The Singing Sisters of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where both Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. preached, will visit Covington’s Bethlehem Baptist Church for a concert at 4 p.m. on Feb. 2. The concert is free but donations will be accepted for the Young Artists Program Scholarship which allows children arts opportunities, such as ballet, singing and art summer camps, who could otherwise not afford them. (Special Photo)
The Singing Sisters can be found providing the musical accompaniment at Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church four times a year, on the fifth Sunday of the month.
The 30-voice all-volunteer choir has also been counted upon for nearly a decade to share its dulcet tones every January at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta.
The group also sings at a choral festival here and there and has been known to lend its collective pipes for the infrequent fundraiser. Laura English-Robinson the founder and director of the Singing Sisters, happily admits to being rather discerning when it comes to any other invitations for the ensemble to step out and perform.
“We go out, but not in excess,” said English-Robinson, an acclaimed chamber, solo, orchestra and opera vocalist who serves as associate professor of vocal performance at Spelman College. “As things come to the table, I evaluate it and see if it’s something that a women’s chorus would fit into whatever the model is.”
Suffice it to say, whenever the Singing Sisters appear outside of the perimeter, it’s a special occasion.
One such occasion will take place at 4 p.m. Feb. 2 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Covington when English-Robinson and her melodic “siblings” will host a concert to benefit the Young Artists Program Scholarships of the Arts Association in Newton County.
“Even though our music ministry is only on the fifth Sunday at Ebenezer, our ministry of service is year-round in our outreach,” English-Robinson said. “So when we have an opportunity to present a concert such as this one in Covington, it’s added to those things we consider to be extremely important because it’s another part of outreach, it’s another part of ministry and it’s part of our growth.
“But it’s not a choir that I want to take on the road — we will do things in our community and I look at possibilities for choral festivals in Atlanta that I know about and that people ask me about. But I want to make sure our choir is stable in terms of numbers and that we’re ready to (accept an invitation).
“It’s always about growth. There’s always the idea of growth and what will be beneficial for a totally volunteer group. It’s just ladies who love to sing.”
Buncie Lanners, executive director of the Arts Association, said she’s been a fan of English-Robinson’s singing for many years. Lanners added that she’s enthused the Singing Sisters are coming to town and equally inspired by the association’s partnership with Bethlehem Baptist Church, which was founded in Newton County more than 160 years ago.
“We like to present all kinds of artists in all kinds of genres,” Lanners said. “We like to reach out to all different parts of our community. We love to do partnerships with churches because they’re so gracious to host us and so many have through the years.
“We’ve been wanting to do something with one of our older downtown African-American churches and we’re really excited to be partnering with Bethlehem Baptist. Pastor Hezekiah Benton and Debbie Williams have been wonderful in working with us and they’re so gracious in welcoming us and welcoming the Singing Sisters. It’s going to be a great afternoon.”
The Singing Sisters were established in 1999 as an extension of Ebenezer Baptist’s annual Women’s Day commemoration, which featured an ad hoc choir performing each July at the church.
English-Robinson, who has appeared with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of both Yoel Levi and the late Robert Shaw and has performed at Lincoln Center in New York and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., accepted the challenge offered by Pastor Emeritus Dr. Joseph L. Roberts to transition the once-a-year group to into an entity that sang more frequently.
The Singing Sisters’ program at Bethlehem Baptist will feature, as English-Robinson said, “something for everybody.”
“We have a balanced menu of musical offerings,” said English-Robinson, an Atlanta native and lifelong member of Ebenezer Baptist.
“We have a few anthems that are set from familiar hymn texts, so people recognize them. We have a few standard Negro spirituals that are arranged by African Americans and some that are not arranged by African Americans. I think the ladies enjoy singing them and audiences enjoy hearing them.
“We also have some traditional gospel music that is well-written for women’s voices and I try to select things that if they’re not written for women’s voices we can arrange them without taking away the integrity the composer envisioned.”
There is no admission charge for the concert — which is co-sponsored by General Mills and Thy Brothers & Thy Sisters Keeper radio program — but donations for the Young Artists Program Scholarship will be cheerfully accepted, Lanners said.
“We are asking, if people can afford it, to make donations to the Young Artist Program Scholarship fund,” she said.
“Last year we gave $33,000 in scholarships for kids to participate in our year-long school programs, like the Oxford Youth Singers and Covington Regional Ballet Company, as well as our camps. It all goes to scholarships for kids. We don’t ever turn down a child and it’s important for kids to get this kind of exposure. We’ve watched it change lives.”
For more information on the Singing Sisters’ Feb. 2 concert at Bethlehem Baptist Church, visit www.newtoncountyarts.com or call the Arts Association at 770-786-8188.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email email@example.com.