Choir NOW and Gary Mitchell Jr. Lead Our Annual Gospel Celebration Through Song and Storytelling

Every February, as part of a school-wide focus on African American History Month, the St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's community comes together for a Gospel Celebration. The program changes each year to include different guests and student performances, all honoring the history and tradition of gospel music. 

This year's event was particularly memorable. Ruth Jeanty, a senior kindergarten teacher and member of the St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's faculty for 14 years, sang with Choir NOW, a Brooklyn-based gospel choir. Opening the celebration, Ms. Jeanty said, "Welcome to the celebration of the gospel, which means ‘good news!’ I can't tell you how excited I am, I'm filled with so much joy that I get to share this part of my life with all of you.”

Ms. Jeanty invited the audience of students, faculty, and parents to join in the celebration. ”Some of the songs that we are going to minister to you are songs that I've been singing since I was as little as these senior kindergarten children sitting on the floor. While you listen with your physical ears, I ask that you also listen with the ears of your heart. If you would like to lift your hands, please do so. If you would like to clap, you are welcome to do so as well. If a tear falls down your cheek, that's okay.”

Ms. Jeanty introduced the director of service, Minister Irventz Garçon from the Salvation Church of God in Brooklyn. Mr. Garçon's enthusiasm was uncontainable as he explained that the celebration was a kind of homecoming for several members of the choir who had served on the St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s staff years before.

“This event is titled a ‘Gospel Celebration,’” he said. “However, it is much deeper than that.” Mr. Garçon spoke about the meaning of the word “gospel” as both a genre of music and the “good news” from scripture.

NOW balanced their musical performance with upbeat songs that had the audience clapping along—like “King Jesus Is A Listenin’ When You Pray” and “We Sing The Praises”—with slow, contemplative pieces. St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s student performers joined NOW on multiple songs, and the combined upper division choruses performed a special arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Early childhood classes and faculty had opportunities to participate in more intimate events later in the day. Nursery and junior kindergarteners got out of their seats to dance and sing with Choir NOW in the Alumni Center during an abbreviated celebration of their own. Gary Mitchell Jr., Director of Music Ministries at First AME Church: Bethel in Harlem, shared his passion for gospel and story-telling during a presentation to the faculty. Mr. Mitchell highlighted his own spiritual and musical journey, drawing from his experiences as an Arkansas native, musician, and gospel choir director.

View more photos of the Gospel Celebration here