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Sonya Blakey

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2018 Gospel Music Festival


The free admission festival’s headliners include: The Canton Spirituals, Israel & New Breed, “Oh Happy Day”: Chicago Choirs Celebrate the Music of Edwin Hawkins, The Walls Group, The Tri-City Singers Reunion and many more

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is pleased to announce the lineup for the 33rd Chicago Gospel Music Festival. The free admission festival happening June 1–2 in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center will include the headliners The Canton Spirituals, Israel & New Breed, “Oh Happy Day”: Chicago Choirs Celebrate the Music of Edwin Hawkins, The Walls Group, The Tri-City Singers Reunion and many more.

Chicago is the birthplace of the urban blues, gospel music, house music and more. In 2018 over three consecutive weekends, DCASE will celebrate the city’s music legacy at the Chicago House Music Festival (May 26), the Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June 1–2) and the Chicago Blues Festival (June 8–10) on stage in Millennium Park, at the Chicago Cultural Center as well as in music venues and clubs throughout the city. Chicago is an arts powerhouse and a global destination for music lovers.

“Gospel music is the inspiration for so many music genres including the blues, soul, R&B, pop and jazz,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “We look forward to celebrating the music started here in Chicago more than eighty years ago and the current scene.”

Featuring local and national artists celebrating the genre’s foundational roots in Chicago, the Gospel Music Festival will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.) from noon to 4 p.m. and in Millennium Park from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, June 1, and continue in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) on Saturday, June 2, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with music beginning at noon.

Millennium Park Performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion

The festival’s opening night in Millennium Park on Friday, June 1, will begin at 5:30 p.m. with Pastor Dan Willis and ChoZen Youth Choir 150!, offering a passionate and energetic performance by the youth choir from The Lighthouse Church.  At 6 p.m., Chicago Church Girls Rock Too featuring Isaleana Elliot, Keshia McFarland and Ev3 will showcase the power of women in Chicago’s gospel music scene.

Traditional gospel music pioneers The Canton Spirituals will bring their award-winning music legacy to the stage at 7:10 p.m. Founded in 1943 in Canton, Mississippi, the quartet has released more than 20 albums between 1978 and 2013. Led by Harvey Watkins, Jr., they have also earned Stellar, Dove, Soul Train and Urban Network awards along the way for their contributions to the genre.

Israel & New Breed will headline the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on Friday at 8:20 p.m., led by Grammy®, Dove and Stellar Award winner Israel Houghton. Having achieved a perfect mix of music and message, their electrifying performance is full of infectious energy. As a singer, songwriter and producer, Isreal Houghton makes music influenced by African, Middle Eastern and South American beats and sounds that cross generational and cultural lines.

The festival continues on Saturday, June 2, beginning at 4:30 p.m. with an award-winning artist that will be announced at a later date. The evening includes gospel music tributes, reunions and legacy performances.

At 5:25 p.m., festival goers will want to sing along as artists come together to celebrate the music of the late Edwin Hawkins, the Grammy® Award-winning singer who passed away earlier this year. Hawkins merged gospel and secular sounds in a career highlighted by the crossover hit “Oh Happy Day” in 1968. The celebration of the song’s 50th anniversary “Oh Happy Day”: Chicago Choirs Celebrate the Music of Edwin Hawkins will feature Anita Wilson, Jonathan Nelson, Beverly Crawford, Ted Winn, Bryan Popin, Rudy Currence and Latice Crawford.

As the City of Chicago highlights the city’s historic music legacy in the house, blues and gospel  genres at three summer festivals, the 6:45 p.m. House and Gospel Music Legacy performance will feature house DJs alongside gospel artists on stage together. This set will bring the audience to their feet and have them dancing in the aisles.

From Houston, Texas, The Walls Group, made up of siblings Darrel, Rhea, Paco and Ahjah, will take the stage at 7:15 p.m. The four young artists are two-time Grammy® Award nominees as well as fifth generation singers from a musical family. Their youthful harmony of contemporary gospel and blend of urban pop comes alive with their charisma and stage presence.

The festival concludes at 8:30 p.m. with a special 25th Anniversary performance by The Tri-City Singers, including award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and director Donald Lawrence. As one of contemporary gospel music’s most successful collaborations, The Tri-City Singers began their journey in 1993. The group’s final 2006 release Finale Act 1 & Act 2, recorded live over two nights at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia, received historic accolades on the gospel music charts, including the number 1 hit, “The Blessing of Abraham.”

As part of the Year of Creative Youth (2018) in Chicago, the next generation of young artists and youth choirs will celebrate Chicago’s music legacy at the Inspiration Youth Stage on Saturday, June 2, in Millennium Park in the North Promenade Tent. The festival will also offer family activities, arts and crafts for kids, face painting in the Kids Activity Zone and a Health and Wellness Oasis with information and expert talks on healthy eating, exercise and preventative screenings and care.

As the summer season kicks off in Millennium Park, some important changes are coming to improve security and the visitor experience at the park. The City of Chicago will implement a security perimeter and bag check for all concerts and events that take place in Millennium Park. Outside alcohol will be prohibited at the seven Jay Pritzker Pavilion events with the highest attendance: May 26: Chicago House Music Festival; June 8–10: Chicago Blues Festival; June 24: Chicago Mariachi Festival; July 4: Grant Park Music Festival Independence Day Salute; August 9: Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me; August 13: Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert and August 29–September 2: Chicago Jazz Festival. Outside food and beverage, including alcohol, will be permitted at more than 70 public concerts and programs  happening in Millennium Park this summer, including the Chicago Gospel Music Festival.

Chicago Cultural Center Performances

On Friday, June 1, the Chicago Gospel Music Festival will open at the Chicago Cultural Center in Randolph Square (1st Floor North) at noon until 4 p.m. Performers throughout the day include: Verzuane McCoy and Worship Experience; Gospel Hip Hop Showcase featuring Milton Calvin, Hector Dominguez and DNell; Wendell Parker and LaVargna Hubbard. The final performers of the day will be the Elder Thomas Singers, the quartet of young men who won the ChicagoMade Gospel Music A&R Audition earlier this year in March.

Chicago Cultural Center Exhibition

In conjunction with the music festivals, celebrating Chicago’s music legacy, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presents the exhibition Bronzeville Echoes: Faces and Places of Chicago’s African American Music at the Chicago Cultural Center opening April 28. The exhibition explores the legacy of Chicago’s African American music scene from Ragtime to the contemporary genres of House and Hip Hop through the unexpected stories of legendary musicians and places where they performed. Seldom-seen original artifacts will be on display, such as sheet-music, rare 1920s records with quirky period graphics – and even the original 1932 telephone booth from the old Sunset/Grand Terrace Café that will play music from the time period. The exhibition will culminate in the creation of a pop-up performance venue that will included ephemera and artworks that document Chicago’s house and hip hop legacies.

Gospel Music Professional Development Event

As part of the professional development series of opportunities presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, gospel music artists and industry professionals are invited to a conversation with industry experts on Tuesday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center. The evening will feature Don Jackson, CEO and Founder of Central City Productions and the Stellar Awards, and Sir the Baptist, The Hip Hop Chaplain, discussing their dynamic careers and how to navigate the music business. The event is presented in partnership with The Recording Academy® Chicago Chapter.

The Chicago Gospel Music Festival is presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and is sponsored in part by Chicago Transit Authority, Inspiration 1390 AM and Communications Direct.

For complete details on the Chicago Gospel Music Festival including artist information, visit, like us on Facebook at Chicago Gospel Music Festival or follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @ChicagoDCASE (#ChiGospelMusic).

33rd Chicago Gospel Music Festival Schedule

Schedule & Times Subject To Change

Friday, June 1

Chicago Cultural Center – Randolph Square, 1st Floor North

Noon–12:30 p.m.                    TBD

12:40–1:10 p.m.                      Verzuane McCoy and Worship Experience

1:20–1:50 p.m.                        Gospel Hip Hop Showcase featuring Milton Calvin,  Hector                                                                         Dominguez and DNell

2–2:30 p.m.                             Wendell Parker

2:40–3:10 p.m.                        LaVargna Hubbard

3:20–3:55 p.m.                        Elder Thomas Singers – Winner of the ChicagoMade Gospel                                                          Music A&R Auditions

Millennium Park – Jay Pritzker Pavilion

5:30–5:50 p.m.                        Pastor Dan Willis and ChoZen Youth Choir 150!

6 p.m.–7 p.m.                          Church Girls Rock Too! featuring Ev3, Isaleana Elliot and Keshia                                                    McFarland

7:10–8:10 p.m.                        The Canton Spirituals

8:20–9:30 p.m.                        Israel & New Breed

Saturday, June 2

Millennium Park – North Promenade Tent


11 a.m.–5 p.m.                        Kids Activities

11 a.m.–5 p.m.                        Health & Wellness

Noon–4 p.m.                           Youth Stage featuring youth choirs and open-mic opportunities

Millennium Park – Jay Pritzker Pavilion

4:30–5:15 p.m.                        Special Perfomance (to be announced)

5:25–6:35 p.m.                        “Oh Happy Day”: Chicago Choirs Celebrate the Music of Edwin                                                     Hawkins featuring: Anita Wilson, Jonathan Nelson, Beverly                                                             Crawford, Ted Winn, Bryan Popin, Rudy Currence and Latice                                                         Crawford

6:45–7:05 p.m.                        House and Gospel Music Legacy

7:15–8:15 p.m.                        The Walls Group

8:30–9:30 p.m.                        Tri-City Singers Reunion

NOTE TO MEDIA: Media credential requests for the Chicago Gospel Music Festival must be submitted by email to, by Friday, May 25, 2017, and acceptance notifications will be sent accordingly. Submission of a request does not guarantee admission. Credentials only provide working media access to media seating and photo pit; they do not include back stage access. Each media outlet is limited to one press and one photography credential as space is very limited. Visit the pressroom on the website at this for details.

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors.

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