Monday, February 10, 2014

Kente Cloth Worn By American Gospel Choirs

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Update: December 22, 2018

This is Part II in a four part pancocojams series about kente cloth.

In the United States, Ghana's and the Ivory Coast's traditional kente cloth is the most widely known of all African fabrics.

For many African Americans since at least the 1970s kente cloth has become a symbol of pride in our African heritage. Extending that connection, in the United States, in African American churches kente cloth stoles has become an expression of African American heritage that is worn by some ministers and some members of Black Gospel choirs.

This pancocojams post provides information and examples of the African American custom of American Gospel choirs wearing a kente cloth stole over their robes during religious services.

Click these links for three other posts in this series about contemporary customs of wearing kente cloth:

Part I: Wearing Kente Stoles During Graduation.

Part III:

Part IV: Kente cloth parties worldwide (videos)

The content of this post is presented for cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the choirs and the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

These examples are posted in chronological order, with the oldest dated examples presented first.

Example #1: How Excellent - TEGC at Raise the Roof

sundaysatsevenUploaded on Jul 25, 2008

Raise the Roof Benefit Concert July 20th 2008 - Total Experience Gospel Choir: 2nd Set, song #2
"Pastor Patrinell Staten Wright started [The Total Experience Gospel Choir] as a gospel music class at Seattle's Franklin High School in 1973. Since then the choir has grown to become a nationally and internationally known gospel singing group.

Example #2: Sounds Of Blackness - I Believe

jackyabody0091, Uploaded on Aug 26, 2009
"Sounds of Blackness is a Grammy Award-winning vocal and instrumental ensemble from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota who perform music from several genres music including gospel, R&B, soul, and jazz. The group scored several hits on the Billboard R&B chart and Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the 1990s."

Example #3: The Harlem Gospel Choir

EastCoastEntertains, Uploaded on Mar 11, 2010

...The world famous HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR brings you an extraordinary evening of foot-stomping and hand clapping blues, jazz and gospel spirituals. From the heart of Harlem in New York City, the HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR travels the world as the ambassadors for African American culture and is loved for its joyous music.
"[The Harlem Gospel Choir] was founded on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, 1986 (January 15, 1986) by Allen Bailey."

Example #4: Lavender Light Gospel Choir 02-20-2011 Marble Collegiate Chu

Albert Wilcox, Uploaded on Feb 21, 2011
"Lavender Light Gospel Choir is New York City’s LGBT chorus dedicated to the black gospel music tradition. The choir is mixed male and female, and though many different ethnicities and spiritualities are encompassed within it, its focus and primary ministry are black lesbians and gays.

Founded in 1985, Lavender Light has a repertoire that includes old and new gospel, spirituals, and anthems. Members of Lavender Light convene weekly for practices, and two full concerts are produced per year. The choir also makes frequent guest appearances at community functions, running the gamut from church services to Gay Pride rallies.

As a reminder of their connection and indebtedness to Africa, Lavender Light’s members wear sashes of Kente cloth, an ancient textile first created by the Ashanti people of West Africa. Kente has long been a royal fabric, and today it is the national cloth of Ghana. The color lavender was chosen for its association with gayness, a special blending of the female pink and the male blue."

Example #5 [added November 10, 2018]

I Feel Good - Florida Mass Choir

Kadeem Graves, Published on Apr 6, 2016

This is from the 1992 album "Now, I Can See" Soloist: Ola Mae Scott

Click "Old School Church 01: A Theology of African American Worship" to find a video of a sermon given by an African American minister whose robe is decorated with kente cloth. African American ministers often wear such robes and even more frequently wear kente cloth stoles over their robes.

Click to find examples of kente cloth designs and their meanings.

Click for pages on the museum exhibition "Wrapped In Pride"

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I've read that some somewhere (I can't remember where) that Ghanaians & people from the Ivory Coast aren't happy about African Americans' adoption of kente cloth which is used in their culture only for formal, special occasions. In contrast, in the United States, kente cloth designs are not only used for numerous clothing items, but also for all kinds of household products, napkins, purses, umbrellas, Christmas and Kwanzaa ornaments, greeting card designs, and more.

    Here's a quote from an article about the tensions that sometimes exist between Africans and African Americans:
    "Just because African-Americans wear kente cloth does not mean they embrace everything that is African," says Oigbokie, a Nigerian business owner in Tampa. "I caught a lot of hell from the frat boys" at Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama." "African vs. African-American: A shared complexion does not guarantee racial solidarity."

    1. Here's a comment about this subject, although it's not the one I referred to in my previous comment:

      [A quote regarding the tensions between Ghanaians and African Americans regarding Americans' use of kente cloth]

      "In the United States kente cloth has become an important symbol of identification with Africa. Kente is often used during African American graduations and other ceremonies honoring people for their accomplishments. Some Ghanaians feel that African American uses of kente cloth have become more commercial than celebratory, reducing the cloth to a generic symbol of anything African. It is important, then, to remember the complicated message in each cloth's design and that kente comes from a specific country (Ghana) with its own particular history."
      That paper provides historical information about how the first president of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, wore a kente cloth wrap to the United Nations, thus introducing much of the world to that fabric.

      I would go even farther than that passage and reiterate what I wrote in this post that to many African Americans and other Americans kente cloth has become a short-hand symbol of African American culture, and not necessarily a symbol of African culture, let alone Akan culture in Ghana and Ewe culture in the Ivory Coast.

      I can understand how that can be problematic. Yet, for African Americans identifying with kente cloth is also a plus. But African Americans and other Americans have a very surface approach to kente cloth and other African cultural indices such as traditional African dancing and African drums. We have to stop being surface about African culture and delve deeper into what we admire about those cultures. We should learn more about those traditions, and honor the African originators, and the African caretakers of those cultural traditions.

      It's partly for those reasons that this blog exist.

  2. Hat tip Denise Oliver Velez for mentioning this pancocojams post in her dailykos dairy: Denise Oliver Velez, 2016/06/05

    Just one correction- I'm a she and not a he. :o)