It’s not quite the same choir as the one she debuted with some 40 years ago, but Ruth Showell says that despite its smaller numbers and maturing membership, the Freedom Choir of Springfield remains as vivacious and soulful as ever.
“We still sing and, believe me, we belt it out,” says Showell. “We all continue to hold on because we know we were formed for a special cause and that cause lives on.”
Recognized as the oldest community choir in the city, the Freedom Choir was formed in 1969 — a year after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their formation and debut performance marked the city’s first formal observance in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
“It was a grand performance,” recalls Showell, who was in her 30s at the time. “We were more than 200 strong. We were white and black, young and old, but we were one. And we performed with pride right there on stage at Symphony Hall. We were a sight to see and a sound to hear.”
|We’re only a few, but we are holding it together. We’ll just go on singing until we can’t sing anymore.|
Indeed, the Freedom Choir represented all that was great about the city: its diversity, its brotherly love, its talent and its faith. Founded by the late Josephine Fullilove, former First Lady of Third Baptist Church, the choir comprised its membership of singers and musicians from faith houses throughout the city.
Sprightly and dedicated, the Freedom Choir of Springfield quickly earned a name for itself, receiving dozens of invitations to perform at programs both at home and across the United States. “We’ve been all over, but one of my favorite performances was in Washington, D.C. at the National Baptist Convention,” Showell says.
The choir not only performs at special occasions, at times the choir itself is the celebratory occasion. In 2008, the Western Massachusetts chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop honored the Freedom Choir with a special Black History Month celebration.
These days, the choir’s membership has begun to dwindle. “Some died, some moved away, some got older,” says Showell. But just like clockwork, every Monday a group of 25 or so singers and musicians warm up their voices and talents with a Freedom Choir rehearsal, held most often at Celestial Praise Church on Wilbraham Road.
The choir is sure to keep their vocal chords in tune because they still are called upon to perform for special occasions. Recent performances have been held in city libraries and local churches for celebrations as well as funerals.
“We’re only a few, but we are holding it together,” says Showell. “We’ll just go on singing until we can’t sing anymore.”
Interested in becoming part of the Freedom Choir or bringing the Freedom Choir to an upcoming event? Contact Ruth Showell at 413.783.3378 or Velma Brown at 413.783.1116.
Photo from the Freedom Choir archives