Church choirs bring A-game to competition

Eight church choirs from the Atlanta region will compete Saturday in Verizon's "How Sweet the Sound" for bragging rights to be named the best in the region, which includes any city within a three-hour drive of Atlanta.

One of the churches competing in the small- and mid-sized category is All Nations Life and Praise Cathedral in Stockbridge.

"My message to other choirs is to put God first and let's compete in the spirit of fun," said the Rev. Keith Brooks. "We're all trying to glorify God. May the best man win."

This is the first time the choir has entered the contest, which was first held in Nashville in 2007 and has since expanded to 14 cities.

Brooks said the choir wanted to participate last year, but he nixed the idea. After all, music is serious business in many southern churches.

"I really didn't feel they were ready and I'm just the type of person that if I do something, I want to win," he said. "This year their skills, spirit and attitudes are right."

Atlanta has participated since 2008 and last year walked away with the top honor. Atlanta West Pentecostal Church in Lithia Springs won up to $50,000 in cash and prizes, which the choir said it planned to use to record a CD.

The goal of the competition is to celebrate gospel music, the choirs and the hard work they've put into their craft.

The national finale will be held Nov. 13 in Washington, D.C. Fourteen choirs will participate in the national final.

James Nelson, associate director for Verizon customer service operations, said the  program is more than just a singing competition.

"It's an opportunity to really celebrate the unique way music connects people," he said.

The event at Philips Arena will be co-hosted by gospel artists CeCe Winans and Donald Lawrence. It will include performances by Marvin Sapp, Israel Houghton and Tamela Mann, who also will be judging the regional competition.

The judges reviewed all of the audition tapes submitted by church choirs around the city and -- along with online fan votes -- helped select the eight area choirs who will take part in the Atlanta regional. The winner will receive up to $16,000 in cash and prizes plus the opportunity to represent their cities in the grand finale.

Reginal Jefferson, minister of music for the 75-member Woods Memorial Inspirational Chorus in College Park, can't wait.

"I think this is a chance for church choirs to be in the spotlight," he said. "They've shown they have the same abilities as recording choirs. You've got to bring your best gifts. You have to bring it to the table for this competition."

Jefferson said he's told the choir that, although this is a contest, "I want to keep the focus on the ministry instead of the competition."

And remember those kind words from Brooks of All Nations Life and Praise?

Even the good reverend can't help but fire one last humorous salvo: "We've already won."

Verizon "How Sweet the Sound"

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2. Philips Arena. Floor seats at each regional show are $7, and lower- and upper-tier seats are available for $5. For information and tickets: www.howsweetthesound.com

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