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The Mississippi Mass Choir still going strong after 25 years (interview)

Mississippi Mass Choir on tour  brings their voices to the McDonald's tour
Mississippi Mass Choir on tour brings their voices to the McDonald's tour
Soul Brother

The Mississippi Mass Choir, one of the most popular choirs has been around for a while. In fact this year they celebrate their 25th year. In honor of such a momentous time, the Mass, as they are affectionately called released a new album in June, "Declaration of Dependence." The current single, "God's On Your Side," featuring powerhouse vocalist, Le'Andria Johnson and producer extraordinaire Stan Jones. "God's On Your Side," is a quintessential song of strength and encouragement with unparalleled vocals from Johnson. They are currently on tour with the McDonald’s Inspirational Gospel Tour and wowing audiences across the country.

The DC Gospel Music Examiner spoke with Katrina Williams, choir member and widow of the Mass' founder Frank Williams. She shared her thoughts about the tour and the rich legacy of the Mississippi Mass Choi.

How does it feel to be part of the McDonald’s Inspirational Gospel Tour?
You would not believe how excited we are! When McDonald’s approached us about being a part of the tour we were ecstatic. Not only does it give us the opportunity to get back out on the road, it also gives us an opportunity to minister to an arena of people who may not have been able to see the choir otherwise because of the places that we’re going, so we are extremely excited.

The tour, giving back
I agree with them when they say they’re deeply rooted, they’re everywhere and it’s only fitting that they give back to the community. Especially with the African American community is through gospel music. It is one of the pillars of the African American community. With the lineup that they have an eclectic group everything is represented in the gospel arena.

Do you think choir music will go away anytime soon?
I understand the importance of praise teams and how they add a certain element to the Sunday morning service, but think about it; what have we been existing on in our churches throughout the years: choirs. The contemporary choirs of our day provide another way for church choirs to have music for their people. Whenever we write our songs and deliver them, we deliver them with the regular church choir in mind, something that they can use with their congregations on Sunday morning. Every Sunday we sit in our pews and we listen to church choirs on Sunday, how can they (choirs) go away?

How did the choir come together?
We put the word out that the choir was reforming and people came and we auditioned and we picked them and throughout the year we had auditions right before recording. When the people hear that the choir is taking in new members, we have an onslaught of people who want to join. Last time we personalized it just a little bit we took referrals from our regular choir members and the choir directors, they recommended people. We needed specific people this time. There are a lot of people in Mississippi who can sing. People want to be a part of the mass. Put the call our and they will come.

Is the choir based in church?
We have representation from all of the churches all across Mississippi. It’s not based on a particular church. We have a host of different denominations represented in the choir

Mama Burke
She will be participating in the tour. She’s excited about the opportunity. She talks about her and how blessed she is to be able to do the things that God has given her to do, despite her age and she is just as spry as she could be. In fact sometimes I have to work hard to keep up with her.

Tell me about the collaboration with LeAndria Johnson
We always want to add elements to our recording that will appeal to large groups of people and l is the latest sensation in gospel and we felt it fitting to reach out to her. We’re one of her favorite choirs so this collaboration was meant to be I suppose. We reached out to her and she agreed and Stan Jones and Jerry Smith wrote the song. Were excited about the song.

Tell me about the album “Declaration of Dependence”
We’re stating our dependence on the lord. That’s our message-without him we cannot live or breathe or do anything that we need to do in our daily lives. It’s all because of Him.

DVD tribute to Frank Williams
We have two children, Frank Jr and Jessica. They were the ones who did the tribute and they talked about the inception of the choir, when the choir was established and some of the things that went on leading up to now, after his death so they actually did the tribute.

Do you feel that the choir continues to weave in elements of his vision?
Absolutely. I’ve been present for all of the recordings from the beginning and I have to say yes. He was such a phenomenal person. I believe that this has been one of the most where we have felt his spirit, because we feel like we’ve gotten back to the basics, back to what he taught us, back to actually the ministry. Not that the others weren’t, but there was a certain feel when he was there and he would always remind us what we were doing or why we were doing it and the importance of it. And I believe that we felt that and his spirit so much during this recording. He definitely is still part of what we do

What can fans expect from the choir’s performance?
The energy. Mama Burke will do her thing. We will also do the new single. LeAndria may be joining us on a few of the dates that we have. We do have someone that can deliver the song that’s part of the choir. We’re going to do the medley that will feature some of the songs Mass is known for.

The "Declaration of Dependence" live CD and companion DVD is available now. The DVD includes a special tribute to Frank Williams, the group's beloved executive director who passed in 1993. As part of the tribute, the Mass recorded a medley of some of their most famous songs including "Your Grace and Mercy," "Having You There," "Near The Cross," "Just Can't Tell You How Good He's Been," and "Lord We Praise You."