Monique McKissick was just 4 years old when she started her gospel-singing career in church.
“I actually had to stand on the piano bench, because I was so little,” she recalled. “It was fun, the attention, everybody looking at you. They said, ‘She’s so little. Where did that voice come from?’”
For more than 40 years, McKissick has performed her gospel-singing magic at workshops, conventions and churches in Buffalo, San Diego, Toronto, New Orleans, Montgomery, Ala. – even Germany and places in between. She’s also a songwriter with her own music publishing company.
Now it’s time for the local gospel community to say thank you, as McKissick continues her daily battle with Stage IV colorectal cancer.
The NCamped Ministries group is holding an indoor gospel-fest cancer benefit for McKissick. The All in the Name of Love benefit will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday in True Bethel Baptist Church, on East Ferry Street.
The event includes performances by several Western New York gospel choirs and singers, a baked-goods sale, silent auction, small health fair and appearances by several health and cancer organizations.
Part of the emphasis will be raising awareness about diseases, focusing on the need for early detection of those conditions that especially plague the African-American community.
But perhaps the greatest goal will be to contribute to McKissick’s peace and healing, to lighten her load as she battles a tough disease, said Nicole Campfield, president of NCamped Ministries.
Campfield recalled the beautiful tributes flowing from a packed funeral two years ago for LeVernL. Durham, a local gospel singer and songwriter.
“It was great to see it, but it grieved my spirit,” she said. “He should have seen it when he was alive. I want Monique to see the love and support this community has for her.”
“This is the perfect way to show Monique that we love and appreciate her,” added Tyra James, who’s also with NCamped Ministries.
McKissick has spent much of her career singing with the Gospel Music Workshop of America. One career highlight came when she was chosen as lead singer for a choir of almost 200 women performing before a few thousand people in Cincinnati about 10 years ago.
“It was exhilarating, the looks on their faces,” she said of the crowd. “It was something that was surreal to me.”
A lifelong Buffalonian and McKinley High School graduate, the 45-year-old McKissick is a widow with three grown children. Her late husband, the Rev. Terence A. McKissick, served as pastor of several local churches, where she served as the “First Lady” for those congregations.
McKissick, speaking inside her home in the city’s Bailey-Genesee area, said she’s living day to day, following her 2013 diagnosis. She’s gone through radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. She was declared cancer-free for a few months last year, but her cancer has returned, and she seems at peace with her situation.
“It’s inspiring to know that there’s a higher being that can comfort you when you need to be comforted, that you can talk to any time, that listens to you and that answers prayers,” she said.
And, of course, she relies on her music to raise her spirits. When she’s feeling down sometimes, the music and lyrics of some of her songs will lift her up.
McKissick doesn’t seem to be questioning her fate, in the face of cancer. “I’m determined that, with God’s help, I can beat it,” she said. “If I’m healed here or I’m healed in Heaven, then I’m fine.
“It’s all in God’s hands.”