LHI Live: Monica Washington Padula And Dr. Romeo Phillips, On Black American Sacred Music

Oct 25, 2019

Monica Washington Padula and Dr. Romeo Phillips
Credit C. Lieurance

A group of prominent local musicians will gather to present a program called "The Reason Why We Sing: A Free Lecture-Recital Advocating for the Recognition and Inclusion of Black-American Sacred Music" at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct 26 at Portage United Church of Christ. It was the idea of Monica Washington Padula, who grew up performing in her Lansing church from the age of 7. Washington Padula has a master's degree in music from Western Michigan University and is a versatile performer of keyboard, saxophone, and voice.

Along with requesting participation from singers Rhea Olivacce and Carmen Bell, pianist Rufus Ferguson and the Lansing-based Earl Nelson Singers, Washington Padula reached out to Dr. Romeo Philips, the respected Kalamazoo College professor emeritus of music and education. Now 91, he remembers hearing stories from his great-grandmother, who had been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. A trumpet player before his academic career, Dr. Phillips became interested in the sacred music of Black America by attending choral concerts presented by black colleges that visited his Chicago hometown. Later, he joined the Umbrian Glee Club, and the National Association of Negro Musicians. When he received a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1968, he and his colleague Clarence Small, who formerly sang with Wings Over Jordan, founded the Afro-American Chorale.

In the Takeda studio at WMUK, Washington Padula and Phillips perform several examples of spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Wade in the Water," "I'm Gonna Tell God All of my Troubles," "Give Me Jesus," and "No More Auction Block For Me." The significance of Black American sacred music to American culture cannot be overstated, according to Washington Padula. She explains that the preservation of this music, which has come close to being lost and forgotten at times, requires as much care and attention today as before. But Padula Washington and Phillips agree that the music has always adapted to the times and informed and reflected other Black American styles that came along. Phillips says that in the beginning, spirituals were sung for three main purposes: for worship, for emotional support, and for signals to escape enslavement. All will be demonstrated at the event on Oct 26. 


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