Unlikely San Rafael gospel choir sings from the soul

A black gospel choir, in existence for almost forty years, is raising consciousness at the same time it raises eyebrows.

"It's real, it's legitimate gospel music," Ulis Redic told KTVU.

Redic is the Director of the Lighthouse Singers Gospel Choir based in Marin. He is African American.

Most of his choir members are not.

"They sound like black people, and so every time they get up in front of a crowd people are just amazed and want to know 'how are they doing that?,'" smiled Redic.

It's not mimicry, he explains. Mastery of gospel music requires practice, discipline, and deep appreciation for its spirituality.   

"It's soul music and it just feeds the soul," observed singer Scott Meltzer of San Rafael.

"People feel that and can identify with that."

Meltzer was one of the first to join, shortly after the choir was launched in 1979 by the late music professor Helen Stephens, who taught gospel at Dominican College and College of Marin.    

He says Stephens had to persuade black churches to give the group a listen.

"She'd say 'give them a chance, if they're not any good, fine, but give them a chance,' he recalled, "and after that word got out and it was smooth sailing."

Friday evening, the forty member choir was rehearsing its annual holiday show which will be held this Sunday Dec 4, at 7 pm at the First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael.

"There's something that falls away when people sing together, " enthused member Taylor Ray, who joined the choir two years ago.

She has noticed how individual personalities, and differences between people fall away with the power of the music.

She delights in how the predominantly Caucasian group still encounters skepticism. 

"We show up, and people look at us and say 'what are you doing here?' and then we sing," Ray told KTVU.

"And then they say 'Oh, that's what you're doing here! It's a beautiful way to commune with people."

Gospel's themes touch on experiences universal to all people.

"It's about your sorrow and feeling lost, and not having things go your way. And it's about being blessed and being grateful. All the essential ingredients of being human," observed Ray.

Choir director Redic believes there's never been a better time for what his group  represents.

"There's a lot of division going on in our country right now," he noted, "and we can live together, like we have all these years, but we can do it all the better if we tap into this thing called love."

The music is color-blind, the vocalists say, and they hope to be a genuine lighthouse, a beacon for racial harmony.