O SING unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth. - Psalm 96:1
The purpose it to enhance the worship service by assisting the congregation and clergy in celebrating and spreading the Word of God through music.
Throughout the life of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the Chancel choir, at one time was known as the Senior Choir has been an integral part of our worship service. For 58 years the choir was led by one choir master, James T. Townsend. The present choir master, Dr. Jay Fluellen, is a very talented man who has introduced many new and inspiring forms of music to both the choir and congregation.
Choir rehearses are held on the 1st & 3rd Saturdays of every month from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon. We sing on the 1st and 3rd Sundays and for Special Services. ALL ARE WELCOME!
Who may join? Anyone interested in praising our Lord in song.
The Chancel Choir’s “Musical Legacies”
A History of the Chancel Choir- (Formally known as The Senior Choir)
Since its earliest days, St. Thomas Church regarded music as an integral part of the worship service. The first pipe organ built in an African Church was dedicated in St. Thomas Church in 1839 with Anna Appo as organist, setting the stage for distinctive and excellent musical activity. Two brothers of the Bowers family, John and Thomas were organists during this early period. Their father, John, Sr. Warden for twenty years, aware of their interest in music, purchased a piano and engaged an instructor for the oldest son, John Jr., who then taught the others piano and organ. Both John and Thomas became highly skilled musicians. Thomas was also a renowned tenor of unusual ability. A sister, Sarah Sedgwick Bowers was an extraordinarily fine vocalist.
Because the church felt it expedient to have the praise of God sung more effectively, a choir of men and women was organized in 1886. John Mills was assigned the task of training this group. Under his leadership, a well-trained organization evolved. The choir was highly regarded by the Parish and the community.
Through the years, St. Thomas has been most fortunate to have had persons of outstanding ability. Some of the more celebrated African American musicians have contributed much to its background and growth. Some of these musicians included Stanley Gilbert, Julian F. Adger, Carl Diton, Ernest Thomas and Louise E. Robinson. Some of the outstanding members of the choir have been persons endowed with voices of rare beauty – Ida G. Chestnut, Birdie Booth Milder, Mary Saunders Patterson, Alice Gorgas, Charles Mahoney and John Clifton, Sr.
From January 1934 to December 1991 (fifty seven years) James T. Townsend served as Organist/Choirmaster. He was an outstanding organist and dedicated leader.
Throughout this period the church was fortunate to have had persons who possessed voices of distinguished beauty. Among them were Robert C. Moore, Tenor; Constance B. Stokes, Mezzo-Soprano; Calvin Barlow, Baritone; Bernice Rider Evans, Willa Mae Royster Brown, Thelma Montara, Lois Jordan Poindexter, Patricia R. Akins, Mercedes A. Sadler, Julie Geiger and Alice Bowman Cropper, Sopranos. Also included in this group were Malcolm Poindexter, Sr., Dr. Harry E. Bouden, Bass; and Kate Waring-Taylor.
Under the leadership of James Townsend, the choir sung many Cantatas and performed in many Operettas, including “Cindy”, “The Merry Widow”, “Betty Lou” and “The Golden Butterfly,” which were given at Town Hall, O.V. Catto Auditorium and the Pro Cathedral. The choir also made a recording of “A Mighty Fortress.” As part of the Absalom Jones Choir we sang in the Bahamas under the direction of Mr. Townsend.
From 1991 until January 1997 we had three Organists/Choir Directors: Samuel J. Brown, III, (now deceased), March 1991 to August 1995, Calvin Marshall, (now deceased), September 1995 to July 1996, and Eugene Golson, September 1996 to January 1997. Eugene was filling in for his cousin, Jay Fluellen until Jay could begin.
Dr. Jay Fluellen, our present Organist/Choir Director, began on January 5, 1997. He is a gifted Jazz Pianist, an outstanding Composer/Arranger and has a beautiful tenor voice. He received his Doctorate in Music Composition from Temple University in 2000.
Under his direction the Chancel Choir has done many exciting things. The choir has sung at the Settlement Music School and Christ Church for Black History Month; participated with the Diocesan Choir for the Consecration of Bishop Charles Bennison; sang with the Absalom Jones Choir at the National Convention; sang with the St. Thomas Whitemarsh Choir for their Revival; combined with the St. Cecilia Choir of the St. Luke’s Church for a Christmas Concert and shared a Music Ministry with our Gospel Choir in Costa Rica.
The Chancel Choir has also sung with the Bucks County Coral Society and the Mendelssohn Club. In 2014 The Chancel Choir sang with the Freedom Festival Choir at the Mann Center along with the Philadelphia Orchestra in honor of Octavius Catto.
In February 2016, The Choir sang for a Black History Month Concert at Cathedral Village. On March 19, 2017, The Choir sang for An Evensong For Lent at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. On July 25, 2017 some of the Chancel Choir members sung with the Philadelphia Orchestra honoring Colonel Guion Bluford, Jr. The program – The Heavens Are Telling – was under the direction of Dr. Jay Fluellen. On Sunday, April 29, 2018, The Chancel Choir was one of several choirs to sing at St. Andrew and St. Monica’s Gospelrama. Many of the Chancel Choir members sang with the choir presenting the “Philadelphia Community Mass” commissioned by the Mann Music Center on August 11, 2018. They called on four talented African American composers with Philadelphia roots to write the Mass. They were: Dr. Rollo Dilworth, Dr. Jay Fleuellen, Evelyn Simpson-Cureton and Ruth Naomi Floyd. The Concert was a tribute to Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. Dr. Fluellen was the director for this concert.
The Chancel Choir has many talented vocalists now, who along with the Choir are striving to maintain the tradition of high standards that have been passed down to them for 132 years.
The material for most of this report was obtained from the Historical Society’s
Archives, past members of the Choir and from James T. Townsend.