UNT Concert Honors Black History Month

It is not often that gospel music is performed outside of a worship service for the general public. Yet last Sunday evening, the UNT College of Music hosted a special annual event titled “Gospel Meets Jazz: a Black History Celebration,” where musicians and artists came together to celebrate both black history and culture through the intersection of jazz charting tracks and gospel songs. Performers included members of both the UNT College of Music and the Morse Street Baptist Church choir and band. Gospel Meets Jazz is an event put together by Brad Leali, current UNT professor of jazz saxophone. Leali is a UNT alumnus, who has an extensive reputation of professional playing both as a soloist and a member of the Grammy-winning Count Basie Orchestra—he even received a solo Grammy nomination for his work within the group.

Other UNT professors included associate professor of jazz piano Pat Coil, assistant professor of jazz trumpet Tanya Darby, and the new professor of jazz drumset Quincy Davis. By inviting Morse Street Baptist Church worship groups to perform on the same stage as his colleagues, Leali effectively bridged two different parts of the Denton community. 

In the presence of acclaimed jazz musicians and a passionate gospel choir, the audience received an opportunity to see a community come together and perform music that remains a pillar of American culture, free of charge. The program included a performance of the Brad Leali Quintet, which did an exceptional job of integrating the stylistic elements of gospel and jazz in a complementary manner. The quintet consisted of the four UNT faculty previously listed, with the addition of student bassist Corentin Le Hir. Leali’s quintet performed his original track “Emmett T.,” a tribute to the life of Emmitt Till, a young African-American who was lynched in 1955. The acquittal of Till's murderers and the wrongfulness of his murder led Till to posthumously become an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

Aside from UNT faculty, there was a performance by The Village Church Choir, under the direction of Katina Stone-Butler, who delivered several passionate gospel worship songs . The Village Choir was joined eventually by the Morse Street Baptist Church choir, directed by Bobby Hicks, Jr. The auditorium was filled with passion for music and the culture behind it; the Morse Street children's choir even made an appearance, giving a performance of "Because of Who You Are"

There is a lot to be said about just how powerful the Morse Street Baptist Church Choir is in their ability to fill a room with energy and excitement in such a positive way. Hicks’ direction produces clean grooves and soulful singing, proving there is nothing this group lacks. Pastor Larry Willis advocated for the church's community involvements, and invited the audience to be apart of their congregation. 

Gospel Meets Jazz is a unique experience, born from the direction and passion of Leali. Very few concerts or events can compare with the passion shared in the room between the performers and the audience. Leali initiated the concert by saying, “This evening, we acknowledge the celebration of black history through our own network of music, dance, and poetry. We acknowledge a culture that may be a bit unusual, somewhat uncommon, or simply strange to some, but one that is not strange to everyone. In this celebration, we choose to be inclusive, we choose to share, we choose to embrace and combine our talents, our visions, and our passion for unity not only tonight, and not only in music, dance, and poetry, but as a way of life.”

Denton is lucky to possess such a diverse music culture, which in turn celebrates the roots of many modern music genres. There is not a genre of music that is untouched by the influences of African-American musicians and innovators—and for yet another year, Leali has created a program that honors both black history, and black excellence.