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A group of African-American "Israelites" melodiously serenaded God yesterday at the corner of Broad and South streets. The group, members of the First Tabernacle, hosted the 37th anniversary concert of the Beth-El A Cappella Choir, much to the delight of a frollicking, 200-person audience. The varied program consisted of a rhythm-and-blues a cappella group, a soprano solo and a spoken word performance, in addition to the church's a cappella choir. Music was the order of the day for the majority African-American congregation that danced, clapped, sang and gave several standing ovations throughout the performance. The stylistic blend of gospel and the "temple tradition stemming from the Levites of old," according to Rabbi Curtis Caldwell, made for an intoxicating sound. Jacob Carey, fondly known as "Brother J.C.," conducted the choir with both skill and showmanship, prompting one observer to note the "very creative style and focus on dramatics." While the choir regaled the enthused audience for two sets, the other a cappella group -- known as the Sons of Abraham -- brought down the house with their impassioned songs, forcing even the most stoic of viewers to bop along. To begin the festivities, choir superintendent Gloria Wooten told the crowd the day would be "spiritually uplifting." Indeed, the recital was purposefully religious, with the lyrics encouraging trust in God and joy in his service. Among the songs included in the performance were "Stretch Out on His Word," "I'm Happy in the Service of the Lord" and "Everything is Moving by the Power of God." Aside from the music, church member Mary Jones captivated the crowd with a poem, in which she challenged, "Lord, why did you make me black?" Galloping through assorted connotations of the color black, Jones alluded to the "griminess of dirt" and racial discrimination. But the work concluded with God's upbeat reply to Jones' query, in which he describes blackness as the "likeness of me, the midnight sky and the black stallion." The performance of Gail Denson, a soprano currently pursuing her doctorate in music at the University of Michigan, also received applause from both the audience and Caldwell. "She is an inspiration to young people who hope to pursue a career in singing," he said. Caldwell concluded the event by inviting first-timers back to the church to hear "some of the best a cappella [music]." He also expressed the hope that the choir would gain wider exposure as an art form due to its Avenue of the Arts location. The Tabernacle is descended theologically from the Church of God -- a century-old movement that believes in a return to the Israelite customs from which Christianity was born.

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