By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stomping feet and thumping of drums shook the dusty atrium of Lawson Temple Church as five men wailed “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.”
They swayed from side-to-side. Steven Murray, sweat dropping from his brow, stepped forward to solo.
“The music is a soul smoother,” Messengers member Jerry Owens said. He explained slaves would gather in quartets to sing before the Civil War. These quartets sang in churches and “stirred the soul,” Owens said. Today, the Messengers give glory to the Lord by dancing and singing.
“We are preaching through songs,” Owens said. Group members hope their music brings people happiness and peace.
“If someone leaves our concert feeling glad instead of mad, that’s a good thing,” Murray said.
The group will perform at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 902 S. Knoblock St.
The music has special meaning for the members themselves. Arvin Thames said being in the church and singing gospel music has helped calm him and make him more patient.
Owens agreed, “I was falling away and getting into the streets,” but then God called him back into the church and gospel music. “I never will sing in a rock group or anything. All my singing is for God,” he added.
Messengers members cited Ben Harper, B.B. King and local gospel groups as inspiration for their fusion of blues and gospel.
“But ultimately we are inspired by God,” Owens said.
Few of the members have had formal musical training. Most, like Owens, grew up singing in choirs and in church. He was asked to join the Flying Clouds of Cushing, another gospel group. Murray grew up surrounded with music as well. His father was in a a group called the Oklahoma Spiritual Singers.
“There has been a gospel tradition of singing ever since we were kids,” Murray said.
The Messengers started five years ago. The group has gone through name changes, the death of a drummer and members leaving. But they are still going strong, gathering at Lawson Temple to practice Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We have been through some rough times, but we are going to keep singing no matter what,” Owens said.