Spirituals, field hollers and freedom songs

‘Lift up your voices and sing,” Linda Tillery proclaims in her rendition of the traditional spiritual Lift Ev’ry Voice.

‘Lift up your voices and sing,” Linda Tillery proclaims in her rendition of the traditional spiritual Lift Ev’ry Voice.

Tillery and the five-member Cultural Heritage Choir take their audiences on a journey deep into African-American musical history.

And the San Francisco-based group will bring its hand-clapping, foot-stomping show to the Yukon Arts Centre stage on Saturday.

With its lilting percussion and soulful rifts, the group’s music is riveting, but carries the weight of a long history of effort to overcome oppression.

“It’s this music, particularly the spirituals, which has kept black people alive through slavery, night riders and segregation,” says Tillery on the group’s website.

“This is the music that has been used as a support for just about every political movement in this country.

“People take spirituals, reword them and march together in the name of freedom and justice.”

Tillery began researching the roots of African-American music while singing in the play Letters From A New England Negro, in 1992.

She began poring over documentary recordings and exploring the history of the sacred songs.

And it didn’t take her long to give the past a voice.

She brought together singers and musicians with myriad talents and backgrounds to form the five-member Cultural Heritage Choir.

The group’s sound is born from its members’ combined talents.

Vocalist Rhonda Benin contributes a soulful tone and a background in jazz music. Elouise Burrell adds her experience in world music.

Percussionist Simon Monserrat keeps the beat.

Singer Melanie DeMore, who has sung backup for alternative rockers and provided the voices for recorded children stories, adds skills honed through her eclectic career to the mix.

And Tillery, who has 30 years in music to her credit and a voice that critics have compared to Aretha Franklin.

She has lent her pipes to a breadth of styles, from the traditional spirituals to modern pieces composed by musicians like Bobby McFerrin (famous for the ‘80s hit Don’t Worry Be Happy) and Eric Bibb.

Tillery has four CDs on her CV, three with the Cultural Heritage Choir. Twice she has been named outstanding female vocalist at San Francisco’s Bay Area Jazz Awards.

The group has graced stages along the West Coast of the US and Canada.

Tickets to Saturday’s spiritual show run $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors.