Gospel in Museum Catharijneconvent – Utrecht

From September 30, Museum Catharijneconvent and singer and co-curator Shirma Rouse present the Gospel exhibition. Musical journey of strength and hope. The museum and the most famous Dutch gospel singer take you on a journey through the history and current importance of one of the most influential music movements since its origins in the past of slavery. Immerse yourself in the understated history of a music genre and lifestyle, and discover the important roles of artists such as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and The Edwin Hawkins Singers. Personal contributions include Typhoon, Denise Jannah and Gershwin Bonevacia. In addition to the exhibition, the museum and Shirma will present dazzling live performances in collaboration with TivoliVredenburg and Gospelfestival Amsterdam. Gospel. Musical Journey of Strength and Hope runs from September 30, 2022 to April 10, 2023.

Gospel: the exhibition
The exhibition takes the visitor into gospel music, lifestyle and message. Special historical video and audio clips, interviews and concerts of the era’s most iconic gospel artists are shown alongside impressive objects such as the so-called Slave Bible, a toga worn by Martin Luther King and one of the first Hammond organs. World-renowned songs such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and How I Got Over not only make the history and power behind African-American gospel tangible, but also how this music was and is received in the Netherlands.

Travel with Shirma Rouse
Singer Shirma Rouse is co-curator of Gospel. Together with Rianneke van der Houwen, curator of Dutch Protestantism, she devised and elaborated the story for the exhibition. In his career, Shirma has worked with artists such as Chaka Khan, Alain Clark, Henny Vrienten and Anouk. The gospel is in her blood. She has been singing gospel since her earliest childhood, when she was taken to church by her hammond organ-playing grandmother. As an ambassador for gospel in the Netherlands, she will be involved as a coach in the EO TV program Amazing Grace in 2022. From September 24, she will be in Dutch theaters with her Hoop & Liefde tour.

Live music, lectures and films
In collaboration with Gospel Festival Amsterdam, TivoliVredenburg, Kwaku Festival and Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, the museum presents dazzling live concerts during the exhibition. On October 9, Shirma Rouse kicks off the series in TivoliVredenburg with an intimate gospel concert. In connection with Martin Luther Kingday, a Martin Luther Kingday special will take place in both Utrecht and Amsterdam with the American conductor, pianist, composer and singer Damien Sneed. Together with the Utrecht film theater Louis Hartlooper Complex, the museum is putting together a film program about gospel. Amazing Grace, the concert film from Aretha Franklin’s 1972 album of the same name, will premiere on October 14. The museum also offers an extensive lecture program with music connoisseur Leo Blokhuis, hammond organ expert Carlo de Wijs, gospel conductor and singer Leo Davelaar and Harcourt Klinefelter, former press spokesman for Martin Luther King.

Ancient history
Museum Catharijneconvent shows the origins of gospel in the church of the African-American community and the influence of the music genre on popular culture. Although gospel as we know it today originated in the first half of the twentieth century, the songs are much older. In the Gospel exhibition, the visitor travels, among other things, to the past of slavery, to the cradle of the Gospel: spirituals. Born on the plantations of the southern United States among enslaved Africans and their descendants, these songs testify to strength and hope. Later, in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the songs are used as a powerful non-violent tool in the fight for equal rights. Globally, gospel is associated with the liberation and hope of the black population in America. Gospel has also been the cradle of almost every popular music movement since the 1950s, from rock ‘n roll to soul and from pop to R&B and hip hop. Everyone’s favorite music has been influenced by it, whether it’s Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Simon & Garfunkel or Whitney Houston.

Gospel in the Netherlands
Gospel is also alive in the Netherlands, both in churches and in popular culture. This is evident from
attention to gospel on television, such as in the musical television program
Amazing Grace. But also consider established artists such as Giovanca Ostiana, Berget Lewis, Elvis E. and Dwight Dissels, who can be heard on TV shows and on concert stages. In addition, Holland has many gospel choirs. Daily and especially on Sundays, the gospel is heard in many churches and outside. A new video installation by Emma Lesuis shows gospel in the Netherlands in all its diversity.

Gospel. Musical journey of strength and hope was created in collaboration with numerous
collaborators and advisers, churches, choirs, artists and a sounding board group. Without the efforts of this large group of people, the museum would not have been able to realize this exhibition. Cooperation with Samen Kerk in Nederland (SKIN), the national umbrella organization for international denominations and migrant churches in the Netherlands, was indispensable. The Netherlands has around one million Christians with a migration background. Much of this has its roots in the ‘transatlantic’ triangle of Suriname, the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the African west coast. The message of struggle, hope and liberation in gospel music remains relevant to these communities. Priests and musicians from these churches have therefore been involved in the development of the exhibition from the start.

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