Edited by Azizi Powell
[formerly titled "Old School Black Church Choir March"]
This post showcases an example of an African American church choir march (choir procession) from 1996 in which the choir members marched with their right hand held up. This featured video is of St James Missionary Baptist Church (Detroit, Illinois) marching into the sanctuary singing the African American religious song "How I Got Over".
This post includes selected viewer comments about the African American custom of choir processionals. My comments about why I think African American church processionals are so rarely done now are also included in this post.
UPDATE: May 21, 2014: Video of another African American choir marching with their right hand raised
The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to the choir director, and all the vocalists and musicians who are featured in this post, thanks to Marcel West for publishing this video on YouTube, and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
FEATURED EXAMPLE: St. James Adult Choir - How I Got Over
Marcel West·Uploaded on Jul 26, 2008
St. James Adult Choir singing "How I Got Over" in 1996.
Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRdJJReM59k for another rendition of "How I Got Over" by the S. James Reunion Choir.
Also, click http://www.lyricstime.com/mahalia-jackson-how-i-got-over-lyrics.html for the lyrics to this song as sung by Mahalia Jackson.
From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBuz-zRVGb0 about choir marches
These comments are not in consecutive order. They are presented in chronological order with the oldest year's comments given first. The comments are numbered for references purposes only.
1. blessedover, 2008
"lets go back one day to the old church days"
2. jamminondakeys, 2008
"My aunt's church on Detroit used to march in on this version of this song. I wish our choirs still marched in. It adds to the service"
3. sheri0005, 2008
"What ever happen to the choir marching? I miss that! I want to march in LOL! I am feeling that for real. That was the thing back in the day."
4. MrTheOneAndOnly83, 2008
"I miss the Chior march"
5. sirjohnsong, 2008
"I totally agree. I love the processional. It sets the atmosphere."
6. cupcake48234, 2008
"God, I remember the march,,man, the holy ghost came in the minute they started marching..."
7. ak2495, 2008
"see this is church... not to many choirs march in like this anymore more. my church choir march but not like this.*tapping my feet as I type*"
8. gospelbird22, 2008
"In the old days, the custom of raising your right hand while you entered a church or marched in came from Elder Lucy Smith's Pentecostal Church. It was a sign that you had accepted Christ and were saved, as opposed to being a spectator or visitor."
9. VantisDoroHall, 2008
in reply to gospelbird22
"Also, at First Church in Chicago, it represented placing your hand in God's hand, in reverence and humility. By the way, First Church and Elder Smith's church historically were two of the first churches of color to broadcast over the radio in Chicago"
10. Mzprez41, 2008
"Wow, how many choir members are there?"
11. VantisDoroHall. 2008
"This does sound amazing! This is First Church's theme song. It's choir of 250+ voices, back in the day, would march in just like this, with Fred Nelson, Jr. or the III, wearing the Hammond organ out. And when they came on the air with their weekly broadcast singing this song, you knew something extraordinary was about to happen in that "Hour with Jesus", as Lucius Hall, one of the announcers, would call it. We can thank God for these memories, and the great spirit of Rev. Nicks."
12. jazzlife1, 2008
"That's sho nuff good church when the choir used to march in."
13. cogic4eva, 2008
"MARCH IT OUT CHOIR MARCH IT OUT!!"
14. thatsmr2usir, 2008
"Walk it Uncle J.D! LOL!"
JD = Jimmy Dowell [from other comments] Rev. Charles Nicks, Jr. was St. James' Minister of Music. He later became the pastor of that church and JD Dowell then became the Minister of Music (choir director).
15. dphmichigan, 2009
"I remember....people don't march into church like this anymore. I miss that....I love this video."
16. Joantaatlanta, 2009
"Nice Video, why do they march in with their hands up? What does it symbolize?"*
17. DrSTW4 years, 2009
in reply to Joantaatlanta
"That's a old school thing. That means an elevated heart and hand to Christ. It's like at the end of service when you raise your hand for the benediction. The left hand behind you is what the ushers tend to do called service position."
18. carefulopenandfree, 2009
"growing up in my church, we had to raise our hand when we left or entered the sanctuary"
19. momohojoman, 2009
"in african american churches in the 20's thru 60's raising the right hand was a tradition all over america. this church still upheld the tradition into the 80's. you still see it in some african american churches today. whenever you had to enter or leave during service you had to raise your right hand while walking. my mother and grandmother got all over me for not doing it one sunday when i had to go to the bathroom during service. the other church members told them and boy did i here from them"
20. momohojoman, 2009
"raising the right hand to enter or leave service while it is in session is an african american tradition. it symbolizes respect ,permission an honoring the creator"
21. dawson2, 2009
"I remember when choirs used to spend half of the choir rehersal practicing "The March""
22. sonrine99, 2009
"i don't care what you say you can't beat real church music or shall i say sunday morning music that the choir can march in on with there heads lifted high and ready to give God there best let the church say AMEN."
23. schs19947, 2010
"Wow!! I love the march. It's sacred and symbolic of the Saints as they go marching in to see Jesus. Praise Him saints!!"
24. DM F, 2010
"My church choir still to this VERY day march's I love it!! Lol"
25. schs19947, 2010
in reply to Joantaatlanta
"@Joantaatlanta just a symbol of the faith and part of their choir march...every choir is different...some jus march with hands to the side or with their hands behind their back."
26. 0000mygosh. 2010
"o my jesus they spent most of the video marching in ....but my God when they made it in...."
27. schs19947, 2010
"Oh my goodness..Im just blessed by seeing them marching in ALL WHITE....beautiful such unison and perfect example of HOLINESS!!!...that's what the church is missing..let's bring those days back!!! BEAUTIFUL JOB ST. JAMES!!!"
28. blackgirlwrites, 2010
"Hi Shun!!!!!!! I remember these days.!!!! I prolly didn't get in the stand cus you know I was the shortest and last alto! Took us about an hour to get in the stand! LOL! Those were the days!!! Tears!!! But this can't be 1996, because we moved into the new church in 91, I graduated high school in '93!
29. john316jmb, 2011
"Y'all betta MARCH IN why don't you!!!! YEAH LAWD!!"
30. mississippiqueen2u, 2011
"Wow! That takes me way back!!!! We are so in a hurry theses days that we can't even take the time out to praise God! That's OLD SCHOOL 4 YAH! Luvz it!"
31. YUNG SAVAGE, 2012
"epic march in"
52. Kena Parrish, 2012
"I loved when the choir marched in the church, and when they stood along the walls and sang the Lord's Prayer. I miss that at times. I loved St. James and I love Shield of Faith."
33. nctumbao, 2012
"I think that churches should incorporate the ministerial and choral processional into worship. The actual processional is symbolic of our walk with Jesus on this pilgrim journey."
34. Veronica Blair, 2013
"Man you can't beat that old school processional!! I love it!"
35. MrTheOneAndOnly837, 2013
"People these days don't understand that choir processions were a part of praise and worship."
Annette Hankins, 2013
"I love the way you made an art form out of marching into the choir stands. Charles Nicks and JD could work that choir like no one else."
I believe that the changing practice of African American churches adhering to strict time schedules for their Sunday service greatly contributed to the demise of the choir processional. One reason why Sunday churches began to adhere to set schedules was church attendees' expectation that that church service would only last for a specific time (say from 11 AM to 12:30 PM). Another reason why Sunday services began to adhere to a time schedule was the custom of recording the actual church services on the radio. Since those radio programs began and ended at a specific time, those churches could no longer spend a unknown minutes on large choirs marching into the sanctuary to the choir stands. (Read comment #10 and comment #26 that refers to the large sizes of those choirs.)
I also believe that adhering to a set schedule for Sunday services also contributed to the demise of the tradition of "getting happy" (feeling the Holy Spirit) during those church services. However, another reason why people don't get happy (shout/feel the Spirit) anymore in many Black churches is that those churches began to accept the opinions of certain Black church leaders in the early to mid twentieth century and other folks that it was and is unseemly to "shout".
UPDATE May 21, 2014
First Church of Deliverance "Jesus Lifted Me" (Choir Processional)
fcdtelevision, Published on May 30, 2012
FCD Classics - Gene M. Bells
Possibly written by the founder of First Church of Deliverance, Reverend Clarence H. Cobbs For years the choir would march to songs like this at the beginning of church services.
I believe this particular First Church Of Deliverance is located in Chicago, Illinois.
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