Biggham and friends give exhilarating fundraising concert for Seth Boyden

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Grammy-winning gospel music producer and singer Rev. Milton Biggham brought the house down with his fundraising educational concert for Seth Boyden on March 26. More than 400 people attended “The Story of Gospel: A Unique American Art Form.”

The legendary Biggham gathered a host of veteran gospel musicians for the event, including Alvin Darling, Su Su Montgomery and A. Samar Biggham. Other extraordinary artists made up a 25-voice choir that backed Milton Biggham’s famous baritone. Accompanying the singers was a five-piece band featuring local horn player Bruno E. Lee, aka “The Trumpet Man.”

Narrated by John Jenkins as a griot — a revered storyteller and tradition-keeper — the concert presented the history of gospel music in four chapters. The first part, “Spirituals,” highlighted the unifying role of such songs as “Oh Freedom” and “There’s a Lily in the Valley” among enslaved Africans in America. Seth Boyden music teacher Leah Van Doornik conducted the Seth Boyden Chorus of fourth- and fifth-graders for three spirituals: “This Little Light of Mine,” with the audience singing along; the haunting “Wade in the Water”; and the soaring “Woke Up This Morning.”

“We had a dance party behind the curtain while we were waiting for our turn,” Van Doornik said.

Milton Biggham’s son, Courage, a second-grader at Seth Boyden, was slated to sing as well, but because a stomach flu had sidelined him, his mother, Kasoundra Clemons, unleashed her jaw-dropping voice in his place.

The second and third movements of the concert, “Traditional Gospel” and “Gospel Choirs/Mass Choirs,” presented gospel songs of the 1950s onward, starting with the classic “Precious Lord,” by father of modern gospel music Thomas A. Dorsey. Several numbers, such as the 2007 anthem “Thank You,” came from the songbook of the Georgia Mass Choir, founded in 1983 by Milton Biggham himself and deemed “an American institution” by Billboard. In the fourth chapter, “Modern/Contemporary Gospel,” A. Samar Biggham and friends got the crowd on their feet with two joyous original numbers. The inspiring finale, “I Still Have A Praise,” came from the new album by Milton Biggham and Georgia Mass.

The audience buzzed with excitement well after the final curtain.

West Orange resident Trina O’Gorman, who grew up listening to gospel with her mother, raved, “It was beautiful — so well done! It moved me to tears and filled me with strength.”

Thanks go to the Vanessa Pollock Team with Keller Williams Midtown Direct Realty for sponsoring the event; PTA President Rachel Fisher for leading the organizing committee; graphic artist Jesse Reyes, also a Seth Boyden parent, for the eye-catching concert posters; and most of all to Milton Biggham, whose generosity with his time, talents and connections ensured that “The Story of Gospel” was a phenomenal success.

The above text was written by Alison Poe. The photos were provided by Alison Poe and Anna Herbst.