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Aga Popęda here, learning about gospel music during Gospel Music Heritage Month.

It was a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, the weekend of the West End Festival in Sand City, when, while walking to my car, I was stopped by great music and great singing that was clearly not coming from any of the festival stages. 

The sound, as it turned out, was coming through the windows of the Hays Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Seaside (Sand City was closed for parking, hence my car was in Seaside). This perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack made me think again about the phenomenon of gospel music and its ability to provide spiritual experiences, even to non-religious people. 

This is exactly how Seaside-born and raised John L. Nash, Jr. sees this powerful tradition. As the founder and director of the Monterey Peninsula Gospel Community Church, Nash travels for work a lot. But he comes back to Monterey every year, bringing friends along to celebrate September as Gospel Music Heritage Month with an annual concert. This year's edition will take place from 5-6:30pm on Sunday, Sept. 26 at the Greater Victory Temple in Seaside.

Nash Jr. describes it as “highly energized gospel presented by stellar singers and Grammy Award-winning musicians.” The show features: Derrick Hall as songwriter and producer, Robyn Hodge-Williams & Co., Matthew Levy, Alfreda Lyons Campbell, Luis Lenzi on sax, Antoine Cameron on keyboards, Jordan Garnett on drums and Calvin Brown on bass. 

Obsessed with gospel since he was 9 years old and being raised in Greater Victory Temple Church where his mother sang in the choir, Nash wants to expose community audiences to the diverse cultures of gospel music. The genre was essentially created and popularized by Thomas Dorsey in Atlanta. Dorsey wrote the core of today’s gospel classics, created standards and was also the main educator within the genre. 

In 1933, the National Convention of Gospel Choirs was chartered. This organization still exists today and assists churches with funding their gospel choirs. Dorsey remained the president of the organization for 40 years.

The genre has moved and inspired artists as far-ranging as Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and Beyonce, all of whom have performed the gospel classic “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” which was written by Dorsey. (Listen to the Aretha version here.) The song was one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorites; and he mentioned its title the day he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.

While Nash keeps moving around—from Washington D.C. to Houston, Texas—he keeps Monterey Peninsula Gospel Community Church going with donations and grants. The annual concert and meeting with friends is a treat for the community.

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