It reminded me of the famous photograph, “A Great Day in Harlem.”
This time, however, the venue wasn’t the entranceway of an apartment building but the Monument of Faith Church on Chicago’s South Side, and the artists weren’t jazz performers but living legends of gospel music.
On October 22, 2005, at a luncheon honoring the life and work of Dolores “Honey” Sykes, a member of the famed Duncanaires and Thompson Community Singers, a group of pioneering gospel artists gathered to witness Honey receive an honorary doctorate of divinity.
The photo capturing the auspicious moment – with Honey in full academic regalia – could easily have been titled “A Great Day in Chicago.” In the photo with the honoree were such musical lights as Eugene Smith (Roberta Martin Singers), Albertina Walker (Caravans), Lorenza Brown Porter and Rebecca Nixon (Argo Singers), Doris Sykes (Maceo Woods Singers), Nash Shaffer (Jubilee Showcase keyboardist who also served as the luncheon’s MC), Vernon Oliver Price (Thompson Community Singers), Loretta Oliver (Duncanaires), Robert Wooten (Wooten Ensemble), Bertha Melson (Lux Singers), Rev. Yolanda Freeman, and others who I regrettably am forgetting at the moment.
In addition to the performers present, the widow of Brother Isaiah Roberts of Roberts Temple COGIC was also in the house, and at age 92, she looked great in her stylish hat. Brother Isaiah’s chorus waxed four sides for Vee Jay Records in 1954. A year later, it was Roberts Temple that was the only church large enough to accommodate the crowds who came to young Emmett Till’s funeral.
During lunch, attendees were treated to the playing of the Duncanaires’ only LP (1962) and an impromptu live performance of “How Great Thou Art” by Honey, Vernon, and Loretta who together sang the life out of that old church hymn.
It truly is a Great Day in Chicago when so many gospel artists get together to honor one of their own. What a time! What a time! What a time!