Gospel music stirs crowd at Philips Arena on Friday night

He left that job to man, and man repaid the Almighty by bringing a bit of heaven here to earth.

Angelic voices were in full array Friday night in downtown Atlanta, and a packed Philips Arena joined in as eight of the best choirs in Georgia competed for a regional championship and chance to go to the national sing-off in November.

It was the second year Verizon Wireless brought the How Sweet the Sound competition to the city. Atlanta has a long and strong history of producing great gospel musicians, and the judges expected to hear evidence of that when they arrived.

“They say Atlanta is one of the best church-choir cities in the nation,” said judge and gospel star Kurt Carr.

Emcee Donald Lawrence, another award-winning gospel singer and director, said “Atlanta always has good groups, and I just expect people in the south are going to sing!”

The choirs did not disappoint.

The crowd rose often to its feet, waving hands, joining in and cheering on strong soloists or stirring flights of song.

“I came to be lifted,” said Denise Stevens of Douglasville.

Her neighbor Tiffany Henderson said, “If you don’t know who the Holy Spirit is, you will by the end of the night.”

One of last year’s national finalists, the Atlanta West Pentecostal Church choir from Lithia Springs, returned this year and brought not only the crowd, but the three judges to their feet. For their efforts, they won $5,000 as the People’s Choice award and $10,000 and a trip to the finals in Detroit as the best large choir from the Southeast.

The Voice of Tabernacle choir from Hope Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Atlanta won $10,000 as the best small choir and a trip to Detroit.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.