Yesterday over 150 people in a diverse audience gathered in the main sanctuary of Lowell’s Eliot Presbyterian Church found a teriffic way to begin the season of Thanksgiving. With the welcoming words of CTI Executive Director Karen Frederick who reminded all that “the 700 familes in motels and 9,000 family members in shelters want and need their heads to be on beds in their own homes are why we are here today.” The day’s concert benefited the Merrimack Valley Regional Network to End Homelessness and educational scholarships at Middlesex Community College.
Lura Smith resplendant in black and gold opened her Gospel Concert of Thanksgiving with special guest artists with not a performance but a soulful gospel-style singing of “Praise Him” – she rocked the church! Smith skillfully wove her inimitable warmth and New Orleans charm throughout the personal introductions of her musical guests and her own seemingly spontaneous prayerful gospel-style vocals. She brought her audience with her – as those who follow her know well – encouraging clapping, foot-tapping, swaying both in the pews and on your feet and – of course – the “Amen” that joins everyone together. Later in the concert most of the audience joyfully and willingly followed her lead and that of former New Orleans vocalist and actor Henri Smith in a rousing procession in the church aisles to the iconic – “The Saints Go Marching In.”
Joining Ms Smith was accomplished soloist and performer Lowell’s Michael Lally accompanied by another Lowell musican – the well-known pianist and organist Ralph Funero. Lally’s powerful rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer” as always awed his audience. It was followed by “Let There be Music” which he and Funaro learned back in their days at Lowell High School and sung especially for Laura Smith – a magnificently performed version of “You Raised me Up”. The audience gave him a standing ovation and a heart-felt “Amen.”
The array of musicans and vocalists included the Andover Baptist Unity Choir (Bless Your Name), vocalist Bernard Smith (You Lord Are the Source of My Strength) of Holyoke, individual performers from the Adagio Big Band including its producer tenor Bobby Kinney (Were It Not For Grace), vocalists Natalie Mariel(Pray) and Kristin Davis. Henri Smith – now a Massachusetts resident – was accompanied by Berklee College of Music senior from LA – trumpeter Emile Martinez. Their rendition of Just a Closer Walk With Thee done as part of a funeral “slow step” – New Orleans style – was poignant and uplifting.
When Lura Smith who remarked earlier on her tradition and style – “born a Baptist, bred a Baptist and Baptist until I’m dead – singing the old songs I learned as a child as long as I have breath” asked the audience if “we did this again next year will you come” got a resounding “yes” and an agreement to bring a friend.
The concert was followed by a reception in the church hall with refreshments provided by LaBoniche.
Note: Henri Smith – a childhood friend reunited with Lura after Katrina – has a role in the locally filmed movie “The Fighter” based on the life of Lowell’s Irish Micky Ward. Watch for him!