Valley Gospel Singers inducted into NB Gospel Music Hall of Fame
“It’s the strangest feeling in the world to be in your car and hear yourself singing on the radio.”
“It’s awesome; just amazing”, said Reva Avery of St. Stephen, a founding member of the Valley Gospel Singers.
With five CDs to their name, the members of the group often hear themselves on radio and after an awards ceremony earlier this year, may hear themselves more often now.
On Sept. 24, after 41 years of performing for their friends and neighbours and raising more than $45,000 for charitable causes in Charlotte County, the Valley Gospel Singers was inducted into to the New Brunswick Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
The ceremony took place at the Salvation Army in Fredericton and the Valley Gospel Singers shared the honour of being inducted with such notables as Violet Paisley, Keith Young, Wanda Grieve, Rev. Ed Sealy, Barry Sullivan, The Weavers, Revival Man Quartet, and Hazel-Marie Robertson. Singer Marg Osburne, of Don Messer’s Jamboree fame, was inducted posthumously.
Avery said the group was excited, not only about being inducted, into the hall of fame but at the opportunity to meet the other inductees, some of whom they had only heard before on radio or CD.
“It was no small thing,” said Avery of the group’s induction. “It was an honour to be in the same league as all those other people.
“That wasn’t our goal when we started,” she added with a laugh. “The induction was for 40 years of faithful service and to be acknowledged by our contemporaries is pretty awesome.”
The Valley Gospel Singers began on Oct. 21, 1975. Avery was 35 at the time, and an organist at a local church where the hymn books had just been changed for ones containing newer songs.
Since many in the choir liked the “good old gospel songs” Avery said she just turned to them and asked “Why can’t we start a group and sing those songs?”
So they did. Five of the original members, including Avery still belong to the group – Janet Harper, Phyllis Gerard, Marion McCray (at 93, the oldest still performing member) and Alma Mosher. The women contacted friends they knew who had sung in the St. Stephen High School choir and their group was born.
The Valley Gospel Singers have three male members and draw the rest of their 24-member group from throughout Charlotte County – St. Stephen and area, Mascarene, Pennfield, Blacks Harbour, and St. George. The group’s theme song is “We’re Not Strangers Anymore.” Members have 280 hymns in their songbooks and are constantly adding more said Avery.
In 2004, the group received the Mercy Award from the New Brunswick Gospel Music Hall of Fame for its traditional music.
The group raises money through a donation of a Twoonie or Loonie during their weekly practices and in years previous by playing at charity benefits. All the money they raise, with the exception of recently renting a bus to go to Fredericton for the awards, goes to help families in need.
“We make donations. A family might need $100 to get them by. Someone may be ill or have fallen on hard times, whatever need we are made aware of.”
Some of the money raised by the group has come from the sale of their five CDs. There are 15 songs on each noted Avery and they were created by Chris Gay of Lake Utiopia at his studio Sound Expressions.
Avery (466-5972) and Harper (466-4599) still have a few of the latest CD available for sale, “but not many because everyone already has them,” Avery said with a laugh.
From performing 45 times in 52 weeks in the past, the Valley Gospel Singers have slowed down somewhat. They now only average 30 to 35 performances a year, many of them during the Christmas holiday season.
Their calendar is full for the next few weeks with performances – given for free – at hospitals in St. Stephen and Blacks Harbour, nursing homes in St. George and Saint Andrews, at assisted living facilities in Saint Andrews and St. Stephen and at the Ross Museum in Saint Andrews.
Avery said once the group concludes its Christmas tour, the members will go out to supper (everyone pays their own way) to wind up the season.
“We don’t sing in January of February, but in February we start practices again,” said Avery. She said the 2017 year for the group will begin with a performance in February at the Calais 2nd Baptist Church which holds a gospel concert once a month.