The Albert McNeil Singers, in town to help observe Martin Luther King Day, must have been pleased with the reception they received here. And obviously an overflow audience at Kingsbury Hall Saturday night was more than pleased with the Singers' performance - clapping, stamping and calling out encouragement like seasoned revivalists.
The Singers' exciting ethnic repertory, their rapport with the audience, and their complete virtuosity, building up to an explosive final group of spirituals, brought the audience to their feet again and again, demanding a number of encores at the program's end.This choir incorporates the best of two worlds: Members sing their music with all the fervor and fire of a camp meeting, but they never lose a certain cultivated reserve. So while they are concert artists, and their program is a concert, not a happening, yet an exciting spontaneity, rhythmic vitality and drive underlie everything, keeping their interpretations close to their roots.
Voice for voice, the women outshone the men in this 14-voice ensemble, somewhat augmented for its Salt Lake appearance. Each woman could, and did, deliver exciting, individualized variations on a theme. Yet the men capably supported a smooth ensemble, and contributed their share of solo virtuosity.
Probably the numbers that will be best remembered involved women's solos, however, like the jubilant vocalism of Virginia White on "O Happy Day," ranging from a chesty growl to a soaring, floating head tone, with virtuosic changes of rhythmic emphasis.
Equally memorable was Patronella Luke's "Precious Lord," her big soulful voice brilliantly encompassing every emotion of this touching song.
When one considers the wide gamut of scripture, faith and understanding that the Negro spiritual encompasses, one is impressed by the breadth of Biblical knowledge these people must have had. And as they added the devoutness, pathos and humor of their own perceptions, a great art form developed among them.
The backbone of Saturday's program was the spiritual, in concert arrangements, beginning with the delightful "Walk Together Children." Inimitable rhythms, generally clear and direct diction, and lively, vivid communication helped the singers to put these songs over in what one came to recognize as the McNeil style - not loud, but full-voiced, quick-moving and sprightly, with tasteful humor, punctuated by a little choreographic zest.
Outstanding spirituals included "Oh Mary Don't You Weep,' with the good tenor solos of Darryl Taylor and Richard Wyatt; "John the Revelator," a fast-moving song arranged by McNeil with solo by Denis Hawkins; and "I Wanna Be Ready," in a rhythmic, rocking interpretation.
Departing from the printed program, McNeil introduced such songs as the vigorous "Elijah Rock," which showed the power of the talented Hall Johnson as an arranger of spirituals. From Willian Dawson came the ebullient "Ain't-a that Good News." Good as the choir was in thoughtful songs like "He's Got The Whole World in His Hand," they really roped the audience in with such bounding, effervescent black Americana as "On That Great Gittin' Up Morning."
A trio of African folk songs gave an added dimension. Though from more primitive societies, they dealt with pretty much universal themes. "Umngoma," described by McNeil as "the hypochondriac's song," found Virginia White portraying a bundle of aches and pains, while her sisters commiserated. In "No Ne Li Domi" (You can't dance with me), the men made passes while the women resisted, and in "Haraje," Cheryl Nickerson was the graceful dancer-soloist.
In "Ellingtonia" the singers celebrated a great black composer and song stylist, with a medley of immortal songs like "Take The A Train," "Satin Doll," "Mood Indigo," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me."