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US Gospel Tour

Douglas Singers, Chicago

The 11th US Gospel Tour is planned for October 2020.

Experience the passion and depth of the black gospel tradition — join musical director Tony Backhouse to sing in black churches and on quartet programs, attend choir rehearsals and workshops with local music ministers and singers. 18 days of rich gospel music and soul food in Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans. Sing with (and to) a Baptist congregation in Memphis, attend a quartet workshop, visit a huge church in Chicago, and get uplifted at the Holy Ghost HQ in New Orleans! Participate in workshops with music ministers and singers from the most dynamic singing tradition on the planet, and then join them afterwards for fried chicken, macaroni cheese and mustard greens.... 

   The US Gospel Tour is for all of you who want to not only experience the African American church but want to participate in it. We will form a choir and sing at numerous events (on previous tours the group sang at a neighbourhood festival in Chicago, on TV in Memphis, at a gospel music festival in Alabama, at a quartet anniversary in Chicago, at a gospel 'musical'  in New Orleans and in numerous church services, workshops and rehearsals) — however, singing is voluntary and non singers are welcome. There are no auditions, and the tour is open really to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the black gospel tradition.
    Once you have signed up, you will be given access to the tour's  private webpages where you can find detailed information about our destinations, travel tips, and scores and recordings of the repertoire we plan to sing. If his itinerary permits, Tony will meet up with participants before the tour. He will also be available via Skype to answer questions or help with songs.

    Tony says: ‘I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for anyone excited by African American musical traditions to explore the world of black gospel in some depth, and as a participant rather than as an observer. I've been visiting black churches on and off for 30 years and the experience of being in the midst of such celebration, commitment and energy never fails to blow my mind. I feel privileged to have made friends from the tradition who have welcomed me into their worship services, rehearsals, anniversaries and homes, and their generosity has always extended to the visitors I bring into their world.’

For Tony’s report on the last Gospel Tours in 2009 and 2012, check the blog archives.

Draft itinerary:

October 1: meet in Memphis-welcome drinks & snacks, first rehearsal
- stay Memphis for six nights:
- sing at gospel concerts, Saturday & Sunday nights 
- church service on Sunday at Bethlehem BC
- workshop with Moments of Joy (female quartet)
- visit Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel

October 7: fly to Chicago for six nights:
- attend choir rehearsal at a huge church in Bronzeville
- seminar with a prominent musicologist at the Center for Black Music research
- rehearsal workshop with gospel choir Saturday afternoon

- Sunday: two churches & soul food lunch

October 13: fly to New Orleans for six nights:
- workshop with musical directors of Ebenezer Baptist Church
- attend choir rehearsal
- sing at a 'gospel musical' night at Ebenezer BC
- Sunday 18: two churches  & farewell mea

Cost: tba

The cost includes:
-  all internal flights from Memphis-Chicago-New Orleans
- ground transport (from Memphis onwards)
- twin-share hotel accommodation (single supplements also available)
- breakfasts
- workshops
- entrance to the Civil Rights Museum and certain other group activities
- scores and MP3s of repertoire
- regular rehearsals and training with Tony while on tour.

-  international flights
- your travel to Memphis, Tennessee
- your travel from New Orleans at the conclusion of the tour
- food (other than breakfasts)

For more information contact Tony:

What previous participants have said:

'I have never been on a group tour before and didn’t know what to expect.
t turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. The pre-distribution of our parts
meant that Tony was able to weld us together as a choir on the first day.
His skill, enthusiasm and compassionate treatment of everyone ensured that
we were a happy group for the whole tour, and the balance he and Marianne
achieved between singing engagements, educational gospel-related experiences,
music festivals and free time for the wide range of suggested other activities
kept us busy and enthused for the whole tour. Thank you for a wonderful experience.'

(Roger Wooler, Brisbane)

For years I'd been meeting and talking to fellow singers who had 
been on Tony Backhouse's USA Gospel Tour. Eventually, opportunity 
knocked at my door and I signed up for 2014... A dream come true! A 
blessed adventure! A miracle unfolding! 
An exploration of the roots of gospel and soul music in the land of it's birth.
Shared with a wonderful and spirited group of fellow music lovers. My kind of heaven! Alright! And all led by the capable and caring hands of an exceptional and inspiring team of tour managers. Amen to them brothers and sisters!
(Karen Johnson, Brisbane)

'I think I am likely to run out of superlatives in my attempts to describe the 2012 Gospel Tour that you and Marianne conducted. It was life-changing in so many ways but particularly in my understanding of African-American music and Gospel music on particular. The tour was flawlessly run.
It was the best holiday I have ever had. I can't thank you both enough for the experience and I'd do it again in a heart-beat!'
(Sue Sweetman, Auckland)
Being part of Tony’s gospel choir was pure pleasure but it was heightened by the (unexpected) emotional involvement in some of the church services, broadened by the historical learnings we gained in places like the Memphis Civil Rights Museum and deepened by the musical and cultural knowledge we absorbed in other museums and events, particularly the New Orleans and Memphis Music Festivals.  I am blest to have seen and felt how singing can be such a lived, fluid and whole-body experience and how spirituals, gospel and the use of music in black churches historically has underpinned and fertilised all evolutionary lines of Western popular music. It is an incredible story and it was sensationally brought to life by all our experiences on tour.   Thank you again Tony and Marianne for the expertise you shared and the organisation that made it run so smoothly.
(Jan Buhrmann, Brisbane)
'The 2012 Gospel Tour was the best thing I have  ever done in my life so far 
and I will be going on the next one as well. There was amazing music everywhere 
we went but it was more than music, it was a Afro American experience as much 
as we can have one. Don't remember meeting many pakeha people, 
The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis had most of us in tears and I could have 
listened all day to the wonderful lecturer from a Chicago university who talked to 
us about gospel, barbershop, the blues. When we visited the churches we were 
always invited to sing on our own and with the congregation. They were always 
blown away that we were not a choir, had not sung together before and 
sounded so good. Tony and Marianne are very clever, enthusiastic and organise
a really interesting tour to places we could not get to on our own.' 
(Sally James, Auckland)

'Thanks Tony, for this rich and deep slice of African American life which we were welcomed into, thanks to your connections. I came home totally energised, and when I listen to my recordings, I'm right back there. Loved it that we got church in such wide variety, concerts, choir rehearsals, festivals, workshops on top of that... and time in between to relax and absorb the flavour of three very different cities. A perfectly conceived and organised tour. Can't wait for the next one!'

(Fiona Walker, Wellington)

Here's a snippet from the 2012 Gospel Tour (thanks Amber):