Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Much More Than a Concert

One of the performances in the Christmas New Orleans Style Concert Series was the Glen David Andrews Christmas Gospel Show. It was held in St. Augustine Church, the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the United States.

Upon its completion in 1842 in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, St. Augustine's became an integrated place of worship; slaves were relegated to the side pews, but free blacks claimed just as much right to center pews as whites did.

"Hearing that black church members were buying pews, white people in the area started a campaign to buy more pews than the colored folks. Thus, The War of the Pews began and was ultimately won by the free people of color who bought three pews to every one purchased by the whites. In an unprecedented social, political, and religious move, the colored members also bought all the pews of both side aisles. They gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States. This mix of the pews resulted in the most integrated congrega-tion in the entire country: one large row of free people of color, one large row of whites with a smattering of ethnics, and two outer aisles of slaves" (

We had arrived early and introduced ourselves to Rev. Moody, with whose consent we took some interior photos.

The concert itself was marked by unrestrained joy. The energized trombone playing of Mr. Andrews combined with his spirited vocals were glorious. It was part celebration of Christmas and part revival meeting and a deeply emotional experience. We witnessed a glimpse of the performances at past New Orleans' Jazz Festivals that earned him the following reviews:

"... when a local artist breaks through at Jazzfest, it is a spectacular thing to witness. This fest it happened to Glen David was as if some otherworldly force took over him during a performance in the Gospel Tent that was completely transformative...." (OffBeat Magazine, June, 2009).

"He is one of the most amazing vocalists alive today -- his billowing baritone is like a horn instrument itself -- and he is an incredible entertainer. He sanctifies, electrifies, hellafies" (Houston Press).

"If you weren't in the Gospel Tent on Sunday at the close of New Orleans Jazz Fest 2011, you can't appreciate his ability to summon energies of prodigious scope in the name of God almighty. Approximating the power released by a six-pack of hydrogen bombs detonated at tent central, carrying his audience along on a wild ride from one detonation to the next, Andrews was searingly, exhaustingly astonishing" (

But it was this incident in 2007 that exemplified the impact of Andrews' performance:
"When trombonist Glen David Andrews sang 'I'll Fly Away' during a memorial procession to honor tuba player Kerwin James, on North Robertson Street in New Orleans's Tremé neighborhood, he ended up in handcuffs along with his brother.... The charges, eventually dropped, included parading without a permit and 'disturbing the peace in tumultuous manner....'" (

As I said, Mr. Andrews' Christmas Concert was quite an emotional experience.

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