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Visit New Sunny Mount to hear gospel's glorious sounds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 29, 2012 - The rich musical heritage of the St. Louis area in jazz, blues, rock and R&B has been documented often. From Miles Davis and David Sanborn, from Henry Townsend to Marquise Knox, from Chuck Berry to Wilco and Ike and Tina Turner to Nelly, those musical styles have been a major influence on the national and international music scene for generations.

But St. Louis also has a rich gospel music tradition as well – from the legendary gospel music pioneer Willie Mae Ford Smith and acclaimed vocalist Martha Bass Peaston to her offspring, Fontella Bass (who came back to gospel music later in her career) and the late David Peaston.

And as participants in the third annual Beacon Festival will discover this Sunday, June 3, those impressive gospel roots continue to grow and thrive at New Sunny Mount Missionary Baptist Church.

The first Beacon Festival in 2010 included a visit to a Sunday service at Sunny Mount, located at 4700 West Florissant, across from Bellefontaine Cemetery. At 10 a.m. on June 2, Beacon fans who sign up for “Gospel’s Glorious Sounds” will attend a 10 a.m. worship service at the church highlighted by the singing of the renowned New Sunny Mount Chancel Choir.

Under the direction of Music Minister Anita Watkins-Stevens, the Chancel Choir has won the regional award for Best Large Choir in the Verizon “How Sweet the Sound” Competition two of the past four years, and went on to compete in the national finals in 2008 and 2010.

The impressive musical tradition at Sunny Mount began 35 years ago, when the Rev. Donald Hunter became the pastor at Sunny Mount. Ronald Metcalf became music minister at that time, and the choir program began to expand and gain acclaim.

Noted jazz vocalist Denise Thimes got her musical start at Sunny Mount’s youth choir program at the age of 7, and under the direction of Watkins-Stevens, the church’s choir has built on the solid foundation established by Metcalf.

Members of the Sunny Mount Chancel Choir also participate in the St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON program, which brings together singers from more than two dozen church choir programs throughout the metro area.

With the move to the 4700 Florissant location in 1999, the music program expanded yet again, and now Sunny Mount has four choirs in its music program – with the Chancel Choir as its shining star.

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