The St. Thomas Chancel Choir
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, the Chancel choir, then 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. The Chancel choir sings on the First and Third Sunday of the month, and as part of the Mass Choir on special occasions.
Rehearsals are held on Wednesday evenings at 6 pm.
Who may join? Anyone interested in praising our Lord in song.
Since its earliest days, St. Thomas Church has regarded music as an integral part of worship service. The first pipe organ built in an African Church was dedicated in St. Thomas Church in 1839, setting the stage for distinctive, excellent music.
In the year 1886, wishing to praise God more effectively, a choir of men and women was organized with Mr. John Mills as director. Under his leadership, a well-trained organization evolved. The choir was highly regarded by the parish and the community.
For fifty-seven years, (January 1934 to December 1991) James T. Townsend served as Organist-Choirmaster. Under the leadership of Mr. Townsend the choir sang many cantatas, and performed many operettas. “The Merry Widow”, “Betty Lou”, “The Golden Butterfly”, and “Cindy” were some of the productions. These performances were presented at Town Hall, O. V. Catto auditorium, and the Pro Cathedral. The choir also recorded “A Mighty Fortress”.
During the period from 1991 to January 1997 the Chancel Choir has had three Organist/Directors. They are as follows;
- Samuel J. Brown, III,(now deceased) - March 1991 to August 1995.
- Calvin Marshall, -September 1995 to July 1996
- Eugene Golson, - September 1996 to January 1997
He also filled in for his cousin Jay Fluellen until such time as Jay could assume his new position.
Throughout its 121 years of existence the Chancel Choir has been fortunate to have members who possessed voices of distinguished beauty. Among them were Robert C. Moore, tenor, Constance B. Stokes, Mezzo-Soprano, Calvin Barlow, Baritone. Sopranos Bernice Rider Evans, Willa Mae Royster Brown, Lois Jordan Poindexter, Thelma Montara. Included in this group were deceased members; Malcolm Poindexter, Sr., Dr. Harry E. Bouden, Basses, and Kate Waring Taylor.
The Chancel Choir has inspired audiences here in Philadelphia, as well as abroad. The group has sung in the Bahamas and in Costa Rica.
Dr. Jay Fluellen, our present Organist/Choir Director, received his Doctorate in Music Composition from Temple University in May of 2000. Dr. Fluellen is a gifted Jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. He is also gifted with a beautiful tenor voice.
Under Dr. Fluellen's direction the Chancel Choir has done many exciting things. We have sung at the Settlement Music School for Black History Month, participated with the Diocesan Choir for the consecration of Bishop Charles Bennison, and participated in the Annual Diocesan Absalom Jones Service for the past three years.
The choir also sang with the choir of St. Thomas Whitemarsh for their revival, and combined with the St. Cecilia Choir of St. Luke's Church for a Christmas Concert. We also shared a Music Ministry with our Gospel Choir in Costa Rica.
The Chancel Choir has been dedicated to preserving the legacy of African-American composers. Concerts in 2006 and 2007 have featured the works of John D. Cooper, James East, Willis Barnett, and Clayton White, among others.
It is with joy that we continue to raise our voices in praise to God.