By Bob Marovich
Its fifteenth album, Live XV, is still impacting gospel radio, but the Chicago Mass Choir is preparing for the future by re-signing with its former label home, New Haven Records.
“We were with New Haven before,” Chicago Mass Choir President and CEO Dr. Feranda Williamson told the Journal of Gospel Music. “We had a hiatus after our last project, Live XV, four years ago, and we decided to continue our partnership.”
The first order of business for the renewed partnership was to release a new Chicago Mass Choir single, “Thank You, Thank You Jesus,” to radio.
“A couple of our members have been impacted with cancer,” Williamson said. “Two years ago, one of our charter members, director and former vice president William Hamilton, passed away. In the midst of this, we still need to say ‘Thank You, Thank You Jesus.’”
The forthcoming album, titled We Give You Praise and co-produced by Percy and Jeral Gray, is completed, Williamson said, “but we decided to allow the single to saturate radio and bless God’s people, and then release the full project in January 2017.
“It’s my desire that by the time we release [the album], everybody will have had an opportunity to testify to what they want to thank Jesus for in their lives.”
Williamson’s tenure with Chicago Mass goes back to the beginning, to the ensemble’s former incarnation as the Ecclesiastes Community Choir, under the direction of the late James Chambers. As Feranda Nero, she was one of ECC’s principal soloists.
Chicago Mass remains dedicated to its church choir roots, Williamson said, because “it is a form of music where everybody can participate. God has blessed us with phenomenal lead singers, and also with phenomenal background singers who may never lead a song, but they support the ministry.”
The album title comes from “I Give You Praise,” a P&W selection to be featured on the new album. “We’ve also got a really great song written by the late William Hamilton,” Williamson said. “We have a lot of encouraging music to uplift all of God’s people, including those who may not be as familiar with our music.”
“We are true to what we do,” Williamson added. “Yes, we do Praise & Worship, we do contemporary, we reach out to the young people. But yet we are unapologetically gospel.”
While preparing for its twelfth singing tour abroad, a forthcoming three-week visit to Northern and Southern Spain, Chicago Mass took time to perform at the Ravinia Festival on August 14 with Umphrey’s McGee, a rock group organized at the University of Notre Dame in 1997.
The choir is now in the process of selecting a Chicago Public Schools kindergarten class to adopt as part of its annual back-to-school program. It’s part of a community choir tradition of philanthropy and volunteerism. “I’m a firm believer in giving back to the community,” Williamson said.
For more information, visit: www.chicagomasschoir.com.