Since its formation in 1988 the Mississippi Mass Choir has topped recording charts and toured internationally, in keeping with its motto, “Serving God through Song.”
The Mississippi Mass Choir was the brainchild of gospel singer Frank D. Williams, who sought to put together a massive choir to showcase all that Mississippi gospel had to offer. Nearly a decade after first broaching the idea with colleagues at Jackson-based Malaco Records, Williams encouraged singers from across Mississippi to submit taped vocal performances. After poring through hundreds of entries, Williams—a longtime member of the Jackson Southernaires gospel group and an executive at Malaco—selected more than one hundred hopefuls and began putting together the choir.
Pastor and composer David R. Curry of the Liberal Trinity Church of God in Christ in Jackson became musical director, and composer and Malaco Gospel chair Jerry Mannery signed on as executive director. The group performs contemporary versions of established songs as well as new material written by Williams, Curry, and other noted composers. After beginning rehearsals in May 1988, the choir’s first release was a performance recorded at Jackson’s Municipal Auditorium in October of that year. Malaco put out The Mississippi Mass Choir Live in the spring of 1991, and it rose to the No. 1 position on the Billboard Gospel Chart, remaining there for forty-five weeks. As a result, the choir won several James Cleveland, Billboard, and Stellar awards in 1989. The choir’s follow-up, God Gets the Glory (1990), also topped the charts, as did 1993’s It Remains to Be Seen, which outstripped its predecessors by occupying the No. 1 position on the Billboard Gospel Chart for a record fifty-two weeks.
Williams’s March 1993 death dealt a tremendous blow to the choir, though members, alongside Curry, Mannery, cominister of music Jerry Smith, and spiritual adviser Rev. Benjamin Cone, continued recording and performing. The choir has released seven additional albums, among them 2002’s Amazing Love, which features a track Williams recorded prior to his death. The Mississippi Mass Choir’s most recent release is Declaration of Dependence (2014), a recording of the choir’s 2013 twenty-fifth anniversary concert in Jackson that debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard Gospel Chart. The choir has received numerous Dove, Stellar, Grammy, and other music awards and has been inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. With a roster of more than 150 members, the group has performed around the globe, including in Spain and Italy, in Japan, in the Bahamas, and in South Africa. In 1990 the choir received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. That year Mississippi Mass Choir leaders joined choir director Dorcas Thigpen in forming the associated Mississippi Children’s Choir, which released three acclaimed albums.
Executive director Jerry Mannery noted of the choir, “There’s been so much negative that comes with Mississippi. Not only are we ambassadors for Christ, but we realize that we are also ambassadors for the state of Mississippi.”
- Malaco Music Group website, http://malaco.com
- Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame website, www.msmusic.org
- PBS River of Song website, http://www.pbs.org/riverofsong/