|Richmond Has Something to Sing About
November 24, 2006
We all know how good it felt to have that first summer job. Well, you can help employ more youth for the City of Richmond Summer Youth Employment Program this holiday season simply by doing what we all love to do the day after Thanksgiving—shop!
If you are still in town, and aren’t too stuffed, please join the performers of the “City of Richmond Sings Gospel” at the Emeryville Barnes and Noble on November 24th from 10- 4 pm to check the volunteer artists who lent their voice to the popular “City of Richmond Sings Gospel” project. Sales of the CD ($17.95) benefit the summer youth employment program, an effort sponsored by the City of Richmond Employment and Training Department and local community partners. Performances include our own Contra Costa Community College President, McKinley Williams, Malinda Claiborne, yours truly, and many more. There will even be book readings for children provided by Richmond LEAP (Literacy for Every Adult Program.)
I’m so inspired by this project I am issuing a friendly challenge to all of the friends of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Let’s see how many people you can bring with you! If you print the attached voucher and bring it, a portion of the sales from any item you purchase at Barnes and Nobles that day will go to the Summer Youth Employment Program.
In case you were wondering, you don’t have to be a Richmond resident to support this effort. You only have to love music, and have a passion for young people. Oprah’s book list is beckoning. Besides, you know that you really wanted to get all your holiday shopping done early this year. Why not add provide summer jobs for youth on the list? Don’t forget to bring your voucher.
Article from the SF Chronicle on the “City of Richmond Sings Gospel”
There are no A-list singers performing on "The City of Richmond Sings Gospel," and it wasn't recorded by a Grammy-winning producer, but it is nothing less than the city's version of the 1985 hit "We Are the World."
And like that album, which raised $50 million for famine relief in Africa, it is no less ambitious. But instead of helping children half a world away, the artists who raise the roof on "Richmond Sings Gospel" are helping children in the city they call home.
Every one of the performers on the 13-song compilation of gospel music and spoken word poetry is from Richmond, and a handful of them are city youth workers who hatched the idea about six months ago while trying to raise money for the city's annual summer youth employment program.
"We were a conglomerate of agencies working toward a single goal, and the idea was suggested at a staff meeting last December," said Mary Billups, a pianist who recently retired from the city's Richmond Works youth employment program and performed on the CD. "The forces just all came together."
The project started as a lark when Malinda Claiborne agreed to hum a few bars for her boss, Mike Warwick, the city's director of special projects.
"I told him I would do a little something-something for him right here and now," said Claiborne, whose accent and gospel roots reflect her upbringing in Clayton, La.
When Claiborne showed her chops, Warwick was blown away -- as is just about everyone who hears her sing. Warwick suggested recording Claiborne in a small studio at Richmond's Police Athletic League facility, and the project was born.
Claiborne, a church-going lady, called up some friends. So did Billups and Demitrea Foster, who also works in Richmond Works. The project grew, and so did the number of people who wanted to take part. By the time the CD was finished in early May, a dozen artists and two backup groups had been recorded, and Wayne Organ, co-chair of the music department at Contra Costa College, had spent more than 200 hours coaching and recording the performers, then mixing and arranging the CD.
He recognized the talent the first time they walked into his offices and volunteered to help out.
"There is a lot of rich tradition in gospel music in the East Bay, so it's not that surprising to find this level of talent," he said. That said, he was quite impressed with Claiborne.
"Malinda isn't a professional singer, but she certainly has a professional voice," he said.
Claiborne's voice captures and conveys the struggle for righteousness amid a sea of trouble, the very essence of gospel music. Her booming refrains lift the rafters on "I Won't Complain."
Claiborne isn't alone. Consonance, a local choral group, performs a searing rendition of "Come on in This House and Praise the Lord."
Then there's Cynthia Harris, an administrative minister at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond. It wasn't so long ago that Harris was a vocalist with Clarence Clemons' E Street Band. Harris sings the lead on "Ordinary People" and "Near the Cross," and, yeah, she's really good.
The project turned out so well that Warwick has sent copies of the CD to local retailers and even Starbucks, which promotes, sells and plays the music of local artists.
The CDs go for $17.95 a pop, and all proceeds benefit the city's summer youth employment program. All told, the group hopes to raise $350,000 through corporate sponsorship, donations and CD sales to provide six-week jobs to as many as 350 teenagers who will earn $1,000.
The idea of a community finding the power to lift itself up is powerful, especially in Richmond -- a city that's seen more than its share of crime and economic struggles in recent years.
"I saw it as a chance for me to help the people in my community, and that's exactly what these folks are doing," Organ said. "This is a community coming together for a project that is not self-aggrandizing."
The project seems to be working so far. Since the CDs were delivered less than two weeks ago, more than 300 copies have been sold. For Billups, who retired in December after 37 years, the project was a great note to go out on.
"Projects like this show that it's not about how much money you have, but the work you do with it and the lives you touch," she said.
Richmond gospel music available
"The City of Richmond Sings Gospel," a 13-song compilation recorded by city employees and community volunteers, is available for $17.95 online at www.richmondworks.org/Gospel%20CD.html; at the city's Finance Department, 1401 Marina Way; and at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, 3925 Macdonald Ave. It also can be purchased by calling (510) 307-8023. All proceeds benefit the city's summer youth employment program.
Chip Johnson's column appears on Mondays and Fridays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.