O HOLY NIGHT:  The Music and Fine Arts Ministry of Alfred Street Baptist Church returned to The Kennedy Center for a second Christmas presentation

by Patrick D. McCoy

During the Christmas season there are many choral concerts at The Kennedy Center.  Each one presents its own distinct flair.  On Tuesday, the Alfred Street Baptist Church was no exception, presenting an extravagant bouquet of carols, spirituals, classical favorites and gospel!  There is probably not another African-American Church that can stake claim to having The Kennedy Center Concert Hall as its sanctuary for such a special evening.  After an invitation to worship by the church’s pastor Rev. Howard Dr. John Wesley, the celebration commenced.

Under the esteemed direction of conductor Theodore Thorpe, III, the outstanding choir, orchestra  guest soloists and dancers, the well-dressed audience was transported to a state of pure Christmas joy.  Fully embodying the concert theme:  “How Great Our Joy”  the church experience met the concert hall with such excellence.  Traditional arrangements of favorites such as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Infant Lowly” were performed with a new found freshness.

In “O Come Divine Messiah”  tenor Roderick Giles performed with an exquisite juxtaposition between an operatic tenor and the fervor of spirited gospel.  Soprano Anika Sampson-Anderson appropriately was the soloist for “Gabriel’s Message.”  Her silvery, angelic voice provided the perfect tableau as she was joined by young soloists Ava Futrell and Dasia Hayes.  It was quite heartwarming to witness the two young singers as they sang with the soprano.  Soprano Simone Paulwell  soared effortlessly in the spiritual “Mary Had A Baby.”  Beautifully sung, Paulwell, without question was accorded one of the largest ovations of the evening.

Petersburg native and national recording artist Duawne Starling was consistent throughout the evening.  Whether he was rendering his solos or with among his other tenor colleagues Roderick Giles and Theodore Sapp, Starling was certainly a standout.   All three formed the trio of tenors that rendered the rousing favorities “Have You Heard about the Baby”  and “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child.”  After the intermission, a medley of favorite Christmas carols took center stage with stellar artists  Shelea Frazier, Anika Sampson-Anderson,  Y’anna Crawley and Duawne Starling.

The evening was marked by too many musical moments to name, but the trio of sopranos consisting of Anika Sampson-Anderson, Simone Paulwell and Brandie Sutton surely provided the solemn joy in the classic “O Holy Night.”  With each of the soloists taking their turn, the three joined together in glorious harmony, bringing the audience to a rousing ovation.

Punctuated by the outstanding Dance Ministry of the Alfred Street Baptist Church and the evening’s announcer Virginia Raye, these traditional carols and songs of the season were brought to life.  It truly left the audience, pondering the theme:  “How Great Our Joy!”

At curtain call, the cast and featured artists took their well-deserved bows, with among those-legendary DC choral director and teacher, Dr. Joyce Garrett, who serves as Minister of Music at the historic church.  Hopefully, if you missed this treat, you will be able to hear it at The Kennedy Center next holiday season.

Here is an excerpt of sopranos Sampson, Paulwell and Sutton performing “O Holy Night.”



A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.  He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for whom he interviewed Joshua Bell for the magazine’s arts column “Perfect Pitch.”  As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland and teaches applied voice on the music faculty at Virginia State University, where he also served as guest conductor of the the Virginia State University Concert Choir.   Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to patrickdmccoy@patrickdmccoy.com.  He dedicates his musical pursuits to the Glory of God, in loving memory of his mother Velma Ann McCoy-Pulley (1956-2017).