las Vegas Review Journal | TOM RAGAN
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