Doo Wop Ain’t Dead: Teens bring quartet style gospel to the streets of Harlem
On a hot sticky early Monday afternoon, five young men sang their hearts out on the corner of 125th street and Lenox, and drew a joyful hand-clapping, Lord-praising crowd. They were promoting their Gospel For Teens program of the MAMA Foundation for the Arts. In this program created by Executive Director Vy Higginsen (producer of the longest running Black Off-Broadway musical in America’s history, Mama, I Want to Sing), students are taught the history of quartet music in relation to gospel. This street presentation is a part of their end-of-semester performance. Warner Brothers recording artist Eli Paperboy Reed is also involved in the workshop, accompanying the ensemble on guitar on that day.
This program is specially geared for adolescents aged 13 to 19. Various aspects of gospel music including theory, fundamentals, and principles are imparted. Plus, an opportunity to perform at newly renovated Dempsey Theater is also granted to the talented teens.
It demonstrates “how gospel music can change young people; to give them the confidence to create better futures and excel academically,” declares 24 year old Tyrell Osborne, who graduated in 2008 as a part of first ever Gospel For Teens program and now is giving back to his community and the foundation by serving as a music master.
Why not teach new vocal styles to youth instead of recreating what has already been done? Is this to serve a sort of selfish nostalgia to the older generations? "This is the new renaissance,” Osborne answers. “Marcus Garvey once said that ’A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’” He continues, “…we teach the fundamentals of music our ancestors built, and pass it down to the next generation.”
“I remember when they used to do doo wop on the corner!” Vy Higginsen brightly proclaims. She goes on, “This style is important for the program to incorporate because quartet was a big part of the gospel experience.” They even employed the musical mentorship of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, a pioneer group who performs gospel, doo wop style.
The free gospel singing classes begin on September 7th, 2013. The auditions are said to be friendly and fun. Call 212-280-1045 or go to www.mamafoundation.org for more information. Or simply visit them at 149 West 126th Street (between Lenox and 7th avenues), Harlem, NY 10027.
Shown in the picture, from left to right: Calvin, Jonathan, Eli, Tyrell, Damion, Luke, and Xavier. Photo Credit: Brian Calloway.