Arts and Entertainment

MLK Day celebration in song

Those who heard the “surround sound” performance by the 200-voice MLK Jr. Memorial Choir last year know that when director Patrinell Wright dubbed the event Sing Out!, she named the event well.

Since Wright’s Total Experience Gospel Choir first came to Kitsap to lead a workshop and performance in 2000, the event has become an island staple, an eagerly awaited total immersion in friendship, food, fun – and fantastic music.

“Pat is so good at bringing together 200 voices in just three hours to put on a concert,” veteran workshop participant Alice Saliba said. “She teaches syncopated, four-part harmony to people who don’t read music.

“It’s jivin’ like Bainbridge Island has never known before.”

When Wright founded the Total Experience Gospel Choir in September 1973, she was already steeped in gospel music. At 14, Wright was tapped by her father, a preacher in Carthage, Texas, to lead the congregation in song as “gospel deacon.”

“He’s the reason I sing,” Wright said. “He always told me that I would do something special.”

Her parents also helped Wright understand her heritage, discussing the politics of segregation with their eight children. In the three-room all-black school she attended in the small Texas town, Wright learned black history.

Wright says she was an adult living in Seattle before she learned that not all southern blacks were as well apprised of the past.

“It depended on what part of the south you were from,” Wright said. “For instance, people I’ve met from Louisiana didn’t get that history in school.”

Wright graduated from high school at 16 and studied biology, but her true ambition was to become world-renowned gospel singer.

She got her chance when she moved to Seattle in October 1964. “In Seattle I got caught up in a music lifestyle.” Wright said. “Someone heard me sing at church one Sunday and I was hired as a gospel disc jockey for radio station KYAC.”

When the station was bought by the Fox network in the early 1970s, Wright was hired to teach. She started a gospel music class at Franklin High School, but found she attracted the white and Asian kids rather than black kids, who sang gospel every Sunday.

But when Wright took her fledgling choir to a gospel contest in Reno and placed, the number of kids participating jumped to 108.

Four years later she opened the choir to the community and The Total Experience Gospel Choir was born.

For 28 years, Wright and her group have won awards, performed for presidents and traveled worldwide. In 1999, they were invited to appear with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and have shared the stage with musicians like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones.

Wright also performs with jazz and blues band Goodfoot and is an ordained minister. In 2001, she was defeated in a run for Seattle’s school board.

Wright uses the experience of her full lifetime to power the music she brings to Bainbridge.

“I’ve lived a rich and full life,” Wright said. “My life has been truly blessed.”

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