Celebrate Gospel turns Disneyland into a church full of booming choirs – Orange County Register
Celebrate Gospel turned Disneyland into a church with soaring choirs, stained glass and lots of praise and worship as the Anaheim theme park celebrated Black History Month with wall-to-wall music.
The Fantasyland Theater hosted church and community choirs, a cappella groups and headliner Kierra Sheard on Saturday, February 19 as the first of two Celebrate Gospel Music Festivals on consecutive Saturdays kicked off at Disneyland.
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The Disneyland resort was brimming with music on Saturday with warm-up performances at Downtown Disney before the Celebrate Gospel Song Festival in the newly reopened Fantasyland Theater and a chill-out concert at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel after the main event.
Don’t worry if you missed Saturday’s music showcase. Celebrate Gospel will return for a second performance on Saturday, February 26, and Downtown Disney will host R&B, funk, reggae, Motown, doo-wop, and even more gospel for the rest of February, while jazz will fill the lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel every night of the month.
The returning Celebrate Gospel music festival is now part of Disneyland’s new Celebrate Soulfully event that honors the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout United States history.
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Saturday’s musical extravaganza kicked off with the Singers of Soul on the Downtown Disney stage. The Los Angeles-based six-member a cappella group combined harmonies and choreography to “bring a bit of the church” to the outdoor mall next to Disneyland.
Celebrate Gospel began with afternoon performances at the Fantasyland Theater by Friendship Baptist Church Choir (Yorba Linda), Fresh Generation (Inglewood) and Spirit and Truth Ensemble (Riverside) which had the audience cheering and dancing in the aisles.
The Sacred Groove a cappella group performed a mix of modern and classic church hymns between gospel acts as the stage was reset for each choir.
Inglewood’s KJLH Radio Free Voices blew off the roof of the Fantasyland Theater – or at least the canvas canopy that serves as the roof of the 1,800-seat open-air theatre. The 40-member choir let loose soaring solos and angelic harmonies as they gave a high-octane performance that felt like a steady crescendo with little room to pause for breath.
It was surprising to hear the elation of “God is great” and “Raise your hand for Jesus” from a stage at Disneyland, as the Southern California tourist destination tends to stick to secular entertainment.
Disneyland hosts the Candlelight Processional one weekend in December each year with a 600-member choir bringing the Christmas story to life — but most visitors don’t think of Disneyland as the place to come for a church service on Sunday.
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Celebrate Gospel headliner Kierra Sheard served as senior pastor of the Disneyland congregation while performing her mix of gospel, R&B, hip-hop, pop and dance songs. The Detroit-born vocal acrobat delivered high-tension ragers and slow-swaying jams — often in a single song. Throughout the show, Sheard encouraged the crowd to sing along and “Let God Hear You.”
Sheard delivered the evening church sermon as she challenged the audience to change their lives for the better while introducing her song, “Something Has to Break.”
“I believe you’ll guide me through this,” Sheard sang with the crowd joining him. “I believe You will take me there. I believe You will now.
Disneyland transformed the Fantasyland Theater into a church with stained glass windows on the video screen backdrop and information screens at the back of the theater that traced the history of gospel music, from the pioneering sextets to the Holy Hip- Hop.
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The Celebrate Gospel performance marked the first time the Fantasyland Theater has been used in nearly two years – with the stage remaining dark since the park’s pandemic closure in March 2020. The “Mickey and the Magic Map” proscenium still framed the stage – although the tiered video display assembly has been removed.
Live music on the Fantasyland Theater stage brought back memories of the Videopolis days, when pop groups like New Kids on the Block and New Edition performed in the 1980s.
Disney California Adventure’s Stage 17 move to the Fantasyland Theater meant Celebrate Gospel had a lot more space to work in – and a lot more seats to fill. Celebrate Gospel deserved a bigger crowd than the few hundred that packed the Fantasyland Theater for much of Saturday afternoon.
The outdoor theater was a loud rock concert for most of Celebrate Gospel with Disneyland employees wearing earplugs. Despite the volume, the concert could barely be heard from the It’s a Small World boardwalk where a single A-frame billboard promoted the show.
After the Fantasyland Theater show, the music continued with Mood Indigo at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. The jazz quartet provided a slower, smoother, cooler jazz vibe that matched the ambiance of the hotel lobby.
As a nightcap, Midnight Hour performed on the Downtown Disney stage. The girl group played Motown hits by the Marvelettes, Supremes and Gladys Knight and the Pips that had kids and moms dancing to the beat.
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Celebrate Gospel returns to the Fantasyland Theater on February 26 with headliners Jonathan McReynolds and Mali Music performing contemporary gospel and Christian music.
Church and community choirs performing on the Fantasyland Theater stage on February 26 include Amazing Grace Conservatory (Los Angeles), Rhythm and Moves Children’s Youth Community Choir (Pasadena), Los Angeles Inner City Mass Choir and Greater Los Angeles Cathedral Choir.
The Singers of Soul a cappella group will return to the Fantasyland Theater on February 26 this time as part of the second Saturday of Celebrate Gospel – swapping places with Sacred Groove which will move to the Downtown Disney afternoon stage.
Downtown Disney nightly shows in February include Philly Phonics (Doo-Wop), Forward Motion (R&B and funk), Urban Music Society (R&B and funk), Del Atkins and the Lyfe Band (jazz), StandardMel & Friends (jazz) , Island Reggae and LALA Brass.