The University Record, February 4, 1997

SPH's Howe recruits, advertises, promotes --- and sings gopspel

Photo by Joanne Nesbit

Since 1993 she has coordinated the Summer Enrichment Program for Minority undergraduate students at the School of Public Health's (SPH) Department of Health Management and Policy. She recruits, advertises, promotes and handles a thousand details associated with this nation-wide program. But at night and on weekends Lenea Howe turns her vocal chords loose as part of the St. Paul Gospel Choir.

"The first time I heard them, I couldn't sit still," Howe said. "I went up after the concert and asked if I could join them. I love the rhythm of gospel music."

And so Howe, along with U-M staff and faculty from the Medical Service Plan, School of Music and North Campus Commons, will combine their voices with others from the University and Southeast Michigan in Gospelfest VII on Feb. 8 at Ann Arbor's Bethlehem United Church of Christ. Though Howe and about 399 others will start rehearsing about mid-day, the evening program, free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m.

Performing before an audience won't be anything new for the self-taught vocalist who says she grew up singing, performing with her sister at about age 4. But many more than two will perform with Howe at Gospelfest VII, where School of Music Prof. George Shirley will be a guest soloist. Shirley, one of America's most versatile tenors, has appeared on the stages of the world's major opera houses and was the first African American to sing starring roles with the Metropolitan Opera where he was a leading artist for 11 years.

Works performed by the mass choir this year include "Reconciled" by Steven Newby, former director of the U-M Gospel Chorale, is returning as a choral director for the Fest.

Lenea Howe will be in good company at Gospelfest VII, but then she's been in good company for some time. Howe says she's been married "just about forever and has three fantastic children," but that career, the one she has at U-M and her gospel singing are just part of this multi-talented woman who over the years has taught art, sold advertising for a newspaper, been a substitute teacher, taught English as a second language at the federal prison in Milan, owned and managed rental properties, owned and operated a donut shop and bakery and worked in the Pentagon providing support for top-secret defense contract and military proposal work in the Land Warfare Office.

With this varied background and her current work as a folk artist on furniture and other "recyclable" items, Howe still finds time to put on the red T-shirt of the mass gospel choir to sing. "The thunder of hundreds of voices in the mass choir is magnificent," Howe says. "It's a day to celebrate our racial and ethnic differences by embracing one powerful part of life that we have in common."