|Director Eric Torain joined WPAS right out of College in 1987. Although WPAS was known for classical presentations and modern dance, Torain had a strong background in gospel music and paid close attention to it's popularity and growth in the Washington DC metropolitan area. "I grew up in a black church listening to gospel music and felt that there was a need to present this music as an African-American art form and not only a spiritual outlet. I realized through my own research that gospel was huge in the Washington D.C. area. It deserved a rightful place on the leading concert hall stages, so I developed a gospel concert series during our 1988/89 season."|
But it wasn't until the 1990/91 season that Torain realized the necessity of involving the community in his productions to insure greater success. Assembling a talented array of directors, Torain went about the business of improving his show. Chosen as co-directors, were Evelyn Simpson Curenton, the current arts director of Men and Women of the Gospel and the late Dr. Pearl Williams Jones, who was the founder of the "gospel degree program" at the University of the District of Columbia. "We created Women of the Gospel first. We held open auditions for any adult females to try out for the choir." It was with this perfect combination that Torain and his gospel performance family experienced their first sell out concert. The next season Gentlemen of the Gospel was formed and in 1993 The Men and Women of Gospel Mass Choir gave birth to Children of the gospel. They have had sell out performances ever since.
Torain gives many thanks for the part that WPAS plays in this whole thing. "WPAS is the foundation which provides the opportunity for these public performances." And he said it is the diversity of local talent that keeps this program interesting. Torain admits that he enjoys having the liberty to call on an array of local directors whenever the need presents itself. "We've just been blown away by several of the local vocalist that try out. Having this spectrum of talent has proven valuable to the show as the history and the ever-evolving styles of gospel are shared with the audience. "The music tends to be very exciting. What we try to relay are the various styles of gospel from the early slave songs to the spirituals and the introduction of traditional/contemporary gospel and even rap," relays Torain.
The show receives a large part of marketing from the participants themselves. "I think that the success also comes from the fact that it involves the people. They are asking their friends, their family and co-workers to come see this production. It just adds icing to the cake to have two phenomenal guest artists such as Tramaine and Walter Hawkins perform in the show." Torain made presentations to Walter and Tramaine on separate occasions and the two have come back whenever possible ever since their first performances with the Men and Women of Gospel. This production which has become a tradition for so many since 1991 also presented the first ever combination of Yolanda Adams and Walter Hawkins in concert. This year will meet and even exceed all expectations as the Women and Men of Gospel Mass Choir once again takes the stage and the audience's breath away, relates Torain.
To make this show a tradition for you and your family, come out to the Kennedy Center on Sunday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Call the Washington Arts Society at 202-467-4600 for more information.