Cultivating an appreciation for the art of gospel music has always been the top priority for Los Medanos College's annual "Gospel Celebration Day," but for the event's organizer, the byproduct is keeping students interested in college. Professor Sylvester Henderson has found that by teaching a gospel music course and building a reputation for the annual gospel celebration, students who wouldn't normally get active in college are now finding a reason to continue to shine.
"The one analogy I keep thinking of is football. Some students go to college just to play," Henderson said. "That is what is happening with the Gospel Choir. Our inner city and majority students are participating and finding an interest in being in college."
Over the years Henderson's dedication to the Gospel Celebration Day, which this year takes place on May 5, has earned him a reputation of giving students a chance to show their talents as well as work with some big-name gospel performers.
"The Los Medanos College Gospel Choir has earned a reputation as the finest community college gospel choir in the state of California," Henderson said.
Henderson said he could back that up with testimonial after testimonial from former students who have come from all walks of life and made their way into bright futures.
One of Henderson's former LMC students, Raymond Campbell, said that going through the choral program at the age of 19 made a direct impact on his life.
At that time in his life, Campbell said he suffered from a lack of discipline and direction.
"I was drawn by his precise professionalism and his obvious passion for teaching and music," he said. "But what has really made a profound impact in my life is that Professor Henderson took an active interest in who I was as a person. As a young man, his sacrificial mentorship was a primary reason I went on to finish both the music and liberal arts programs at Los Medanos College."
Today Campbell is the owner of his own construction company and the executive pastor at Living Springs Church.
This year the Gospel Celebration's special guest performer is singer and bass guitarist Chris Walker. Walker is the music director for the popular jazz artist Al Jarreau. As a performer in his own right, Walker has two albums of his own, which include two top-five singles "Giving You All My Love" and "Take Time." The first album, "First Time," crossed over to become a top 30 on the pop charts.
He has also worked with many other jazz artists, including Regina Belle, when she was in the height of her career.
To help celebrate Cinco de Mayo weekend, Henderson has also invited gospel salsa singer Luis Acosta. Acosta has grown to love Christian music, also known as Music Sacra Salsa.
"The lyrics of Christian music have a deep profound message that almost all who listen, can identify," Acosta said. Henderson said that also on tap for the evening will be the LMC's Gospel Choral. Local guests artists will include background vocalist for Stephanie Mills, Rusty Watson, Praise Fellowship Bible Church and the Praise Ensemble, David Jackson and Associates, Donnell Garrett and Angelo Luster.
What: Gospel Celebration Day
When: 7 p.m. May 5
Where: Los Medanos College, 2700 E. Leland Road, Pittsburg
Cost: $15 in advance and $17 at the door; no parking fee on weekends Info: 925-439-2181 ext. 3249