It might be wise to settle into your seat and let the music just wash over you.

That’s because Jeanie Melton and her Knoxville Opera Gospel Choir is prepared to give its audience a musical journey down a lot of different paths.

Enjoy Negro spirituals? That’s in their repertoire.

Want to hear an anthem from the likes of Thomas Cousins?

Done.

Songs by Nigerian-born Sade and even Earth, Wind and Fire have been known to be part of the choir’s rising up in song. When they take the stage on Feb. 22 at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of Maryville College, one thing will be certain.

Melton and her choir will have fun doing it. This concert is part of the City of Alcoa’s Centennial Celebration. Admission is free but a ticket is required. It was 11 years ago that Melton started this community choir, made up of singers and instrumentalists from Knox, Blount and surrounding counties. Some are or have been professional singers; most have enjoyed years in their respective church choirs and simply love lifting their voices in praise.

Sounds from everywhere

Sometimes Melton adds a piece to their performances after hearing a song on the radio. Or, in the case of the Thomas Cousins anthem, when she was listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“We sung it a few years ago,” Melton said. “We are going to bring it back to show the diversity in our music. In addition, we are going to sing three Negro spirituals, a couple of choral pieces and we have two soloists who will perform. The rest will be gospel numbers with a nice surprise at the end.”

Some in Blount County will recognize Melton. She has worked in music at St. John Missionary Baptist Church and also Bethel Baptist, both in Alcoa. She has six or seven members of the choir who hail from Blount County.

While there will be instrumentalists backing up the choir, Melton hopes the voices are what draws people in.

This instrument stands out

“”The human voice is probably the most beautiful musical instrument,” she said. “Of all instruments. When you couple the beauty of the voice with lyrics that come from scripture and other inspirational forces, it is a win-win situation.”

The lyrics and how they are arranged can turn a pop song into a powerful anthem or vice versa. Melton uses the example of a song by Nigerian-born singer Sade. She has a beautiful song called “Keep Looking.”

In it, Sade sings about keeping your head high or listening to the negativity of others. Lay your worries down and keep looking, the lyrics say.

“How spiritual is that?,” Melton said.

Likewise, the musician and choir director said Earth Wind and Fire has some messages worth hearing. “Because their lyrics are so inspiring,” she said. “So God-like.”

“We try to separate our concept of what we think church and gospel music is from soul, rhythm and blues or whatever,” she said. “The coupling of the human voice and just good lyrics from all types of music — there is nothing better than that.”

Melton has been singing and performing since she was 8. She opened music schools in her native Houston and eventually moved here to East Tennessee.

This choir has 43 members of multiethnic backgrounds who sing at various events, including the Rossini Festival in Knoxville. They performed at Alcoa High School back in 2018. Rehearsals are held at Melton’s home church, Mount Olive, in East Knoxville.

They also perform “Knoxville Opera Goes to Church” each year. It is generally held in October.

A reason to celebrate

The Feb. 22 opportunity at the Clayton Center is part of the City of Alcoa’s Centennial Celebration. Members of the choir, like Judy Knight, asked if the group could perform here.

“We’re very excited to have the gospel choir perform as part of our series,” said David Duggan, chair of the Alcoa Centennial Committee. “The choir is simply superb. Their wonderful voices and music will be a joy for our community.”

He said the choir promotes the centennial theme of the importance of community spirit. Choir members do not receive compensation, with many of them also juggling time between their own church choirs. They represent 23 area churches in 11 counties in East Tennessee.

Melton said she hopes members of congregations here that she has worked with will want to come and experience this musical journey as well as those who’ve never had the chance.

“I hope the audience will come with their hearts open and their minds open, ready to receive whatever it is we have to offer,” she said. “We want people to have a good time. We will.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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