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Public invited to ‘God’s Trombones’

NATCHEZ — A special event Sunday at First Baptist Church Natchez will celebrate the work of James Weldon Johnson and his book, “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.”

L. Graham Smith, music minister at First Baptist, will narrate the seven sermons and prayer from the book that was published in 1927. Smith said over the years he has memorized six of the sermons that will be recited. Following each narration, the choir will sing a song that corresponds from the themes ranging from the creation, crucifixion and judgment day.

“God’s Trombones” was written as a tribute to the great black preachers of the late 1800s.

Smith said James Weldon Johnson himself was a black preacher, lawyer, ambassador, poet and writer among other things. Johnson was born in 1871 and died in 1938.

“He and his brother wrote a song that has been called the black national anthem, called ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” Smith said. “Growing up in Florida and South Carolina, he heard some great black preachers in churches and the church where his dad was pastor.”

Smith said when many of the ministers Johnson admired began dying off, he wanted to create a remembrance of them.

“He referred to those preachers as trombones,” Smith said. “To him, the bigness of their voices, their roundness and range likened their voices to a trombone. That’s their name because it was like they were being played by God himself.”

Smith said Johnson’s book is a tribute to how God can use anyone who turns himself or herself over to him.

“It’s a unique thing,” Smith said. “Lots of folks have never heard of the little book, and they don’t know the heritage that we have of James Weldon Johnson and his works. The sermons have such beauty about them.”

Smith said the narrations are meant to be read without a specific dialect.

“(The old preachers) prided themselves in perfect English, so there is no dialect in these narrations,” Smith said. “They are perhaps spoken differently because they were written so many years ago, but they are powerful. The preachers were trying to get across to congregations great truths in the Bible and alliterations specific to their own upbringing and the way God revealed themselves to him.”

Smith extended an invitation to the community to attend “God’s Trombones.”

The event will be at 6 p.m. Sunday. First Baptist Church is located at 150 D’Evereux Drive in Natchez.

“This will give us a fresh look at God’s word spoken in a very unique way from a great heritage,” Smith said.

For more information, call the church office at 601-442-1464.

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