The Genius of the American Spiritual Ensemble

by Brian Newhouse, Minnesota Public Radio
February 27, 2014
Founder Everett McCorvey addresses the audience. (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Karen Slack of the American Spiritual Ensemble (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) American Spiritual Ensemble (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) American Spiritual Ensemble (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) American Spiritual Ensemble tenor Roderick George (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) American Spiritual Ensemble soprano Angela Brown (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Everett McCorvey leads the American Spiritual Ensemble (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Soprano Hope Koehler (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Pnillip Boykin with "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs. (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Angela Brown performs selections from 'Porgy and Bess' (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) The American Spiritual Ensemble Audience close out their performance with "Old Time Religion." (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) American Spiritual Ensemble Audience (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

St. Paul, Minn. — Blending hope, joy, sorrow, escape and faith, The American Spiritual Ensemble brought a tremendous sound to St. Paul's Central Presbyterian Church earlier this month. Tune in at 8 p.m. Thursday, February 27 to hear this incredible concert.

There's a good chance that, if you've ever sung in a choir or attended a choral concert, you've been blessed by a spiritual. Something about these songs seems to transcend nearly any singer's ability, experience, even nationality. I remember in 2002 when the World Choral Symposium came to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for one glorious summer week, choir after choir — from Sweden to South Africa — sang an American Negro Spiritual. Each did beautifully.

Even though this music works for just about any choir, we have to remember that it came out of a bitter, uniquely American circumstance. Several hundred years of bondage: How is it that slaves could find it in themselves to sing? To blend hope, sorrow, joy, escape, and faith with American hymns and African rhythms? That's the genius of the spiritual and those who created them. There's no finer ensemble we could have invited to sing these for you than the one you're about to hear.

About the American Spiritual Ensemble

Founded by Everett McCorvey in 1995, the American Spiritual Ensemble aims to keep the American Negro Spiritual alive. Composed of classical music's finest singers, it has received worldwide acclaim for its renditions and performed in theaters and opera houses everywhere -- including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, The Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall, as well as abroad in Italy, Germany, Britain, Scotland, Spain, China, and Japan. The ensemble, with a repertoire that ranges from operas to spirituals to jazz to Broadway, has thrilled audiences all over with numbers that preserve and highlight the Black experience.

Ensemble Members


Angela M. Brown

Jeryl Cunningham-Fleming

Rebecca Eaddy

Angela Owens

Karen Slack


Roderick L. George

Bernard Holcomb

Cameo Humes

Taiwan Norris

John Wesley Wright


Leah Dexter

Hope Koehler

Gus Mercante

Jondra Harmon

Matthew Truss

Basses Phillip Boykin

Keith Dean

Martin Hargrove

Adam Richardson

Kevin Thompson

Pianist Tedrin Blair Lindsay

Djembe Ali Barr

Founder and Music Director Everett McCorvey

Assistant Conductor Jeryl Cunningham-Fleming

Business Manager Peggy Stamps


"Walk Together, Children," arranged by W. Henry Smith .

"Steal Away," arr. by Joseph Jennings . Performed by Adam Richardson (Baritone Soloist) and John Wesley Wright (Tenor Soloist).

"Hush, Somebody's Callin' My Name," arr. by Brazeal W. Dennard . Performed by Rebecca Eady (Soprano).

"Is There Anybody Here," arr. by Roland Carter . Performed by Roderick George (Tenor).

"Lord, How Come Me Here," a traditional arrangement performed by Angela Brown (Soprano).

"His Name So Sweet," arr. by Hall Johnson . Performed by Bernard Holcomb (Tenor).

"Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel," arr. by Moses Hogan .

"Wonder Where," arr. by Carol Barnett .

"I Wanna Be Ready," arr. by James Miller . Performed by Hope Koehler (Soprano).

"Every Time I Feel the Spirit," arr. by Stacey V. Gibbs . Performed by Phillip Boykin (Baritone).

"I Know I've Been Changed," arr. by Damon H. Dandridge . Performed by John Wesley Wright (Tenor).

"You Must Have That True Religion," arr. by Roland Carter . Performed by Angela Brown (Soprano).

"Soon Ah Will Be Done," arr. by Robert L. Jefferson .

"This Little Light of Mine," arr. by Johnnie Dean . Performed by Matthew Truss (Counter-Tenor) and Gus Mercante (Counter-Tenor).

"Stand the Storm," arr. by Timothy Amukele . Performed by Jeryl Cunningham-Fleming (Soprano).

Porgy and Bess selections, by George and Ira Gershwin :

"Summertime," perf. by Rebecca Eaddy . "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'," perf. by Keith Dean . "My Man's Gone Now," perf. by Karen Slack . "What You Want With Bess," perf. by Angela Brown and Philip Boykin .

Duke Ellington selections: "Mood Indigo," "'A' Train," and "It Don't Mean a Thing," performed by Jeryl Cunningham , Angela Owens , Everett McCorvey and Phillip Boykin .

"Bring Him Home" (from Les Miserables), by Claude-Michel Schonberg , Alain Boublil , and Herbert Kretzmer . Performed by John Wesley Wright (Tenor).

"Ol' Man River," by Kern/Hammerstein . Performed by Kevin Thompson (Bass).

"Old Time Religion/When the Saints," arr. By Everett McCorvey/Keith McCutchen . Performed by Leah Dexter (Soloist).

"Circle of Life" (from The Lion King, by Elton John and Tim Rice , arr. by Johnnie Dean . Performed by John Wesley Wright , Taiwan Norris , and Jondra Harmon .

On Now

Music Through The Night®
Scott Blankenship
Listen to the Stream
  • Trio Sonata No. 3 3:18 Johann Sebastian Bach
    London Baroque
    Buy Now
  • Gavotte 3:06 David Popper
    Maria Kleigel, cello
    Bernd Glemser, piano
    Buy Now
Other MPR Radio Streams
Choral Stream
MPR News
Radio Heartland

You can now listen to Classical and Choral Music on your iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) or Android device.