Marvin Sapp (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
After winning last year’s gospel music competition “How Sweet the Sound,” the members of Apostolic Church Sanctuary Choir in Auburn Hills won a trip to New York City to compete in the finals.
But Hurricane Sandy had other ideas. When the massive storm hit the East Coast one day before the competition was set to begin, the trip was canceled and the finals were shelved.
This year, the Apostolic Church Sanctuary Choir is back — with a vengeance. Well, maybe not a vengeance, but in the politest way possible the 60-member group sure would like to reclaim its spot atop this year’s competition, Sunday at Detroit’s Fox Theatre, and earn a trip to the finals in Los Angeles.
“We would really like to sew it all up, so to speak,” says Apostolic Church Sanctuary Choir director Buffie Dumas.
That’s about as much trash talk as she’ll engage in; in her next breath, she talks about the positivity of the experience and the exposure the competition offers for her church.
“It’s such an incredible night of music that it’s hard not to want to be in the middle of it all,” she says.
“How Sweet the Sound,” which is sponsored by Verizon, is now in its sixth year of traversing the country for its best gospel choirs. This year’s competition launched in New Orleans last week, with stops in Dallas, Baltimore, New York and Chicago leading up to Sunday’s Detroit show. After hitting Atlanta next week, the contest will culminate with next month’s finals in L.A., where winners from each city will compete for a $25,000 grand prize and a chance to record with eOne Music.
Sunday’s event will feature a showdown between six choirs: the Apostolic Church Sanctuary Choir, Flint’s Albert Strickland & Cho’Zen Community Gospel Choir and Detroit’s Carlos Whitlow & Generation Praise, along with groups from Milwaukee, Seattle and Robbinsdale, Minn.
They’ll be judged by a celebrity panel that includes gospel performers Tamela Mann, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, VaShawn Mitchell and Grand Rapids’ Marvin Sapp, and will compete for a prize package that includes $15,000 for the winning choir and $10,000 for the runner-up. Donald Lawrence and Yolanda Adams will co-host the event.
Carlos Whitlow has attended plenty of the “How Sweet the Sound” competitions in previous years, but this is his first year competing in one. As a rookie, he has the ability to shake things up and present a whole new style that’s never been touched and never seen before, he says, and his aim is to take his group all the way to the top.
“I want to showcase my city, to show that Detroit is not dead,” says Whitlow, whose first performance with his Generation Praise choir was in December.
“We’re not on the bottom of the list anymore,” he says. “A lot of people have slept on Detroit these last couple of years, as far as the gospel music industry. I want to revive our city, to put the push out there that Detroit is on the move still, and I’m hoping for the highest win. I’m hoping to go all the way to Los Angeles, and bring it back home to Detroit.”
This year’s event moves from Joe Louis Arena, where it has been held in recent years, to the cozier confines of the Fox, which should increase interactivity with the audience.
“I think the crowd is going to be much more vibrant,” says Whitlow. “I’m looking for that energy from the crowd, and that energy is going to be what makes us go and grow.”
'How Sweet the Sound'
7:30 p.m. Sun., Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward, Detroit
(313) 471-6611, Ticketmaster.com