London’s Kingdom Choir Makes a Stop at Kutztown University March 9
By Susan L. Peña
KUTZTOWN, Pa. – May 19, 2018, was a landmark date, not only for Great Britain’s royal family, but also for the London-based Kingdom Choir. The more than two billion people who watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now Duke and Duchess of Sussex) will remember the choir’s gorgeous rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” And from that day on, the lives of The Kingdom Choir and director/founder Karen Gibson, have never been the same.
Now on a tour of North America, which began on Feb. 19, The Kingdom Choir will make a stop at Kutztown University’s Schaeffer Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 9, as part of the KU Presents! series.
The tour, their second to this country, is one of the many results of their appearance in the Royal Wedding. On May 20, 2018, they were inundated with requests for appearances and interviews. In no time they had a manager and a record deal with Sony Music. Their album, “Stand By Me: 15 Songs of Love and Inspiration,” containing one original piece, “Chases,” was released November 2018. Almost overnight, they became a professional choir, going from one rehearsal every two weeks to two per week or more.
They were on an incredible roll, no longer a best-kept-secret but international stars, with invitations to appear at major venues. Then, in 2020, Great Britain, along with the whole world, shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as suddenly as it began, their constant activity stopped.
“We continued to meet,” Gibson said, during the tour’s stop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “We could not rehearse together because of lockdowns. But we stayed connected. We kept the communication going.”
After a year, they emerged and discovered they were still in great demand. Several weeks ago, they released a new single, “Not Giving Up,” and “we have new music we’re singing on the tour, that will be on a new album we hope to release at the end of the year,” Gibson said. After traveling to Europe for performances, they will be performing a concert to celebrate their 30th anniversary at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall Nov. 30.
While gospel choirs have been largely associated with the American Black churches, especially in the South, it is not unusual to find gospel music being sung and created in many parts of the world. Gibson, who is from the Battersea neighborhood of south London, grew up in a Black Pentecostal church, where she and her sisters and friends formed the sextet New Dawn. The group performed in churches throughout England, and they later became the core of The Kingdom Choir.
As people from countries in the Caribbean and Africa that were formerly part of the British Empire came to England after World War II, they brought their own brand of gospel music to churches in urban neighborhoods, like Battersea, where they settled. Gibson said they also looked to American gospel artists – such as the massively influential, Detroit-based Winans Family (including CeCe Winans, the best-selling gospel artist of all time, with 15 Grammys) – for inspiration.
“We’d wait eagerly for the next gospel album that was coming out,” Gibson said. “But I would say that we are now creating our own style of gospel music.”
After Gibson founded The Kingdom Choir in 1994, they gradually became known beyond London, and came to the attention of the BBC. In 2002, they were invited to participate in Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrating her 50th year on the throne. Two years later, they won the BBC’s GEM (Gospel Entertainment Music) Award for Best Gospel Choir.
Gibson, who has been called “Britain’s Godmother of Gospel,” has conducted gospel workshops throughout the United Kingdom and in Europe, Africa, the USA and Japan.
Tickets for The Kingdom Choir are $38; $32 for students and seniors and can be purchased at www.KutztownPresents.org, or by calling the KU Presents! Box Office 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, at 610-683-4092. Established to be the center of cultural life at Kutztown University, KU Presents! serves the campus and community by bringing world-class live arts that entertain, educate and enrich.