Originally created 08/06/99

Gospel journey



BEECH ISLAND -- Armed with demo tapes and a couple dozen original gospel songs -- just in case producers and promoters are there -- a community youth choir of teens from all over Aiken County is redefining the term "joyful noise" in Chicago.

The 63-voice choir Total Praise is performing at the four-day national convention of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which expects 12,000 people to attend.

They'll sing this morning at an education breakfast and at midday at a youth luncheon, where their founder and director, 18-year-old Marco Brooks, will receive a $1,000 college scholarship from the organization.

The coalition was founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to "move the nation and the world toward social, racial and economic justice."

Mr. Brooks, who also wrote all 15 songs the choir expects to sing on its first album, is the son of Pete and Tracey Brooks of Beech Island and a 1999 graduate of Silver Bluff High School.

On Saturday, Total Praise will be the guest choir on a Rainbow/PUSH live telecast in the Chicago area. Vice President Al Gore is the featured speaker.

The young director's hope of getting noticed and signed to a recording contract is not unrealistic, said Rainbow/PUSH Deputy Director Axel Adams, a former local prodigy who now works with the Jackson organization. At 22, Mr. Adams was the first black elected to the New Ellenton City Council, serving two four-year terms. He also was New Ellenton's first black police commissioner in 1991 and was mayor pro tem in 1992.

Mr. Adams said Rainbow/PUSH has scores of celebrity members, and many are expected to attend the national convention. Some will perform in the same venues as Total Praise and likely will meet the teen-agers, he said.

"I'm so proud of these young people," he said. "I didn't invite them here just because they're from my hometown, so to speak. They are really, really dynamic singers. I think sometimes of how I got from A to B to C, into a position where I can reach back home and pull others up. These are young people who really deserve that chance."

Most members of the choir -- 45 of them with 15 adult chaperones -- left Beech Island by bus Wednesday night. Others planned to drive to Chicago with their families after playing in a football scrimmage between Silver Bluff and North Augusta.

Mr. Brooks said almost all of the 63 teens who regularly sing with Total Praise were expected to perform.

Adviser Joyce Ray said the choir requires commitment and serious practice time, but its members are faithful.

"They love singing, and when they're singing, they're fine," she said.

Margaret N. O'Shea covers the city of Aiken for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.