Formative Experiences in Whiteness: Singing with the 2nd Baptist Choir

I can’t remember how I heard about it—whether through my mom or through my church—but one

night, there I was, sitting in rehearsal, learning new songs by heart.

It was for a community-wide, ecumenical Good Friday evening worship service, all music, at Second

Baptist Church on Patterson Street in Alliance, Ohio, my hometown.

I was the only white singer who showed up, but I was welcomed into the combined choirs of Second

Baptist, St. Luke AME, and a few others—and it was my first singing contact with black Gospel music (I had heard it many times before, I just had never sung it).

The choir director taught us the songs by call-and-response, singing a phrase, one part at a time, and

building the song from the lead soprano line down to the basses. I had always read music from the page, but this was new to me: I had to listen, and gradually begin to feel, what we were singing.

I remember one woman who sang lead on several of the songs, sharing her testimony with me about

how her conversion and subsequent personal relationship with God had literally opened up her vocal

chords and resulted in her soaring, full-throated, deeply emotional solos, which amazed me from the

first time I heard her sing. Having heard her share her story of faith deepened my appreciation for her

voice.

I have no idea how people saw me: whether it was as a stranger, or as Dr. Chris’s son, or as the one white person from a non-African American church that made the group “diverse.” Music transcended all that.

We were singing, together, about Jesus’ death on the cross and its meaning for us as Christians.

The fact that I was the racial minority quickly disappeared from my mind during that first rehearsal, overcome as it was by the experience of simply being a singer among singers, sharing a common faith.

Somehow, my parents managed throughout my growing-up years to give me opportunities like these— working side-by-side with people of color in common projects and activities—to move us beyond a paternalistic model of interracial relationships and into something resembling partnership toward a common goal.


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