Founded in 1981 by Rev. Fred Houston, Mt. Gaza Baptist Church has brought decades of fellowship and spirituality to Compton, Calif. In recognition, the members and friends of Mt. Gaza will celebrate the 36th pastoral anniversary of Pastor Houston and First Lady Evoria Houston with a musical celebration at the church on June 4.

Rev. Michael Larry and the Soul Touchers. Headline Mt. Gaza 36th Annual Pastoral and First Lady Anniversary.
Rev. Michael Larry and the Soul Touchers. Headline Mt. Gaza 36th Annual Pastoral and First Lady Anniversary.

Rev. Michael Larry and the Gospel Soul Touchers will headline the celebration with special guests that include gospel vocal powerhouse Katrice Wilborn and 22-year-old gospel music phenomenon Jacquille De’Wayne Lewis.

Gospel Singer, Sis. Katrice Wilborn
Gospel Vocal Powerhouse, Sis. Katrice Wilborn, Special Guest Mt. Gaza Baptist Church 36th Annual Pastoral Anniversary.

Daniel Russ, a member of the Deacon’s Ministry who is producing the event, told Reel Urban News that the musicians participating in the Pre-Anniversary concert are linked to the rich history of black quartet style gospel music.

Jacquille De'Wayne, 22 years-old gosple
22 year-old Gospel Phenomenon, Jacquille De’Wayne Lewis, Special Guest Mt. Gaza Baptist Church 36th Annual Pastoral Anniversary.

Russ, who is committed to preserving black quartet music, discussed the historical significance associated with this genre of music that was birthed by black slaves. “This music really started down on the plantation in the Deep South when we really didn’t have instruments to play. Black folks came up with four-part harmony that turned into gospel quartet music.”

Russ maintains that the black quartet style of music can be heard in several genres of today’s mainstream and popular music. “It has a profound impact on all genres of music including R&B, gospel, of course, Jazz and even Hip Hop and Rap.”

Russ has made it his calling to spread this legacy music far and wide. “A lot of folks are afraid this type of music is going to be lost to new generations. So a lot of people are bringing back these groups to make sure we don’t lose our heritage.

Rev. Michael Larry and the Gospel Soul Touchers‘ sound can be compared to those great quartets of the South. They’re certainly in the tradition of groups like the Spiritual QC’s with Lee Williams, The Might Clouds of Joy with Joe Ligon, The Highway QC’s, and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. So it’s in that tradition that makes their music special. It takes us back to our roots.”

Deacon Ministry, Mt. Gaza Baptist Church,
Deacons Ministry Mt. Gaza Baptist Church leading Sunday morning devotional service.

On Sunday mornings, Russ can be found participating in the devotional service with his fellow deacons at Mt. Gaza Baptist Church. “Because this music and a lot of the music we do in devotion has its roots in black quartet music, we want to draw people in,” explains Russ. “We want the older people, middle-aged folks and young teenagers. We want to draw them into the worship experience and this music that relates to everyone is the vehicle we use to do just that.”

W.K. McNeil, editor of the Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, traces the heritage of the quartet sound to the slave plantation, but adds that today’s black gospel performance style dates from the first decades of the twentieth century. Groups like the Heavenly Gospel Singers and The Golden Gate Quartet Honed the sound that influenced soul stars like Johnnie Taylor, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke.

Russ acknowledges that today’s gospel music focuses on a more modern sound. “But when they realize those sounds actually have their roots in black gospel quartet music, it has a tendency to draw people back to those days.”

A native of Los Angeles, Russ credits Motown founder Berry Gordy and Detroit soul music for introducing him to the black quartet sound. “I come from the Motown era, so when you get this hard-driving type of music that comes from the black gospel quartet music, it just catches my ear.”

Mt. Gaza Baptist Church 1000 Whitemarsh Street, Compton, Ca.
Mt. Gaza Baptist Church 1000 Whitemarsh Avenue, Compton, Ca. Founded in 1982.

Expect to hear some of the most exciting examples of this music on June 4 at 3:00 p.m. in the main sanctuary of the Mt. Gaza Baptist Church, 1000 Whitemarsh Avenue in Compton. “Everyone is welcome to come, admission is free,” says Russ. “We plan on having a great time in the Lord, lifting God up in praise in worship.”

“In addition to the outstanding music, we’re really looking forward to honoring Pastor Houston and First Lady Evoria Houston for their continued commitment to the Mt. Gaza Baptist Church family,” says Russ.

A joyous time is guaranteed but the music also carries a reminder of its cruel history. “I want the attendee to walk away with a great worship experience and then as black people I want us to realize this music is our heritage,” says Russ. “This is where the music the world knows about comes from.”

By: Michael Reel/Reel Urban News