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Preteen talent show leads to lifelong music ministry

Members of “The Soul Seekers” include, front row from left, Robert Lewis Jr., Gerald Brooks, Bernard Robinson, Avon White and Jessie Howard; second row, Avus Brooks, Tom Crump, Leon Brooks, Cravelyn Williams and Gary Brooks. Not pictured is Keith Johnson.

In 1963 when Avon White was 12 years old, he and some of his friends formed a group to sing in a talent show at their church, First Union Baptist Church in Mechanicsville. The talent show performance was so successful that several of the parents, including Avon’s mother, Mary J. White, and the church pastor, Rev. Dr. B.S. Giles, suggested that the group continue to sing together.

Today, more than 48 years later, that group of preteen boys from the church talent show is still singing together. As “The Soul Seekers” of Mechanicsville, the group sings old-fashioned African-American gospel music in the early 20th century male quartet tradition that originated in Eastern Virginia. A number of persons have sung with The Soul Seekers over the years, but the present group of 11 singers includes four of the original members from the 1963 talent show. In addition to White, they are Leon Brooks, Gerald Brooks and Jesse Howard.

The Soul Seekers will give a concert at Angel Visit Baptist Church, 29566 Tidewater Trail, Dunnsville, on Sunday, July 1, at 3 p.m. Their appearance is part of a celebration dubbed “Hattitude 2012: A Celebration of Our Crowning Glory.” Persons attending the program, men as well as women, are asked to wear their most fabulous hats. There will be a hat parade and competition, and a reception will follow the program.

Over the years, The Soul Seekers have performed all over the United States. They have appeared on television and radio, having been featured on “The Gospel of Music with Jeff Majors” on the TV One network. The Soul Seekers have performed with some of the most renowned names in the field of gospel music, including Tremaine Hawkins, Donnie McClurkin, Shirley Caesar and The Harmonizing Four. Their latest CD is titled, “He’ll Make a Way.” They are presently working on a new CD that is expected to be released before the end of this year.

Avon White said The Soul Seekers are motivated by providing service as well as music to the community. They are driven by the fact that people love good gospel music and that music can strengthen faith, and by the fact that music can motivate people to do meaningful things. Community service has always been a large part of what The Soul Seekers do. They have given scholarships to encourage students who participate in church music ministries, have raised thousands of dollars a year to provide essentials for persons in need, and have conducted numerous voter registration drives.

The Soul Seekers were honored with a “Key to the City” of Richmond by former Mayor Roy West for their work in providing food and toys for the less fortunate. They have partnered with the American Cancer Society and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia to produce the African-American Men’s Health Forum, an event that provides free medical information and screenings for more than 600 men annually.

Rev. Dr. Carla E. Lightfoot, a Sandston native who is pastor of Angel Visit Baptist Church, has fond memories of The Soul Seekers from her childhood. She sang with a choir, “The Heavenly Gospel Singers,” that always invited The Soul Seekers to their anniversary. Dr. Lightfoot said that The Soul Seekers always sang the most moving, soul-stirring gospel songs, and that “you can be sure that whenever The Soul Seekers sing, it is a Holy Ghost-filled time!”

Persons who wish to participate in the Hattitude hat competition should arrive at Angel Visit by 2:45 p.m. to be in place for the hat parade. For further information, call Patricia Holmes at 804-443-9390.

posted 06.27.2012

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