Former Alcorn Gospel Choir assistant director Jonas Crenshaw leads choir at Democratic National Convention

It was on Sunday, July 24 when Alcorn State University alumnus and Meridian, Mississippi native Jonas Crenshaw received an invitation of a lifetime. While visiting his parents in Biloxi, Mississippi, his pastor, The Reverend Dr. Mark Tyler, who is the pastor of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, emailed Crenshaw a request to lead his choir at Monday’s Democratic National Convention. Crenshaw literally jumped for joy.

“I started screaming and laughing,” said Crenshaw, who is the director of Music and Worship Arts at the church. “My father explained to everyone that I wasn’t crazy, but had just received the invitation to sing. My mother immediately started booking my flight back to Philadelphia. I ran upstairs to my room and started making contact with my choir members to check their availability. Once I realized I had enough voices, I responded with the confirmation and started preparing to head back to Philadelphia the next morning.”

After gathering enough members to perform, Crenshaw accepted his pastor’s invitation. He conducted the choir as they sang his arrangement of the Battle Hymn of the Republic to open the Convention. What started as a joke between him and the choir members actually turned into a moment that they would remember for the rest of their lives.

“Being the opening performance of the Democratic National Convention was an amazing experience. When I first learned that the convention would be hosted in Philadelphia, I joked with my choir members about us being able to sing there, but never imagined that it would actually happen. After we finished singing, the enormity of the experience hit me like a ton of bricks. People were calling, texting and tagging me on Facebook. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.”

Performing on the grand stage is something that Crenshaw and his choir are used to, so being a part of the Democratic National Convention was something that they were ready for. They have participated in events that included Phillip Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire, R&B singers Chrisette Michelle, Eric Benet, Howard Hewitt, Eddie Levert and Selena Johnson. For the past two years, the choir has sung at the Kimmel Center Symphony Hall in Philadelphia with the likes of gospel singers Shirley Ceasar and Edwin Hawkins. They also participated in a live recording at the AME General Conference with Smoky Norful and Myron Butler.

“Performing on the national stage was intense, but something I think I’ve been preparing for. From singing and traveling with the Alcorn Gospel Choir as one of the assistant directors to singing at other large venues as director of my former choir in Meridian, The Sweet Spirits, I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to practice singing on large stages. Not to mention, singing at my church in Philadelphia is like singing on a national stage on any given Sunday.”

Mother Bethel AME is the founding church of the AME Denomination. Crenshaw has been the church’s choir director for three years.

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