It’s been too long since I’ve posted on this blog. Why? Out of town, not connected to the internet, working, not home… But, I’m back. I’ve been trying to process how to tell about the event at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philly last week. Everyone I’ve spoken to who was there is saying the same thing, just, wow. You know when you’ve experienced something and you tell folks, “you just had to be there” well, it’s kinda like that.
I was invited by an organization called WOMAN PREACH to speak at their event. I eagerly accepted. This was my second event with WOMAN PREACH and my second time in Philadelphia. And what a beautiful city. Actually the first event was not in Philly but in Lancaster which is an hour away by train. Anyway. I knew from the last time I was there that I would get back there as often as I could. I was so thankful to get the invitation to return.
The event was a fundraiser for WOMAN PREACH and the scheduled performers were: Valerie Bridgeman (a storyteller, poet, one of the organizers of the organization and my aunt. I say that proudly.) Kirk Whalum (a jazz saxophonist) and me (poet). Those were the “scheduled” performers but as Life, Love and Spirit would have it, the extra was added like gravy. Gospel soloist and pianist John Stoddart accompanied Kirk and Doc Gibs (jazz musician and friend of Kirk and also resident of Philly) also jammed with them / us.
I was excited about seeing Kirk Whalum live. I have heard much of his music and seeing him in an intimate setting such as a church I knew was going to be my blessing. I flew in on Tuesday morning. Rev. Charisse Tucker and Ms. Lauriline picked me up from the airport and took me to the hotel. Everything was already taken care of and my check in was easy. I like easy. I also like hotels. I had an upset stomach on the plane ride and so I took some medication and slept, like a rock. I’m a sucker for a Law and Order marathon and so that was what I did Tuesday night.
The next morning I woke up still feeling queasy and stayed in bed until 10am. I got up and prayed, read, took a walk around the hotel and came back to the room and prayed I wouldn’t be ill during sound check at 3. I wasn’t. I was fine. God is good. All the time. I walked into the church and Kirk was already on stage for sound check. Let me back up here and tell you that St. Paul’s Baptist Church is an amazing building. I’m from California where buildings are fairly new. I’m always taken aback when I see the old architecture and sculptures in buildings that go back like a hundred years or so. The streets of Pennsylvania are filled with buildings made of old old brick. As an artist, photographer, poet and lover of nature, I couldn’t take enough pictures of the old trees next to the historical buildings.
But back to the gig. I met the musicians and Kirk and John were comfortably humble, kind, incredibly talented and a joy to be around and to meet. I talked briefly with Pastor Callahan in her office. We hugged, and were blessed by each others presence. I have missed her since I left PA months ago. This woman, this amazing Spirit filled woman. This young, energetic, intelligent woman. Breathe. Breathe. Just seems to bring peace, intelligence and understanding wherever she is. I felt it all in the hug. I went back into the sanctuary and sat in the audience while Kirk was finishing up. Then it happened. The it for me that defined the trip. John Stoddart sang. Remember it was sound check so there was no one in the audience except me, Kirk’s manager the sound guys, Rev. Charisse Tucker (another awesome woman I am honored to call friend) and Pastor Callahan. Wait, I don’t think Rev. Tucker was in there. Anyway, to me, the only beings in the room were God and me. John sang. He is a very well known singer and pianist but I don’t know many folks so charge it to my ignorance that I didn’t know who he was before. But when he opened his mouth and God came out, I knew him. I don’t remember the name of the song but over and over he sang “God is just that good.” I promise you an angel is singing through him. I promise you a human beings voice is not that pure. Does not touch you like that. Everything in me that could have been ailing I had no memory of. I had no desire to plan my set or rehearse anything. The only thing to do in that moment was be in that moment. I promise you.
I told John that I needed him to sing that song at least three times during the show. He laughed lightly and smiled and I think he thought I was playing, but no. I wasn’t. After sound check we went to have lunch/dinner. So there was Valerie, Thomas (another singer who blessed us greatly, quietly in the background like the best breeze I have ever felt), Kirk’s manager (who was kind and wonderful and whose name deserves to be mentioned here but, I can’t recall right now), Kirk, Lauriline (the woman who picked us up from the airport), John and me. I just noticed that we literally sat around the table in that order. See, I’m trying to give it to you as it happened.
The waiter came to the table and Kirk began to speak to him in French. As Kirk and the waiter engaged in conversation all of us at the table were present to that this was a real French conversation, not Kirk’s version of French 101. Go ‘head, Kirk! We ate, shared stories about our families and friends, the educational system, I was impressed and interested in John’s stories about him and his wife home schooling their children. We talked about diet, nutrition, getting older and God. There is always God.
As time does, it slipped away fast. None of us were dressed, show time was very near, the audience was ready, and all of the artists were still at the restaurant. Of course. I took the quick shots that I could take at the restaurant and got in the car with Valerie. Dr. Val.
We changed clothes and the show was on. Valerie introduced Kirk and John and they came on and made magic happen, with piano, with sax. Kirk brought on Doc and he got on the percussions and, well, let me just say, they showed out. According to the program I was to go on after them and I kept thinking about how good it was going to feel walking up on that stage when John finished singing that song. THAT song. Now, I didn’t think that he would do me the favor of doing it three times but to hear it once like I heard it at sound check was going to be blessing enough. I was in the moment. I love watching musicians. I watched John’s fingers skate across the keys while his head danced around in the sky and he smiled as if he and God had their own inside thing going on. Doc was on the drums with the most peaceful face and body language while makin’ all that rhythm. My eyes couldn’t help but to keep going back to Kirk on stage. He moved around with that sax as if he was in the band at Grambling State. I got on stage and joked about him doing the “stanky leg” with the sax. I hope it wasn’t out of line, but hey, he did it, not me.
Well the next thing I knew, Val was introducing me. And I sat there, lips poked out and arms folded because I didn’t get my song. How did they not sing it? As she finished my introduction she said that the musicians would be back. Ahhhh, I thought, they are saving it for the finale. Good move.
I got up and felt the love. From the audience, the preachers, the musicians, from God. There is always God. I read and recited poems, told stories. I laughed, I shared, I was hoarse and crazy. I am a poet, crazy comes easy.
The energy was still flowing and Pastor Callahan came up and introduced Valerie and I snuggled into my seat for the ride. Valerie is such a storyteller. If you are not careful you will go on one of her rides and fall right off the track. She will surprise you like that. That’s what happened to me the last time we performed together. I was more prepared this time. I held on. And she floored me again. She is a painter of words.
She called me and Thomas onto the stage to freestyle with her and we had a ball. Kirk, Doc and John played with us and the audience was right there. Hanging on. We were all in love with each other. There was no time. What time?
Until Valerie was about to end the show and my song had not been sang. Sung? I don’t know. I only know that I didn’t hear it yet. So, I pulled my crazy card and went to Valerie mid closing and said while pointing at John, “John didn’t sing the song yet!” John looked at me like “what song?” And I looked at him like I was somebody’s mama and said, “the sound check song!” Then he and Kirk spoke the inaudible language that musicians speak to each other and there it was. “God is just that good.” Over and over. It spoke to me. It spoke to the audience. It spoke through me. The song was ending and I asked if he would sing a little bit more of it and he did. Spirit called for it. Over and over. He is just that good.
As the show of the show ended we took up donations for WOMAN PREACH and Pastor Callahan left me breathless as she usually does. She said, that this month would be her year anniversary and that there were probably folks who would “love to get me a gift. Please donate what you were going to spend on that, to WOMAN PREACH. If you know a woman preacher, if you are a woman who is a preacher, if you have ever been touched by a woman preacher, if you came along during a time when women were not allowed to be preachers…” Go girl!
We went downstairs and sold product, ate food, laughed, took pictures, exchanged hugs, met new faces, looked into old faces and remembered God is just that good.