Zion Chapel concert an amazing event

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 16, 2007

Settling into one of the back pews of Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, my mind wandered between the fun of seeing familiar faces and anticipation of what was to come.

The pews were nearly filled at a few minutes before 7 p.m., but more people filed in, packing the balcony and then eventually folding chairs placed in the aisles.

A few minutes later the church’s combined choirs began their annual Christmas concert.

Email newsletter signup

By the end of the first song, each hair on the back of my neck stood on end, straining to hear the amazingly talented voices of the choir celebrating the reason for the season.

Little did those tiny hairs know the workout they were about to receive.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Birdon Mitchell Jr. welcomed the crowd and encouraged everyone to relax, feel at home and have a great time celebrating Christ’s birth.

What followed was amazing.

The church’s minister of music, the energetic Ernest “Tony” Fields led the choirs. Fields jumped and gyrated to the music, arms flailing in the air as he expertly directed the choir.

The Natchez Democrat’s own, Carlee Reed, was the lead as the choir sang “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child.”

Reed rocked the church with a voice that rivaled the late gospel great Mahalia Jackson.

The presentation of song, strung together by narration provided by choir member and talented singer George F. West Jr., was impressive in every manner.

But a couple of moments in the presentation deserve special notation.

Fields’ interpretation of “O Holy Night” was amazing. The man has been blessed with an amazingly talented voice. His booming sounds filled the church with great impact.

Perhaps all of the complexities of the “adult” Christmas songs were eclipsed, however, by three tiny voices singing at the conclusion of the intermission.

Dubbed Zion’s Angel Three, the three members of the tiny children’s choir melted hearts with the innocent, but amazingly powerful voices.

Twins JaMira and JaKira Smith, along with Fields’ son, Ernest “Tony” Fields IV, boiled down all the fancy songs of praise and Christmas carols with a simple rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Jesus, happy birthday to you.”

In an instant a couple of hundred hearts melted.

The younger Fields’ voice was extremely articulate, yet childlike. Listeners were taken by surprise a bit by his annunciation of words in the lyrics.

By chance, I sat in the same pew with Holy Family Catholic Church’s music wizard Alvin Shelby.

That’s a bit like sitting next to a famous food critic at the opening of a new restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to catch Shelby at the end of the presentation, but judging by his foot tapping, he approved whole-heartedly, too.

Near the end of the concert, Brittney and Brandon Mitchell took down the house with their featured parts of “Now Behold the Lamb.”

Brandon’s smooth, soulful voice was melodic. Brittney’s powerfully raw sound seemed to increase the air pressure inside the church’s sanctuary.

All in all, it was a great event, showcasing some amazingly talented people.

I had a great time and I have a new holiday tradition. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.