Hot Recap: Pathmark Gospel Choir Competition at the Winter Garden

Pathmark gospel
Choeur Gospel Clbration

Pathmark's Ninth Annual Gospel Choir Competition brought Black History Month to a roaring, soul-infused climax at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden yesterday. Gospel superfans, enthusiastic onlookers and puzzled pedestrians were treated to free music—and free eats—as 16 choirs from across the country (plus one Canadian import) went larynx-to-larynx for $10,000 in prizes. Young and old, black and white, robed and blue jeaned, they all showcased a certain je ne sais choir—but only one could win.

Starting at 10am, group after group clapped, sang, harmonized and hallelujahed for a panel of judges—and the man upstairs. "New York is the appropriate place to do this," said Paul McGlothlin, president of Arts for Business and the brains behind Pathmark's ongoing gospel series. "September 11th happened not far away, and people needed something to lift up the downtown of New York. This event is about happiness and love; it's not just competition—it's community coming together."

Carlton Francis, 25, a soloist with Brooklyn's God Only Knows, has been singing since he was 12. "I grew up in a gospel home," he explained between sets. "I love it. I live it. It's a style of music that allows you to express the everyday things you go through. You hold back nothing."

United Voices of Christ
United Voices of Christ

As 5pm drew near, the Winter Garden was buzzing with opinions as to which group should be named Top Choir. Would it be the United Voices of Christ, the funky South Carolinians whose abandonment of robes for neon-colored Converse and airbrushed tees had parallels with Sister Act 2? Or the more pristine Elizabeth Seton High School Gospel Choir, whose cherubic voices actually brought one woman to tears?

Ultimately, it was Choeur Gospel Clbration, Quebec's troop of joyous, effervescent (and—gasp!—Caucasian) two-steppers, who took the top honors. "We love music and we work very hard to get better," said CGC director Marie-Josee Pelletier. "Driving 12 hours in a bus was no big deal; I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world. The members of the choir are lawyers, pharmacists, nurses, hairdressers—all the jobs you can imagine, but everybody makes room in their schedules for Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. It's like a religion in itself." Amen, sister.—Lauren Otis