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ST. LOUIS — For nearly four hours on a recent Monday night, about 7,000 people, almost all of them African-American, made a joyful noise unto the Lord — singing along with gospel classics, cheering on their favorite choir and praising God.

They were attending the St. Louis regional finals for “How Sweet the Sound: The Search for the Best Church Choir in America.”

The evening was organized by sponsor Verizon Wireless as a straight-forward competition among eight church choirs. But by the end of the night, contestants and audience members alike had participated in a powerful, if heartbreakingly brief, moment of racial harmony.

For generations, African-Americans have stayed in touch with their past through their churches, transforming a distinct style of musical worship from harrowing history into celebration.

“African-Americans have a way of delivering a song with a certain spirit,” said Anita Watkins Stevens, director of music ministries at New Sunny Mount Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis. “For us, it’s not a performance, but the essence of what we are.”

Stevens leads New Sunny Mount’s choir, which came into Monday night’s contest at Scottrade as the defending champion. Last year, its choir won the overall prize and went on to compete in the national finals in Atlanta.

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Article courtesy of: newsobserver.com

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