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August 7, 2012

Oldest Black Singers' Organization
Installs Its First Woman President
In Its 79 Year History
by V. Nona Ogunsula

The oldest African American organization dedicated to singing black gospel music, the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (NCGCC), is celebrating its 79th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. this week with the inauguration of its first woman president, Dr. Marabeth E. Gentry. Only the third president in the organization’s history, the St. Louis, Missouri native and retired educator was formally installed as the President on August 6 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

NCGCC was founded in 1932 by the late Thomas A. Dorsey, a musician who is recognized as the Father/founder of the music genre known as Black Gospel. Dr. Dorsey wrote the popular hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, a song that has been translated into more than 30 languages and was featured in the documentary, “Say Amen, Somebody”.  This song was reportedly Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite and Mahalia Jackson, who often sang “Precious Lord” for Dr. King at Civil Rights rallies, sung this song at his funeral in 1968.  


According to the website, the organization’s mission is “to better the Christian singer, instrumentalist, educator or leader; to enable the prepared Gospel ambassador; and to spiritually motivate everyone to live the message of the Gospel song.”[i] The membership is estimated at 5,500.


To appreciate this historical moment for Dr. Gentry and the NCGCC, you must consider this: Although a cursory view of any church’s congregation in the United States will reveal that women commonly comprised at least two-thirds[ii] of those in attendance on any given Sunday, church senior leadership is male-dominated.[iii] She takes the helm of an organization that was last led by a formidable preacher, the late Bishop Kenneth H. Moales Sr. of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He suddenly passed away from a heart attack in September 2010.  Bishop Moales was the second President of the organization and led it for 17 years. He made popular the “War Cry” that is sung with jubilation in many Pentecostal churches today.


Dr. Gentry described Bishop Moales as a visionary leader.  She had worked with him since 1994 but was planning to step down from her position as his assistant and First Vice President at the end of his tenure.  However, two years before his death and with no apparent signs of illness, Bishop Moales told her and announced to the convention that he was passing the mantle of leadership on to her.  She says, “He told the organization that their next president would be a female.”  She was reluctant to accept the pronouncement because her mother, who is now 100 years old, was sick at that time and she herself had health issues. But Bishop Moales dissuaded her and he mentored her.   Because of this, she is committed to mentoring the organization’s next set of leaders.


When asked about what she feels is the most important aspect of the Founder’s and Bishop Moales’ legacy that she will take with her as she leads NCGCC, she said:


“The first thing that I am going to take is the wisdom that they imparted to me as to how to be a leader. My father (Joshua E. Gentry) was the predecessor of Bishop Moales, but he passed away before he could become president. My father, Dr. Dorsey, and Bishop Moales taught me one good thing: to be a leader you must first be the servant to the people. To be the servant doesn’t mean subordinate. It just means that you [consider] the people and their welfare, their [well-being] first. And then you consider yourself.


And Humility is another thing.  You have to want to put in more than you get out.”


Today the organization’s yearly conference is becoming “the place to be” for gospel artists, musicians, singers, and industry professionals. Dr. Gentry feels honored to serve at this time of growth and transition. “It is the most invigorating thing in my life”, she stated.  She believes that as a woman, she brings “a different perspective” and that perspective will enable her to help the organization achieve its mission. I am here to help our musicians go out to the world, to make sure that the world hears this good music, this gospel music, this positive music.”

When asked to look forward to what her legacy will be, she replied, “I want to leave the organization with the thought that Gospel Music will never die as long as “I” am alive." She uses “I” in the proverbial sense to describe the NCGCC members.  "I want to make each individual feel that they are an ambassador. So when I leave, this ambassadorship will continue."

Dr. Gentry is inviting the residents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and surrounding communities to attend the convention.  She says that anyone who attends will experience three things: 1) God; 2) “some of the best music their ears ever wanted to hear” and 3) a warm atmosphere.  Some of the nation’s top award-winning artists will be featured at NCGCC including Dr. Bobby Jones of BET’s weekly gospel TV show which bears his name; Edwin Hawkins, brother of the late Bishop Walter Hawkins, and writer of the chart-topping song, "Oh Happy Day”; Baltimore native Jonathan Nelson, James Fortune, and Washington, D.C. based artists and industry leaders including Richard Smallwood, Myrna Summers, Shirley M. K. Berkeley, Maurette Brown Clark, Stephen Hurd, Ernest Pugh, Isaiah D. Thomas, and many more.

For more information on NCGCC, please visit their website at http://www.ncgccinc.com or go to the conference site at the Washington Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert Street NW, Washington, D.C.

[i] Mission, National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, http://www.ncgccinc.com


[ii] David Briggs, Leading the Black Church: Can it be a Woman's Place?, Religion News Service, http://www.christianity.com/pastors/11595937/print/

[iii] Adam Parker, Women of the cloth: Female leadership becoming trend in black churches, http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20110724/PC1208/307249939

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