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Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wilson, Center Director

The Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience is a one-of-a-kind North American institute that provides training in the sacred music of the Black church and beyond to musicians and worship leaders for the enrichment of congregational worship in diverse contexts.

About the Center

There is a rich history of musical tradition(s) and an exploding excitement in contemporary expressions of music and worship informed by the Black experience and perspective. This legacy, a gift to the church and to the world, is sadly now in jeopardy.  Many programs that have historically stood as the vanguard for the training of musicians (vocal and instrumental), worship leaders, choral directors, pastors, audio/visual personnel, and others, like that at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, have closed. With these closures, the Black churches have lost its primary place of spiritual formation and transformation for their communities and lose its fervor and transformative edge in corporate worship. Many African American churches now find themselves being served by gifted persons who have not had access to opportunities for sharpening their particular skills for the roles listed above. Also, many churches are fiscally unable to offer sufficient salaries and/or benefits for full-time staff persons who hold degrees in these areas. This means that, all too often, these important positions are filled by part-time untrained leaders who hold jobs in other fields and who do not have the resources or time to consider seminary training in a degree program. Yet, these persons are seeking training opportunities that provide the tools needed to strengthen their gifts and talents.

The purpose of the Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience is two-fold:

  1. to provide training in sacred music of the Black church and beyond to music and worship leaders to enrich congregational worship
  2. to create an archive of music and scholarship that will preserve and promote the rich history of Black church music

The vision for the Center extends beyond offering theoretical approaches to vital worship. This Center encourages contextual, prophetic worship and song. Through fundamental and advanced course offerings, the Center aspires to restore and revitalize the ethos and pathos of corporate music and worship in communities beyond the walls of Garrett-Evangelical. In partnership with the Center for the Church and the Black Experience, an academic initiative at Garrett-Evangelical focusing on church life as experienced by Black people, as well as United Methodist Discipleship Resources: Strengthening the Black Church for the Twenty-First Century (SBC-21), the Center seeks to recover the distinctive musical and liturgical heritage of the Black churches, recreate and revitalize that musical and liturgical heritage, and strengthen the skills of music and worship leaders in the Black churches. 

Meet the Director

Rev. Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson

Rev. Dr. Cynthia A Wilson serves as director of the Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience. Wilson, ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church, holds a doctor of philosophy in liturgical studies from Garrett-Evangelical, as well as a bachelor of arts in music education from Dillard University and a master of sacred music degree from Perkins School of Theology.

This extraordinary “enlivener of song” performs everything from Handel to Mahalia, and from Bach to Boogie. Wilson has toured Europe, including several festivals of music and recording concerts in Argentina, Brazil, Copenhagen, Denmark, a Spirit-filled concert for the World Council of Churches in Brighton, England, and a memorable fund raising tour in Seoul, Korea sponsored by Africa University (Zimbabwe).  Notably, she has also shared the stage with dynamic leaders and artists such as Richard Smallwood, Edwin Hawkins (“Oh Happy Day”), Senator Hillary Clinton, Nancy Wilson, Patti LaBelle, Shirley Caesar, Donald Lawrence, Cissy Houston, the legendary Lionel Hampton, and the late Rev. James Cleveland. While serving on the faculty at Fort Worth Conservatory of Performing Arts, she taught and mentored the dynamic Mr. Kirk Franklin in 1987, and in Detroit, Michigan mentored the award winning contemporary gospel artist, Minister Byron Cage.

Two particular events stand as special highlights in her ministry journey: a benefit concert for Africa University at Carnegie Hall in New York City sponsored by the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and hosted by the late Ossie Davis; guest soloist for the World Methodist Council at Washington Cathedral.

Wilson’s extensive discography includes ministry with Donald Vails and the Choraleers (Detroit, Michigan). As one of the lead soloist, her profound solo interpretation of “With A Made Up Mind”, which she co-wrote, helped win the world famous gospel choir a Grammy nomination. Her most recent collaborative project is a documentary Reflect, Reclaim, Rejoice: Preserving the Gift of Black Sacred Music, produced by the United Methodist Church. The project received an Emmy Award on January 31, 2015.

Meet the Faculty

Faculty and Advisory Board Members

Rev. Dr. William B. McClain (Chair of the Board), a United Methodist pastor, Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C

Dr. Kathleen Turner (Co-Chair), world renowned choreographer (NY, Broadway) and Sacred Movement expert who is Founder and former Director of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral (New York)

Dr. Ruth C. Duck (Board Secretary), Professor Emeritus of Worship, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Minister Monya Logan, organist, pianist, arranger, producer, Minister of Music at St. Luke Community UMC in Dallas, TX and graduate of Oberlin College

Dr. Kim Harris, Singer/Songwriter, Composer of “Welcome Table: A Mass of Spirituals “ with texts from newly revised Third Edition of the Roman Missal and published in the current Catholic Hymnal by GIA

Professor Mark Miller, former Music Associate and Assistant Organist of The Riverside Church (NY). Currently serves on faculties of Drew Theological School and the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University where he teaches music and worship. He also is Director of the Gospel and Youth Choirs at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City

Dr. Charles Cosgrove, Professor of Early Christian Literature at Garrett-Evangelical, professional jazz trombonist and recording artist

Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, Indiana University whose primary areas of expertise include Music and Religion in the African diaspora; Men's Studies; Gender and Sexuality; Identity; Music Industry; Popular Music; Voice studies

Rev. Julian "J.Kwest" De Shazier, 2007 Hip Hop Award winner and featured artist on the Grammy nominated compilation Holy Hip Hop: Taking the Gospel to the Streets. Rev. DeShazier is the senior minister of University Church, a United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ congregation in Chicago

Guest Faculty

Dr. Melva Wilson Costen, Professor Emeritus of Liturgical Studies, The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA

Dr. Robert A. Harris, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music and Director of Music and Choirmaster at the Winnetka Congregational Church in Winnetka, IL

Rev. Mark Dennis, CEO and President of the YMCA in Evanston, IL

Our Partners