Featuring the Gathering Orchestra, a 70-plus member choir and four-time Grammy winner Karen Clark Sheard

DETROIT, Mich. (May 7, 2019) – 11 years after its original composition, The Carr Center and Tabernacle Missionary Baptist church presents the Detroit premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ sweeping masterpiece, The Abyssinian Mass. The event, titled “The Abyssinian Mass: A Gospel Celebration,” is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Detroit audiences to experience this sprawling, soulful triumph commissioned by Harlem’s legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church and written for big band and 70-voice gospel choir. The performance will take place on Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church (2080 W Grand Boulevard, Detroit, MI 48208).

“The piece itself is significant artistically, but because of the forces it takes to do it, it is not done regularly,” said Oliver Ragsdale Jr., President of The Carr Center. “We have the ability to do a piece like this. It’s a mobilizing piece for the community because it hasn’t been done in Detroit before. It hasn’t been done in Michigan before.”

Four-time Grammy winner and Detroit’s treasured gospel soloist, Karen Clark Sheard, will be a guest artist for the event alongside the Gathering Orchestra conducted by Rodney Whitaker, Carr Center Resident Artist in Jazz and Head of Jazz Studios at Michigan State University. Whitaker was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under Marsalis’ leadership for a number of years, and he continues to work hand-in-hand with the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.

Carr Center Artist-in-Residence Damien Sneed will lead a mighty, multigenerational choir of more than 70 performers from churches within the Detroit community.

“[Sneed] was the original choral conductor of the piece when it premiered in 2008, so, in essence, we’re getting the person who knows the piece the best besides Wynton,” Ragsdale said. 

This presentation of Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass continues The Carr Center’s efforts to present sacred music out of the jazz idiom, following last year’s exceptional presentation of “Duke Ellington: A Concert of Sacred Music.”

“The principal fact of The Abyssinian Mass – the feeling that we want you to come away with – is to be uplifted through the way that we all come together,” Marsalis has said of the piece.

That’s why it is especially momentous that The Carr Center has partnered with Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church to present The Abyssinian Mass as it was meant to be experienced.

“I think it’s significant when any work written by an African American composer has an opportunity to be presented in what I like to call ‘content in context,’” said Ragsdale. “In other words, this piece is written as a church piece, as a mass, and we are presenting it in that context at Tabernacle.”

For press tickets or inquiries, please contact Brandon Coulter at 248-559-2095 or coulter@art-ops.org.

Ticket Information

Tickets for Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass are $30 for general admission and $15 for Students and Seniors. To purchase tickets, visit thecarrcenter.org

About The Carr Center

Born out of the Arts League of Michigan in 2009, The Carr Center has been furthering the organization’s mission to “preserve, present, promote and develop the African and African-American cultural arts traditions within our multicultural community” for the past decade. The Carr Center has also established a network of community hubs to provide wider access to art via a constellation of venues set up throughout the city of Detroit.

About Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian Mass

Nine-time Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis was commissioned to write the Abyssinian Mass in 2008, in honor of the bicentennial of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Led by Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra embarked on a 19-concert tour across 16 cities, accompanied by Damien Sneed and his choir, Chorale Le Chateau.