Bishop Henry Porter leads members of the Westcoast Gospel Chorus of Florida in a rehearsal for this Saturday's performance

Image: Olivia Letts

If going to church has never been a moving affair for you, then attending the Westcoast Gospel Chorus of Florida’s 50th anniversary concert this Saturday, July 20, could be a life-changing experience. At 7 p.m., the chorus will be putting on a special performance at the Westcoast Center, a Sarasota church, to honor its rich history as a haven of love and good music.

The chorus will be playing both new songs and old favorites at the concert, which is likely to put tears in your eyes, make you want to get up and dance, or both. “This music will touch some part of you, whatever part of you needs to be touched,” says Angela White, who has been a lifelong member of the chorus. “[The songs] heal, they mend, they reconcile, they call you to forgive within whichever part of you needs healing.”

The Westcoast Gospel Chorus was founded by Bishop Henry Porter in Sarasota’s Newtown community in 1969. At the time, the neighborhood was still shaken by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. the previous year, and young people were grappling with the impact of segregation. Porter, a mathematics graduate student at Yale, was visiting his hometown that summer. He had planned to put on one gospel music show to help the community heal, but the enthusiastic response encouraged him to found the Westcoast Gospel Chorus and continue performing.

In the half-century since, the chorus has traveled the country and the world, performing for all, from prisoners to presidents. The 50th anniversary event will celebrate Porter. It will also feature music by Westcoast Center lead pastor Henry Porter II and Nate Jacobs, the founder of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

I sat in on one of the chorus’ rehearsals Monday evening. Porter’s music and memories gave me goosebumps. “It’s been 50 years of 'Beautiful People,'" Porter said, referencing one of his songs. Members of the chorus began humming the melody and harmonizing as if by instinct. Porter then turned to the piano and played the first few chords of the tune. If the concert is going to be anything like the rehearsal, you’re not going to want to miss it.

The concert is free of charge and will take place at the Westcoast Center, 403 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

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