Gospel song and the food of love to fill Howard Theatre

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

In April, the world-renowned Harlem Gospel Choir played its first Sunday gospel brunch in the restored D.C. landmark, The Howard Theatre. When word got out, there wasn't a single ticket to be had. The group has performed every Sunday since.

"Gospel transcends all faiths and all nationalities," said founder Allen Bailey. "It's uplifting, and we all seem to come together when we hear it."

The group Bailey formed on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Jan. 15, in 1986, has since traveled the world inspiring people of all faiths, colors and nationalities with the music of the African-American experience in our country's history.

"We get a lot of Europeans coming to our [Harlem] church on Sundays," Bailey continued.

Onstage
Harlem Gospel Choir
Where: Howard Theatre; 620 T St. NW
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: $20 to $45; 202-803-2889; thehowardtheatre.com

Bailey also reminisces about the group being invited to the Vatican by Pope John Paul II.

"We spent one Christmas Eve with the holy father; he was an amazing fan," he said. "And when Pope Benedict came to America, he invited the choir to sing at Yankee Stadium in front of 80,000 Catholics and told the press afterwards that the Harlem Gospel Choir is more than a show -- it's a feeling."

Despite singing at the Harlem church, touring, hitting Yankee Stadium and performing on Sundays in D.C., the group isn't spreading itself too thin. The 60-voice choir travels in groups of 12 to 15. There is a group headed to Western Europe, another to the Baltic states and still one more to Russia.

At the Howard Theatre, nine singers and three musicians perform such traditional gospel classics as "Oh Happy Day" and "When the Saints Go Marching In." Audiences, dressed to the hilt in what Bailey calls "a first-class venue," enjoy an outstanding brunch while clapping and singing along with the group nonstop for 45 minutes.

The Harlem Gospel Choir, which actively engages in fundraising, has also performed for fans such as President Obama and Nelson Mandela, while playing alongside superstars like Diana Ross, Bono, Josh Groban and Lisa Marie Presley.

"We are not politicians ... we follow the theme of Martin Luther King, bringing nations of people together and giving something back," Bailey said. "You've got to give back in this world."

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