Cory Henry. Photo: Tore Sætre / Wikimedia

Gospel at the Symphony

Teddy Abrams, conductor
Cory Henry, vocals and organ/keyboard
St. Stephen Church Choir, guest vocalists

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Gospel is part of the first music that can be called American Music. Many of the Spirituals and Gospel songs that we hear and worship today are rooted in the music that slaves would sing as they were working in the fields or in their owners’ homes. Singing was one of the few freedoms that slaves had. While some of the songs spoke to hard strife, the vast majority of them exalted a Promised Land and eternal salvation. We still cling to those beliefs today. While it is a shameful part of our country’s past, the music of its oppressed people has left an indelible mark in the world. Although slavery in the United States was not color blind, the vast majority of them came from Africa and it is within those cultures that different sounds and rhythms would incorporate themselves into the hymns and melodies, incorporating heritage in an expression of their resilience.

This Gospel program has been a work in progress with Teddy Abrams almost since he took the helm at the Louisville Orchestra. He had been wanting to collaborate on just such a program and when he asked around for some of the best musicians of gospel that Louisville had to offer, he was told time and again: St. Stephen Church Choir, where an impressive assemblage of vocalists serves an ever-growing ministry stretching into Jeffersonville, IN and Radcliff, KY. While there are actually five choruses that are used at St. Stephen, three of them were involved this night. The Temple Choir with director Erica Taylor, the Zion Young Adult Choir directed by Jason Clayborn, and the Tabernacle Choir directed by Sr. Executive Minister of Music Kevin B. James. Those choirs combined made for a 100-person strong force of sound and enlightenment.

There really aren’t a lot of gospel songs that have been composed for orchestral performances, but lucky for us there is a talent by the name of André Wilson who arranged the 8 performance pieces that we were treated to Saturday evening. For the most part, this was a World Premiere event. While some of the selections, such as “Done Made My Vow, God is Worthy” and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” were familiar to many, there were a few, “Worthy of All of the Praise” by Kevin James and “You’re All I Need” by Jason Clayborn, for example, that were written by St. Stephen’s choral directors.

I could expound on each and every piece that was performed by the large choir, but I want to focus on a couple of them and as a whole. While I didn’t catch all of the soloists’ names, (they were not all announced) each had their own memorable style and embraced their songs, such as in Christopher Watkins’ “This Praise” and the traditional “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”. That song was an anthem for change and movement! The choir, on the whole, gave entirely of themselves on stage in sweat, tears, and talent.

Another treat for the evening was in guest keyboardist and vocalist Cory Henry. While he does excel on varying keyboards, he is a wizard on the Hammond B-3 Organ and that is what we got to experience and it was fun. While I am relatively new to Mr. Henry and his style, it didn’t take long for me to want to know more about him.

Mr. Henry’s musical style and vocalization sounded like a cross between the great Billy Preston and Stevie Wonder. Perhaps he does get his inspiration from those musical legends, as he opened with Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today”. He also shared Marvin Gaye’s “Save the Children” and some of his own: “Trade it All, Just a Word” and closed with “Send Me a Sign”.

Prior to Mr. Henry’s time on stage, the Orchestra performed a composition by Julia Perry, a Lexington woman who didn’t let a stroke keep her from her creating new work. The piece, titled A Short Piece for Orchestra was just the right introduction for a memorable evening.

St. Stephen Church’s Reverend Kevin Cosby shared with the audience how excited he was that members of his congregation were participating in such an important collaboration. He also shared part of the history of how we got to where we are. He also reminded us that Music is a Universal Language.

Aside from the energy that was shared on stage, there was electricity in the air as the Louisville Orchestra announced their upcoming season that night as well. The 2020-2021 season has got some truly exciting offerings on the roster that includes: The Festival of American Music featuring Gabriel Kahane, Teddy Talks: A Song of Love and Death, two concerts to celebrate Beethoven including the Missa Solemnis and the anticipated Road to Carnegie Hall.

I cannot wait!!!

Bravi Tutti!!

Gospel at the Symphony

February 22, 2020

Louisville Orchestra
Whitney Hall, Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.



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