In celebration and honor of Black History Month, Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center will host an afternoon of gospel music with Spirit of Unity on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m. The troupe is an interfaith performing arts group involving multiple denominations, cultures and races. Their common motivation is they love to sing inspirational songs from their ministry of music.
The group from the Hudson Valley was organized in the summer of 2005 as the brainchild of the founders, Eugene Williams (Bass), Ray Watkins (Program Director, keyboard, vocalist), along with gospel singing veteran Sharlene Stout (Director of Singers). The group consists of a Gospel Quartet, a combined singing Ensemble, and the Band which consists of Bass Guitar, Lead Guitar, Keyboards, Drums, Percussionist, Saxophone, and a specialty “Spoons” player. They specialize in traditional and contemporary gospel styles of music. Over the last 14 years they have performed at the Hudson River Arts Festival, the Dutchess County Arts Council’s Annual African-American Gospel Concert, The Alexander Hamilton Celebration Concert, and The Amistad Freedom Schooner Celebration, and have played with performers like Pete Seeger and Kenny Loggins.
Spirit of Unity are the Artist in Residence at St. James Episcopal Church, in Hyde Park, N.Y., where Reverend Chuck Kramer is the rector.
The concert will be on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m. in the Garden House at Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center located at 132 Main Street in Ridgefield. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10 per person. The concert will be followed by a free reception and interactive session with the performers.
Some of the key performers at the concert will be Sharlene Stout, Harold Kimble and Ray Watkins. Stout has sung with legendary gospel artist, James Cleveland, and Folk singer Pete Seeger, and has appeared on their recordings. She is a member of the James Cleveland Gospel Music Workshop of America, co-founder of the Southern Duchess Coalition Choir, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Choir in Beacon and Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Kimble, born in Rockville, S.C., learned saxophone as a child and was mentored by his parents, both members of a traveling quartet. As a young man, he accompanied the Upper Room Choir on their recording. He was the co-founder of the Gospel Innovators who performed on programs featuring James Cleveland, Swanee Quintet, New York Mass Choir, and Timothy Wright.
Watkins began playing the piano at the age of 10. Ray has played for The Thompson Ensemble Gospel Music Ensemble, The Gospel Hi-Notes, and performed with the Gospel Music Workshop of America, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Choir, and has accompanied many gospel vocalists in the Hudson Valley.
Keeler Tavern Museum and History Center presents three centuries of the town’s history through the lives of the families that occupied the site starting in 1713. It offers docent-led tours of its period-furnished building February through December (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, 1–4 p.m.) More information may be found at www.keelertavernmuseum.org and at Facebook.com/KeelerTavernMuseum, or by calling the office at 203-438-5485.