Choir director takes seed of an idea and helps soup kitchen patrons, volunteers to find their voice

DETROIT — The Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir casts its musical net all over Metro Detroit.

A very busy group directed by Cynthia Lockhart, the choir will provide vocal entertainment and uplifting spiritual harmony at dozens of events this year, including health fairs, interfaith events, prayer services and fundraisers to support its namesake soup kitchen in Detroit.

But the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir hasn’t always been so popular and recognizable.

Twelve years ago, Lockhart saw a spiritual need, and a way to address it through music.

“I saw individuals, people who were not being nurtured, people suffering from low self-esteem. And I saw an opportunity. So I interviewed the ‘down and outs’ around me (in the Capuchin Soup Kitchen) and I asked them, ‘Can you sing? Do you want to sing?’” Lockhart said.

Lockhart’s outreach to patrons, volunteers and supporters of the soup kitchen was just the start of a decade-long journey that’s changed lives and mended hearts.

The choir doesn’t have “tryouts,” but anyone who is moved by the spirit is allowed to join.

“You see? Because I was thinking ‘compassion,’” Lockhart said, “unconditionally embracing people and loving them with heart and mind.”

The Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir includes singers who have been helped by the services of the soup kitchen, local shelters and ministries, all of whom are grateful for the chance to express their musical talents.

“Some people from the shelters said yes; I got some people from the street;” Lockhart said. “Most have a background of addiction. We started singing once a month at convalescent homes.”

As the choir was forming 12 years ago, seven of its original members decided to start a group called “Babes for Christ.”

“We were, all of us, just starting to serve the Lord in a musical ministry,” Lockhart said. “We had all been broken, and we wanted to be part of something; so we were ‘babes’ in the aspect of where we were in that journey.”

The choir sings “a lot of modern music, Motown and R & B; sometimes straight gospel, especially at the nursing home,” Lockhart said. “‘Oh Happy Day’ by Aretha (Franklin) is real popular. Anything that makes us feel good spiritually.”

“The majority attend church and are highly inclined with the Holy Spirit, and enjoy giving back the love and nurturing,” Lockhart said. “I call it a ‘lifting up’ choir. You can’t tell them they’re not special; when they perform they feel like they’re Motown.”

There are 27 members of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir today. In addition to benefit concerts, the choir can be found performing for patrons of the soup kitchen during special holidays and events such as Christmas, Easter, Black History Month or Thanksgiving.  

“The majority attend church and are highly inclined with the Holy Spirit, and enjoy giving back the love and nurturing,” Lockhart said. “I call it a ‘lifting up’ choir. You can’t tell them they’re not special; when they perform they feel like they’re Motown.”

Lockhart credits her mother, who used to take her children to convalescent homes in the South to “show people who didn’t have people to care for them they’re worthwhile, by singing to them.”

Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir member Prince Ella Moore says the choir “helps me a lot.”

In addition to learning about the ins and outs of music, Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir members also develop relationships with one another through rehearsals, performances and social outings.

“We can pray together and sing and talk to other members in the choir. I like rehearsal because it’s fun to learn bringing it (music volume) up, bringing it down, singing it loud and soft, and come out with a clean heart,” Moore said. “It’s part of my life now. It feels good when I can sing to the Lord.”

The choir has three leaders who put choir members through their musical paces at Monday night rehearsals: Victoria Vaughan, the minister of music; Eric Taylor, voice coach; and Edde Moore, pianist, are professional musicians and/or music teachers who donate their time, and are concerned with “making us more professional, and training us how to sing as a team,” according to Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir member Elder Mary Jones. Bro. Anthony Kote-Witah, OFM Cap., keeps the beat on percussion.

Bro. Anthony  Kote-Witah, OFM Cap., drums along with the beat during a performance of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir.

“Elder” Mary Jones (the honorarium is informal) is 67 years old, and has sung in the choir since 2011. Also known as Mama, Miss Mary, and Miss Jones, she says the choir directors “teach wonderful songs that uplift not just the audience, but us, too.”

She recounts how Taylor “holds the hands of audience members, supporting them to stand, and helping and encouraging them to sing, and makes them feel like they’re part of the choir.”

“The songs minister to us,” she emphasized. “They help us with situations we have to deal with. How the audience smiles and reacts inspires, encourages and uplifts us. We do it to help each other. And the visitors and staff, too, at the nursing homes.”

The convalescent home concerts and soup kitchen musical ministry leave choir members with one important lesson: Spiritual music benefits the listener and the performer.

For future events featuring the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Choir, visit cskdetroit.org.


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