In 2014, I began working on what was, at the time, my undergraduate honors thesis for the Africana Studies program at the University at Albany. I was fascinated by the sound and (then unknown) story of the New York Community Choir. I began interviewing the two surviving co-founders of the choir as well as other members of the group, which started me on a journey that I did not expect to be on all of these years later. I finished my 120-page thesis but knew that the story wasn’t finished with me—it was a story determined to live in a book, which I’ve been calling Express Yourself In Me: Black Power, Gay Liberation and Disco Heat with a Holy Ghost Touch
In the years since I finished my thesis in 2018, I’ve continued researching, conducting interviews, and contemplating their story and how this group contributed not just to the evolution of contemporary gospel as we know it today but to a progressive theology that the church is still resisting. The conversations prevalent today around New Thought and affirming theology, and the dogged separation of the sacred and the secular were all issues that the New York Community Choir was navigating and addressing from its formation in 1970, both passively and aggressively, in their work. Their visionary approach came with a price: their acceptance in gospel circles was limited, and, in the long-term, an acknowledgment of their legacy by gospel music's gatekeepers has been withheld. This is one of the many
reasons they matter. (To read an article I've written on the choir, click here
The choir’s web of connections is vast—it encompasses everyone from Bishop William Morris O’Neil, Archbishop Carl Bean, James Cleveland, Nikki Giovanni, the Sweet Inspirations, Melba Moore, Vicki Sue Robinson, the Bee Gees, Labelle, Luther Vandross, Coko from SWV, Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church), Tramaine Hawkins
and so many others.
They were unafraid to take gospel music into “the world.” They understood that “the world” was where their freedom call was needed most. Their courage, determination, and lack of ego (another reason their story isn’t more known) have inspired me.
One of the group’s co-founders, the
late Arthur Freeman
, in his last days in 2020, asked me to ensure their story was told no matter what, and I have never stopped working on it. I owe many thanks to Bennie Diggs, co-founder and director of the choir, for the countless conversations over the last eight years and his confidence, encouragement, and affirmation of the vision for this book.
I have recognized, however, that to finish this book, I need a radical reorganization of my life.
I have focused on building my professional profile for the last three years. I built and improved my social media presence and launched my bi-weekly Substack newsletter (God’s Music Is My Life
), introducing thousands of readers to my writing. My intention in creating the newsletter was NOT to monetize my work but to make my articles available to the public for free so that everyone can access the history without being nickel and dimed to death.
I have also hosted the interview web series Have
You Ever Heard, launched the Outlaw’s Evidence of the Unseen podcast
with Ray Curenton, written liner notes for a handful of reissue projects and compilations of gospel and soul music, taken the Editorial Content Manager seat at SoulMusicdotcom
and become a contributor at UDiscover Music
. I have done all this while maintaining a demanding full-time job.
It has become apparent to me that I have run out of hours in the day, and I cannot live on the amount of coffee that has helped me get this much work done.
I have two additional book collaborations (co-writing opportunities) in my queue. Still, I am clear that my commitment to the New York Community Choir project must be completed before I go any further.
I need to take a leave of absence from my job to finish this massive project. Work like this requires focused hours of concentration, and I simply, at this moment, do not have those hours at my disposal. In addition to this GoFundMe, I will be applying for grants and searching for donors who will match this goal—which is why it's essential to meet it. Every donor’s name will be listed in the book when completed.
These funds will, indeed, help meet the following needs:
- living expenses
- an attorney to aid in accessing a government file on one of the subjects
- a research trip to New York
- a research trip to Los Angeles
- Photo and song licensing (printing lyrics in a book can cost anywhere from $1500-$3000 per song) for usage in the book
- an editor
- an indexer
- web design and archival work
I have secured newyorkcommunitychoirdotcom
and am working with the choir’s co-founder, Bennie Diggs, to make the website an active archive of the choir's history with photos and documents from Bennie’s collection. The funds we raise will also help make this effort possible and will support hosting for the website.
I have been assured that a book of this nature will not draw the kind of advance from a publisher that would come close to the amount of money required to actually complete it–but that doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t have value or have significance in the world.
I am asking my friends and family—even those who do not have an appreciation or understanding of gospel music—to support me in completing this labor of love that I was called to. In these times, it is essential to rely on our communities to help us accomplish the great commissions we are each tasked with executing.
If you don’t know me but love gospel music and want to see its untold stories raised, I ask for your support in completing Express Yourself In Me: Black Power, Gay Liberation and Disco Heat with a Holy Ghost Touch.
If you’ve never encountered my work, feel free to stop by God's Music Is My Life
and peruse some of the features at my Substack.
I am forever indebted to you for your support.