Having celebrated the churches 125th Anniversary the festivities continue with the release of their CD, THE SAINT MARK EXPERIENCE. The project is also a tribute to their biggest fan and champion, Gospel industry legend, Donna Grady Creer. Under the leadership of Darius Nelson, prepare yourself and your listeners to enjoy the traditional sound of the choir that we all know and love.
“I just wish everybody could hear what I get to hear every week. Saint Mark’s choir is the best! – Donna Grady Creer
The award-winning Saint Mark Sanctuary Choir of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Saint Mark Baptist Church (Phillip Pointer, Sr., Pastor) return to the national stage with a stunning sophomore musical offering, The Saint Mark Experience. Under the leadership of esteemed choir director Darius Nelson, the 75-voice choir gained national prominence after winning regional titles in the uber-popular Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound competition in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The choir ultimately took home the top prize in the national competition in 2013, beating out premier groups from around the country with their unique blend, precision and versatility. Following their historic win, The Saint Mark Sanctuary Choir were featured performers at the 2013 White House Holiday Reception hosted by then President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. They were also featured on Good Morning America in a tribute to Disney’s “Frozen” theme song by Idina Menzel.
With such overwhelming national acclaim and fan demand, the Saint Mark Sanctuary Choir answered the call to record and release The Saint Mark Experience. In 2017, Saint Mark Baptist Church celebrated its 125th Anniversary. As part of the anniversary festivities, the choir embarked upon their second live recording with past and present members to commemorate the milestone and honor former ministers of music of the church.
The project is also a tribute to their biggest fan and champion, gospel industry legend Donna Grady Creer. Donna, affectionately known as “The Diva,” was a long-time member of Saint Mark Baptist Church but was also an influential figure in gospel music and gospel radio. Donna held many high-ranking positions throughout the industry including board seats on The Gospel Announcers Guild, the quartet division of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc., and The Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy. Over the last three decades, Donna mentored, advised and promoted the music and careers of many gospel artists, executives and organizations. However, she was most supportive and proud of her beloved church choir, the Saint Mark Sanctuary Choir. The music contained in The Saint Mark Experience is a testament to her musical acumen and legacy.
The Saint Mark Experience sets the stage for an extraordinary worship encounter with a mash up of classic church service opening tunes with their “Give Him the Glory” and “He’s God/True Praise” medleys seamlessly arranged by the choir’s leader, Darius Nelson. The project then moves to more original fare with the album’s lead single “He’ll Answer Prayer” penned by Nelson and Roosevelt Harris. With a recognizable feel that remains true to their Baptist roots, don’t be surprised if your shoulders start to rock or your feet start to tap involuntarily each time you hear it.
Next, The Saint Mark Experience returns with the familiar refrain of the ever-relevant James Cleveland anthem “God Is” following a moving testimony from Pastor Al Romes. In keeping with the project’s authentic church experience theme, “Pray for Me” offers a modern interpretation of sounds reminiscent of the civil rights era. The musical journey continues as the choir takes you back to church with the well-known hymns “Just A Little Talk with Jesus” and “You Brought Me from A Mighty Long Way” with a special Saint Mark twist. The former features Mother Mary Rodger, lovingly known as ‘Mama G’ who at 80 years young continues to sing with indisputable power and conviction.
“What He’s Done for Me” highlights the choir’s versatility with its pairing of contemporary vocal styling and traditional musical arrangements while “He’s Never Failed Me Yet” showcases the show-stopping vocal performance style that caused them to take home their multiple awards. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, the opening line grabs every listener’s attention instantly. “It just feels like church!” says Nelson of the song. Next up is the worshipful “All Things,” led by powerhouse vocalist Donisha Ballard, that reminds us that we can do anything with God’s help. Ballard, usually known for driving up-tempo songs showed refreshing versatility in what was a highlight of the recording. After that, The Saint Mark Experience revisits the Thomas Whitfield classic “Soon as I Get Home (I Shall Wear A Crown)” with fresh melodic drama that gives the song renewed depth. The inspiration continues to flow with the powerful and appropriately titled choir ballads “Be Encouraged” and “You Shall Reap.” “Be Encouraged” features the effortless soprano of Zetoria Curry who hits soaring notes only reserved for the most elite voices. The Saint Mark Sanctuary Choir then turns up the heat with the punchy “There’s a Praise” that will have you singing and swaying the entire song.
With choir director Darius Nelson - known for his savvy ability to masterfully blend a variety of songs and sounds - medleys are a natural mainstay in The Saint Mark Experience repertoire and the anthemic “I Must Tell Jesus/Rocks” medley doesn’t disappoint. Also apparent on the track is Nelson’s dexterity as a director and singer. Darius showcases an effortless and sultry tenor with a refinement not common in gospel choir recordings.
The Saint Mark Experience draws to a close with the congregational “This Praise” followed by “The Apology,” a musical serenade where Darius was honored to sing with his children Devhan and Daria Nelson that beautifully reminds us all of God’s unconditional love. The chorus of “The Apology” also sparked the viral sensation #TheApologyChallenge where fans all across the country posted videos singing it on social media.
Whether you’re looking for music to teach your church choir or a music lover looking to take the sound of church home with you, The Saint Mark Experience has you covered.
Written by Torrence Glenn