It's been 50 years since the late Virlie Mae Payne started the Buffalo Youth and Young Adults Choral Society to give East Side young people something more inspiring to do than hanging out on the street.
Next weekend, more than 200 alumni of her vision will gather at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 701 East Delavan, to sing powerful gospel melodies and celebrate their first half century. They'll be joined by an estimated 300 other singers from choirs outside the city.
About 120 singers dressed in yellow T-shirts proclaiming the theme of the gathering "Walk on By Faith" were gathered in the sanctuary of First Calvary Baptist Church Saturday enduring the late summer heat and running through songs at a rehearsal.
Outside the hall, George Davis, the president of the organization, and Gertrude S. Johnson, the longest-standing member of the choir, explained how the Buffalo Society is one of dozens that sprang up to honor Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey of Chicago, the founder of modern gospel music.
"What we had had before was spiritual music that came from the fields of our forefathers," Davis said. "Gospel came from the churches in the 20th Century."
Davis, who has been blind since birth, met Mrs. Johnson in 1955 when the choir was in need of an organ player. She had been recruited by Mrs. Payne when she was 21. The pair have been singing together ever since.
When the dynamic choir nearby hit a particularly pleasing note while rehearsing "Ain't Nobody Until You Got Jesus," she took his hand and both smiled in appreciation.
By Saturday, two choirs from Detroit along with a Great Lakes Regional Choir, will be performing at 7 p.m. in Mount Olive Baptist Church, a bigger venue where more people can both sing and be heard.
The Youth and Young Adults reunion choir will perform the next day at 4 p.m. and an anniversary banquet will be held afterward at 7 p.m.
"What we have here is a gathering of people from everywhere," Davis said, adding the youngest performer will be 5 and the oldest 86.