Gospel Concert Review Essay

See even more photos of CC’s trip to Helsinki in November 2013!


Harlem Gospel Choir Concert Review

What a night to never be forgotten!

It was a real Gospel Love Fest!

From the beginning of the concert, it was evident that the Lord had something special planned for that evening.  Jesus shows up anywhere there is an open door and I am sure those ticket takers at the Finlandiatalo have never seen such a hugh Gospel crowd before!

Starting with the wonderful Ida Bois.    Ida is fresh and effervesant!  Loved her music, her style.   She was so relaxed, standing on stage, barefoot (and pregnant!) I know her soon-to-be born baby was leaping with joy inside her stomach, as she praised God with her own compositions.

Then came the man! This guy is hugh in size. I felt like a midget standing next to Olli.  Olli Helenius that is! What can one say about this guy?  So many reviews of his cd’s, his productions, his arrangements and his work not only here in Finland, but internationally.  He is indeed one of a kind and we need more men like him to represent our great land around the world.  He sang and played strongly.

The backup band, included one of my old musicians from Österbotten, bassist Egon Veevo (2nd from the left, back row) and originally from Estonia.   The keyboardist, drummer and 2nd guitarist were first class. (Front row)

Then of course Olli had his very gifted wife,  above, next to him on the right, Hanna-Maria Helenius as one of the two background singers.  Jonnu Heikkilä, on the far left,  was amazing and together they were a powerful team. Any soloist would be proud to have them backing them up.  Their vocal power is like that of 5 large black sisters singing!

These great young finnish musicians and singers were the opening act for the evening.  And that is how a concert should begin! Hopefully one day they will be doing a full concert themselves.

 I am very excited as an older artist,  with this new generation of gifted finnish gospel artists. Finnish gospel music is on the rise again and these folk are not ashamed of the Gospel!

Backstage at the Finlandiatalo


Then there was a pause and it was a great time of fellowshipping, getting something to eat and drink before the main act came on stage.  At the break I get the chance to fellowship with an old friend for over 30 years, Pastor Tapani Suonto (One Way Mission’s Director) and Gospel music fan, Juha Enegren (In the middle of us).

There was already an excitement in the air at the very beginning of the concert. But now everyone had taken their seats again to be ministered to by our New York Guests, THE HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR!

Have you ever seen dynamite explode? Well let me tell you, that is what happened in the Finlandiatalo when these fiery vocalists hit the stage!  They are probably still trying to re-build the walls in that place because that choir, from New York, shook the rooftop, lifting up the name of Jesus from the very moment they opened their mouths.

They took me back to my gospel musical roots, literally.  Many were asking me if this was normal for a black choir to sing with such power, and all I can say isyes.

Every black church has such a choir. It is the way we begin church!   We have so many different styles of christian singing in America. But the fact is that in these modern times, music no longer has color.  It all depends on one’s environment.

 As with Hanna-Maria Helenius and Jonnu Heikkilä (who also sang with Gospel legend Pastor Andraé Crouch when he was here), they could blend in with this choir with no problem.

The Harlem Gospel Choir really rocked the Finlandiatalo and put rhythm and joy in the hearts of the sold out audience that attended.

I have been to many concerts in Finland over the past 30 years and I have never ever seen people dancing in their seats, running up and down the aisles; even to the point of to running on stage (at the invitation of the choir leader),  to dance with the choir with their Finale of: “Oh Happy Day!”

 That song must have gone on at least for 40 minutes if not longer! The more we all sang together, lifting up the name of Jesus, the more anointing seemed to keep falling down on us…

Often in choirs, there are one or two voices that really stand out as soloists. But with this choir, every one of these singers were individual sticks of dynamic. And when the time came for one of them to sing a solo, well!…No one in the audience could sit still. They were electrifying.

I say this because I could see that they sang what they believed. They were not there to “perform” or to entertain the audience.  They were there to glorify the name of Jesus.  They were singing in fact, to Him.  And He in turn poured down His anointing on us that evening… Even during soundcheck before the concert began,  the choir was full of life and exciting to listen to.  They gave those of us that had Press Passes to get in before the main doors opened, a taste of what was to come.

As I interviewed the two main leaders of the choir back stage, they spoke of all the members, as family and not just people they perform with. I saw this at soundcheck. They were having fun together and you could see the love between them. Some choirs get together as a hobby, but not with these fireballs!  They are on a mission and that is to tell the world that Jesus lives through song and personal testimony!

The audience saw that Love that evening, the Love of Jesus radiating from them.  When I say it was a Gospel Love Fest, that is exactly what it was for lack of better terminology!  When Jesus enters the building, He is Love and The Harlem Gospel Choir brought us to our feet in praise and adoration of the One and only true living God.

They sang so many classic songs from years back and songs of today.  There was: “Love Train!”  Released by The O’Jays in 1973!   Then another great song from a pastor from my home town Dallas: Kirk Franklin who has sold multi-platinum cd’s.  The choir sang his current song known around the world: “Smile“. The lyrics say: (You look so much better when you smile!)  The choir’s repertoire is immense and they interpreted all these songs with their marvelous style.  Awesome.

I did not realize just how much I actually missed that kind of praise and worship until that night of the concert. There was a freedom, a Gospel release; the Holy Spirit was moving and grooving all over the place.  Even the hardest heart that entered the concert, eventually had to melt and get up and praise the Lord with the rest of the audience. You could not sit still!

The choirs’ manager Anne Bailey, who I had been in contact with before the choir left New York, really knew what managing artists was all about. You did not get to interview the choir until she said so!  With so many people, using their voices in such a marvelous way, of course they had to rest, and be ready to give 200% to the glory of the Father.   I think they gave more like 400%!

This world famous choir has opened for multi-platinum, Grammy world famous artists, secular and christian.  They have performed before Royalty, President Obama, Micheal Jackson, Elton John, two Popes, Diana Ross, U2, Josh Groban, Lisa Marie Presley, etc…   But as I sat with them interviewing the leaders, they were like old friends. They were humble and that is rare sadly, even in the christian scene in many countries today.  It was refreshing to me that they be praisers that insisted on giving God all the glory.

Thanks again to Ismo Valkoniemi, directorof The Samaria Association for organizing this event. I hope there will be more men and women in Finland in 2014 that will do the same!  This choir makes sure that the world knows that Jesus lives in the midst of those who unashamedly praise His name.  Surely He is well pleased with The Harlem Gospel Choir!

Leaders of the choir

Their latest cd:


Christian-Charles de Plicque

“Fat City!” Black Gospel Program

Radio Dei Finland

All photos: Juha Seila


CC and Ida Bois

CC and Olli Helenius

CC with the musicians

CC meeting the backup band

CC with pastor pastor Tapani Suonto (on the right)) and Juha Enegren

The Harlem Gospel Choir

CC interviewing the leaders of the Harlem Gospel Choir

CC with the leaders of the Harlem Gospel Choir

'The Gospel" is the first mainstream movie I can remember that deals knowledgeably with the role of the church in African-American communities. It is not a particularly religious movie; the characters are believers, but the movie is not so much about faith and prayer as about the economic and social function of a church: How it operates as a stabilizing force, a stage for personalities, an arena for power struggles, and an enterprise which must cover its costs or go out of business.

The counterpoint for all of this drama is gospel music, a lot of it, performed by such well-known singers as Yolanda Adams, Fred Hammond, Martha Munizzi, the "American Idol" finalist Tamyra Gray, and by inspired gospel choirs in full praise mode. If the plot wanders through several predictable situations, and it does, the movie never lingers too long on those developments before cutting back to the best gospel music I've seen on film since "Say Amen, Somebody." Like an Astaire and Rogers musical, this is a movie you don't go to for the dialogue.


As the story opens, Pastor Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell) presides over a thriving church in Atlanta. His son David and David's best friend Frank are both in the youth ministry. Flash forward 15 years. David, now played by Boris Kodjoe, is a rising hip-hop star with a hit on the charts: "Let Me Undress You." Frank (Idris Elba) is an associate minister. The church is having financial problems, and must close in 30 days unless funds can be found. At a meeting of a board of church overseers, Pastor Fred collapses. His son flies home to be at his bedside, gets the bad news, and is soon enough at his funeral.

Before his death the old pastor turned the pulpit over to Frank. There was some jealousy among more veteran pastors, but that's nothing compared to the way David feels when he sees the big billboard out in front of his father's church, showing David with the motto: "A new church, a new man, a new vision!" It doesn't help that Frank has married Charlene (Nona Gaye), David's cousin.

Will David return to his concert tour? His friend and manager Wesley (Omar Gooding) certainly hopes so: They've struggled a long time to get on the charts, to get the limousines and the hotel suites and the big crowds and such perks as the groupie David wakes up with the morning he gets the bad news about his father's health. Yes, David is a sinner, but he's not into drugs or booze, and it becomes clear, as his brief trip to Atlanta stretches to a week and then longer, that his spiritual life is calling to him. For Ernestine (Aloma Wright), his father's church secretary for many years, Frank is an interloper, and David belongs in the pulpit.

The plot plays out in terms of David and Frank's personal and professional rivalries, with the deadline for foreclosure looming always closer. None of these details, in themselves, are particularly new or interesting. What is new is the way the church is seen not in purely spiritual terms, but as a social institution. Rob Hardy, who wrote and directed "The Gospel," obviously knows a lot about black churches, their services, their music, their traditions and the way the congregation interacts with the people on the altar. There are times here where call-and-response shades into put up or shut up.


I am not an expert on African-American church services, but I have attended some, at Bishop Arthur Brazier's Apostolic Church of God and at the Rev. Michael Pfleger's St. Sabina's, and I appreciate the way the choir acts as a soundtrack for the service, softly coming up under the preacher's exhortation, taking over, backing down for more preaching, its body language expressing as much joy as the music, the congregation fully involved. It is accurate that you see some white faces in the congregations in this film: To recycle an old British advertising slogan, these services refresh parts the others do not reach.

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