Juliet Fletcher explains the inspiration for this new initiative and writes about Liverpool’s first-ever Gospel Music Festival taking place on September 9, 2023
This September, for the first time ever, the UK is hosting its own Gospel Music Heritage Month! Britain, finally, has a dedicated initiative to bring true focus on the cultural, arts and community impact that British Gospel has on the UK. This year, for 30 days throughout September, every artiste of every kind, promoters, event producers, writers, those behind the scenes as well as the front runners… — everyone is needed to build this new impetus: Gospel Music Heritage Month in the UK & Ireland. We want to be celebrating and commemorating, looking at history and enjoying where we are.
No! No! No! This is NOT South vs North or North vs South;this is seeking the fulfilment of the Scripture: ‘A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid… Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven!’ (Matthew 5:14,16)
My interpretation in this instance is: We (all of us in this sector) are the city — a place of many dwellings; diverse types of people; all types of shops, stores and businesses. Metaphorically speaking, we represent the many types and styles of the genre. Gospel Music Heritage Month is our opportunity to ensure we are all seen and heard across the landscape of British life and throughout the British isles.
This article is aimed at providing answers to AFFAQs (a few frequently asked questions) that are inevitable.
WHY A GOSPEL MUSIC HERITAGE MONTH?
If we consider how many places and people have never heard first-hand the sounds of gospel music, then we must realise there is a lot to cover — geographically and culturally. This includes sharing an understanding of the cultural and historical stories which help to bring an appreciation of difference, as well as meaning and exploration of common elements in our humanity.
Additionally, we need to realise the power of focused intentionality. This will enable us to create and build on a consistent united effort. We need to present the music in such a way that demonstrates how inclusive and diverse it is: it fits into many formats; it works across generations; and it speaks to and through the invisible qualities that appeal to our humanity. What does the Scripture say? ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, KINDNESS, LONGSUFFERING, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL; against such there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23).
Truly, there is no law on earth that can be against such qualities, can there? When I think of all that gospel music is and the virtues of where these songs and performances are rooted, its motivation/motives, when purely expressed, are dynamic, transformative and thus truly inspirational. The artists who portray and perpetuate are the ones who will make a MONTH MOST MEMORABLE.
WHO’S BEHIND THIS EFFORT?
Well, I proposed it to the Directors of GMIA (Gospel Music Industry Alliance), which represents the official voice and the living legacy of the genre on these shores. And they said “YES!” The vision I saw was, if we aligned with the month-long September event held in the US since 2008, we could build something that is transatlantic. It could become a counter-narrative to what happened with the slave trade, the global impact of which is still active today! Does that sound crazy? Too big? Too broad? Too presumptuous? Isn’t that, like, impossible? According to our faith ministries, if it’s something that can be done without God, then it isn’t God’s plan but man’s.
DESPISE NOT SMALL BEGINNINGS
Come on board, Africa! Come on board, Europe! Come on board, Asia! Come on board, Caribbean! Come on board, Americas! Come on board, Australasia! September Gospel Music Month taking place annually — all around the world. Can you imagine it?
Well, can you recall what it was like when Black History Month first started? Even now it has its naysayers. Regardless, no one can say we haven’t increased our knowledge and experiences of the diaspora and its history since then. As with Gospel Music Month in the US, Black History Month UK had its beginning with one man — Akyaaba Addai Sebo, a special projects officer at the old Greater London Council (GLC) in 1987. He reports that the idea was born after a visit to the United States, where he learned that another Black man, in 1915, historian and author Dr Carter G Woodson, had founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the ASALH) and fought for many years to establish the initiative. Black History Month (BHM) has been celebrated every year since 1976, and now there are more than 6,000 monthly events for BHM. What can you say? Will you despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10)? I should think not! It only takes one spark to get the fire burning!
LIVERPOOL – AN APPROPRIATE START
Liverpool Lighthouse is the home of Europe’s first dedicated arts centre for gospel music and is funded by Arts Council England as a gospel music-related NPO (National Portfolio Organisation).
Liverpool Lighthouse began highlighting its position in this northwest city when it was central to the success of Liverpool’s quest as City of Culture 2008. This preceded partnering with GreenTree Productions to stage the hugely successful Gospel Summit, the sector’s music business industry specialist event in 2004. The Summit included the first Schools Gospel Summit, which saw over 500 schoolchildren participate in workshops at schools throughout the region, and culminated in a concert featuring Jahaziel, 29th Chapter and other pioneering hip-hop, rap and r’n’b artists popular at that time.
Liverpool is recognised as a UNESCO City of Music, obviously because of the Beatles who are renowned for drawing on Black music for their initial inspirations. Lesser known is the Caribbean quartet, The Real Thing, one of the most successful Black pop groups of the 70s, who burst onto the scene from Liverpool with pop-soul smashes, including You To Me Are Everything (1976), Can’t Get By Without You (1976) and Can You Feel The Force? (1979). Historically, one of the original members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (FJS), Thomas Rutling (born 1865), decided to live in Harrogate until his death in April 1915. FJS is known to be the first US gospel singers to travel to Britain in 1873.
Liverpool is also known as one of the first cities with a port where Africans and the Chinese found a level of communal strength. Now Liverpool Lighthouse will hold the event, dubbed as ‘the first mainstream Gospel Festival’ at Stanley Park on the 110-acre green space! What an opportunity this presents, knowing that this major event is guaranteed to be headlined by gospel artists every year. And it is also how the organisers intend to impact the surrounding community with many activities and educational programmes. Headlining performers are The Kingdom Choir, who famously sang at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding with a worldwide audience of over a billion. Since then, they have continuously sung to millions more and they are certainly positioned within current mainstream culture. CalledOut Music is a relatively recent rising light of the British GenZ worshippers: young contemporary African-style gospel anthems. Signed to an independent, homegrown label, he has achieved millions of views and thousands of loyal subscribers to his social media channels and has added to his sold-out events since his spotlighted brilliance. Both artists will bring something special to the open-air gala.
The Festival is illuminating the region and there are great expectations following its inauguration.
These expectations should also be high for the first designated GMHM (Gospel Music Heritage Month), because through it we will be able to tell and retell our story in our own way — EXCLUSIVELY, with an unlimited approach: the pros and cons, highs and lows, past and future. GMIA will be appealing and galvanising your support. If you have an event planned for September – even for Black History Month (which segues beautifully after it, in October) — send your details or contact email@example.com.
Three key events starting off GMHM are:
The 6th Annual GX Awards 2023
Saturday 2nd September, from 4.30pm to 11.00pm
Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham City Centre, Birmingham, B3 3DQ
Liverpool Gospel Music Festival
Saturday 9th September, from 1.00pm to 9.00pm
Stanley Park, Liverpool, L4
The Music Media Platform (TMMP) Awards
Saturday 9th September, from 3.00pm to 9:00pm
The Ridgeway Centre, Featherstone Road, Wolverton, MK12 5TH
Visit: https://form.jotform.com/syncwell/GMHM-2023events to register your event.
Visit https://gmia.org.uk website for further details.