Choir sings of Natchez’s black history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 25, 2010

NATCHEZ — A car accident that left Ora Frazier homebound for 17 days put her on the path to freedom.

Frazier began researching the role of blacks in Natchez from the pre-Civil War era to the present day, and her findings are narrated and sung by The Southern Road to Freedom Gospel Choir during Spring Pilgrimage.

The choir performs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Holy Family Catholic Church, 16 Orange Ave. Admission is $15, and tickets can be purchased at the door or at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours inside the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

The choir’s run ends April 10, however, the choir will not perform March 30, April 1 or April 3 in observance of Holy Week, Frazier said.

“You can’t tell the whole story in an hour and a half,” Frazier said. “You give (the audience) enough to make them want to learn more, and hopefully they will read and learn more about (the black experience) on their individual time.”

Dressed in traditional African garments, the choir sings of the struggles blacks endured throughout the 19th century while interweaving the stories of notable black Natchezians such as August and Sarah Mazique, Aaron and Queen Victoria Jackson and William Johnson.

The choir also recognizes national black figures such as Harriet Tubman. Though Tubman has no direct ties to Natchez, Frazier said Tubman’s brave contributions should not go unnoticed.

“I put Harriet Tubman in because she’s a figure of how we were trying to escape the evils of slavery,” Frazier said. “She didn’t come to Natchez, but she did come to a lot of southern towns and got (blacks) out of slavery so they would enjoy spurts of freedom.”

The choir’s musical selections include Negro spirituals such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Steal Away,” and gospel hymns such as “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” Frazier said. Local musician Alvin Shelby serves as the choir director.

“The gospel singing serves as the backdrop for the narration,” Frazier said. “We tell our story and have an appropriate song to capture that story.”

Frazier said attendance is down from last year, but hopes church pews will be filled to capacity by the choir’s final performance.

“We haven’t had the crowds we’ve had in the past. We don’t know why,” Frazier said. “This is the best kept secret of (Spring Pilgrimage).”