Tampa – The women of Crescendo, the Tampa Bay Women’s Chorus, will perform at what many may see as an unlikely venue on Jan. 20—Beulah Baptist Institutional Church.
Crescendo will take part in the 28th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith service at the church at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20.
“The first time we participated was at a Seventh Day Aventist, which was just as daunting,” said Crescendo director Sunny Hall. “It was intimidating for two reasons. Sometimes ‘interfaith’ is code for Christian/Protestant, meaning we could be walking into a fundamentalist situation. Secondly, this is to honor Dr. King, so I wasn’t sure how an African-American Church in an African-American neighborhood would feel about a mostly-white group of women singing about Dr. King.”
But those fears were laid to rest. In fact, Crescendo has gone from being a guest of the service to helping with its planning in their fourth year of participation.
“I’m a southern white girl,” Hall laughed. “I wanted to make it clear that we wanted to honor leaders of Civil Rights by their first names—Rosa, Martin, Barack.”
Hall said the icons are named in a song the women perform each year, and every time they sing it, Crescendo gets positive feedback.
But that doesn’t mean that Crescendo, which members are predominately lesbian, are always going to be met with open arms. In fact, Beulah’s preacher, Rev. James Favorite, was quoted in the Tampa Tribune when President Obama first announced his support for marriage equality in 2011.
“We have gotten to the point where we’re more than one-issue voters,” Favorite told the newspaper. “I strongly oppose gay marriage, but on the other side I see things that are more devastating, like health care.”
While it’s unclear if Favorite still feels that way, Hall sees the opportunity to participate in the service as an opportunity to not only honor King’s legacy, but to build bridges as well.
“One year we were invited to join in song with one of the Baptist African-American gospel choirs,” Hall recalls. “We sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ and we did a lot of hugging, connecting and embracing with the other choir members.”
There was one woman, Hall recalled, who didn’t want to touch or stand near the women of Crescendo. But she was definitely in the minority, Hall said.
“This year, being involved in the planning committee, allowed us to do more outreach and marketing and the church and other organizers have embraced our ability to get involved,” Hall said. “We don’t hide who we are. Partners come and sit in the audience, and when we’re not performing Crescendo members will hold hands with their partners. It’s very clear who we are.”
Hall admitted that a two-plus hour church service on a Monday afternoon isn’t for everyone, but she encourages members of the LGBT community to participate, and help with building those bridges into other communities.
“The song we sing, ‘Rosa Sat,’ should speak to all of us,” Hall said. “‘Rosa sat so Martin could walk so Barack could run and win so that all God’s children could fly,’ the lyric goes. The LGBT community could be a part of all of this. It’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian—it’s an interfaith service, and people from the gay community need to see this.”
The featured speaker will be Rev. Dr. Frederick D Haynes, Senior Pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Tex. The Robert Saunders Award will be presented to Charles “Fred” Hearns, former director of Community Affairs for the City of Tampa and an avid city historian. Organizers expect local elected leaders to speak, but a full list of who was to appear was not available.
The service is free to the public and all are welcome. An ethnic feast will follow the celebration.