65 years at GPBC & the Choir is Still on Point
Written by Betty Miller Buttram
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:19
Gospel music is deeply rooted in the rich traditions of the African-American church. The various styles of spirituals, hymns, and sacred songs have been instilled into their worship services.
Pastor Anthony R. Pettus, Sr. has been ministering at Greater Progressive Baptist Church (GPBC) since 2004. The church, located at 2215 John Street, is celebrating its 65th anniversary and that is one of the many reasons to make a joyful noise to the Lord with their contemporary gospel, hymns, praise, and worship songs.
The Music and Arts Department is under the direction of Minister Eric Coates. Mr. Coates is from Baltimore, Maryland, and has always been interested in music. He has been a resident of Fort Wayne for nine years and first started as a worship leader at Greater Progressive. He has been in the position of Music Director for three years. He sings, teaches vocals, and writes. He does not play the keyboard or any musical instrument.
The question was put to Mr. Coates that it must be challenging when he comes across someone who can sing and someone who cannot carry a tune; how does he handle that situation? His response was this:
“There is a strict process to learning how to sing. You can’t make someone who cannot sing or who doesn’t have an ear for singing, you can’t make them sing; but you can teach someone who has an ear for singing how to be a better singer. I have come across, in many cases, someone who is considered tone deaf and was able to gain tone. If you can’t hear yourself, it’s almost impossible, from my experience, to actually teach vocals. But if you have some inkling of vocal ability, I can help you master it.”
The Music Ministry includes the Mass Choir, Youth Choir, and Praise and Worship Team. The Mass Choir sings for the three services on Sunday mornings. The Praise Team and the Praise Dancers also perform at each service. The Youth Choir rehearses on Mondays and sings on the second Sunday of the month. The musical instruments played are the Hammond B3 Organ, three keyboards with different sounds, bass and drums. Mr. Floyd Thompson is the musician for GPBC. The 35-member Mass Choir travels with the Pastor on his frequent requests as guest preacher.
It was inquired if spirituals are sung as well as gospel songs. Ms. Dorothy Tanksley, who has been a member of the Mass Choir since 1988, stated that spirituals are only sung during Black History month, one for each Sunday in that month.
Ms. Tonya Ashford is the Assistant Choir Director. She is a Fort Wayne native and has been a choir member of Greater Progressive since 2013. She sings, plays the piano, and teaches vocals. She has been involved in music all her life.
Mr. J.M. Frazier has been a worshiper at Greater Progressive Church for 50 years. When asked about his long membership and the Mass Choir, he replied:
“I came to the choir in 1968. When I started with the choir we had 120 regular members; combined choir. I was president of the choir when there were 120 members. As we went on the choir fell off as the transitions happened. The choir fell off, but it always built back up. The choir we have now is taught not just to sing but to praise the Lord. When I talk about it, I get happy now. I get happy when I talk about it. Since I’ve been at Progressive we’ve always had a good choir. We have a dynamic choir. We have a choir now believes in the Lord…not just singing that gets us. Sometimes we start singing a song, the song ain’t what it is, and it is what in us that gets it all stirred up and it’s like making a cake. A cake isn’t a cake until you put the icing on it. I’m here whether I sing or not.”
It was rehearsal time and the Mass Choir was waiting in the Sanctuary. Mr. Coates started the accompanying music for the practiced song and the two words from that song…“keep watching…keep watching”…were not reaching the pitch that he wanted. His voice gave them that pitch; they repeated it. He gave it again, and so it continued.
The Mass Choir of Greater Progressive Baptist Church makes a joyful noise to the Lord…so keep watching, keep watching.