Saturday, November 9, 2019
Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine
When I saw the press invite for The Kingdom Choir show up in my email, I jumped at the chance to cover their performance at Merrill Auditorium, and I am SO GLAD I did. Like many of you, I’d never heard of Britain’s The Kingdom Choir before their show-stopping performance of “Stand By Me” at the wedding of Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, at Windsor Castle last May. Although the choir has been together under the capable leadership of conductor Karen Gibson since 1994, their performance at the royal wedding earned them international fame and a record deal. Their debut album, Stand By Me, came out in October of 2018 ahead of their first-ever North American tour. They closed their 30-show tour in Portland, Maine last night, and we were so lucky to be in the room to see this incredibly captivating, supremely talented group at their final show of their six week tour.
Ahead of The Kingdom Choir’s show in Portland, show sponsor Portland Ovations put on three free community events. They hosted a Freedom Walk along Portland’s Freedom Trail to learn about Maine’s role in the Underground Railroad to Canada that over 200 people attended. The afternoon closed with a lecture about the religious and spiritual roots of gospel music from the Reverend Kenneth Lewis at the Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Portland. Just a couple of hours before the show, Ovations hosted a pre-performance lecture from Dr. Nicolás Alberto Dosman, the Director of Choral Studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music titled The Trans-Atlantic British Influence on African Music.
Dan and I grabbed dinner at Tandoor near Merrill Auditorium and made our way over to the venue so Dan could introduce me to Peter McFarland, who is the Senior Lead Event Coordinator at Portland Ovations. I’ve been writing concert reviews for whatbreesees.com for eight years, but had somehow never had a photo pass to use at a show at Merrill Auditorium before. Peter personally showed me all of the best spots to take photos from, which was incredibly kind and helpful of him. I took photos for the first couple of songs, but then I was ready to put my camera away and just soak in the wonder of The Kingdom Choir. They were a delight.
The Kingdom Choir–dressed in coordinating, bold blues, greens, and pinks–performed an Aretha Franklin medley, “Oh Happy Day,” a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” “Lean on Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and, of course, “Stand By Me”–to name a handful. They sang at least one original song and two upbeat African gospel songs, during which they asked everyone to stand up and wave their hats or programs in the air in time with the music. Karen introduced many of the songs, talked a bit about the history of gospel music, and just generally brought positive energy and presence to the stage. She said that the choir is “so, so, so grateful” for the opportunities that have come their way over the last year.
The Kingdom Choir richly deserves the opportunities that have come their way. They were wildly talented, with rich, airy voices and insane range. Their stunning, engaging songs were choreographed and full of energy. I was lucky to be in the room for this performance and am so glad for The Kingdom Choir to be having this well deserved moment in the spotlight. I smiled from ear to ear the entire time they were on stage, and the energy they brought to us in Portland was warm and incredibly well received by an enchanted crowd.