New Blumenthal ‘Church Circuit’ virtual series explores legacy of church musicians

Page Leggett
·4 min read

Boris “Bluz” Rogers, director of creative engagement at Blumenthal Performing Arts, recalls his grandmother going to multiple church services on Sundays.

Just once a week — Sunday at 11 a.m. — was enough for the young Rogers, but not for Dezzie Bogan Rogers, whom he’d visit in Shannon, Mississippi, every summer. Even after she’d return home from two or more services, she’d turn gospel on the radio.

As he got older, he discovered his grandma wasn’t the only person — besides the preacher — who went to church more than once on Sundays. Some people go from church to church to play music — and get paid for it.

It’s known as “church gigging,” and Rogers will explore the practice in an upcoming episode of “The Church Circuit,” a new Blumenthal Zoom series that explores the history, roles and legacies of church musicians.

The Blumenthal has partnered with the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville to produce the free series.

It launched in January, and the next one is set for March 18 at 7 p.m. Advance registration is required.

“Church gigging is the idea of the professional musician who does multiple services, maybe at multiple churches,” Rogers said.

An Emmy-winning poet, Rogers moderates each interactive episode. A panel of industry experts joins him to discuss the people who bring a joyful noise to worship services. Episodes conclude with a Q&A session.

The series debuted in January, and explored topics from organizing and developing a church choir to discovering and creating your own musical identity.

After church gigs, the next episode will focus “on the new-school idea of hip-hop gospel, “ Rogers said, “and Episode 4 will delve into the great Negro spiritual.”

Poet Boris “Bluz” Rogers moderates the Blumenthal’s virtual Church Circuit series, which explores the history, role and legacy of church music.
Poet Boris “Bluz” Rogers moderates the Blumenthal’s virtual Church Circuit series, which explores the history, role and legacy of church music.

‘This new gig’

The idea for the series was born even before the National Museum of African-American Music opened in late January.

Tamar Smithers, the museum’s director of education and public programs, discussed the idea with Rogers about five years ago, he said. Then the museum opened this year, and as Rogers said, “I got this new gig (with the Blumenthal.) It was perfect timing.”

Nashville is, of course, synonymous with music. But Rogers said Charlotte has a proud music tradition too.

“Charlotte is rich with its own Black history,” he said. “We have a rich hip-hop culture here, an R&B/soul culture here and we definitely want to make those connections.”

Rogers knows people who church gig.

“They play multiple churches throughout the day — if not at their own church, then going to other churches,” he said. “They can start at 8 a.m., then go to another 11 a.m. service and can work as late as 6 p.m. They might be able to fit five church services in to one Sunday.”

Don’t expect to hear gospel music on this Zoom series though.

“We’ve tried to keep it to conversation,” Rogers said. “The conversation is so extensive and rich that there’s not really too much time to do performances. We wanted to focus more on the artistry and creativity and the business side of it and leave the performative aspect to the National Museum.”

Boris “Bluz Rogers, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ creative engagement director, started “The Church Circuit,” a free Zoom series that explores the history, roles and legacies of church musicians. It’s held in conjunction with the National Museum of African American Music. Rogers also started the Acoustic Grace live music series, pictured here.
Boris “Bluz Rogers, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ creative engagement director, started “The Church Circuit,” a free Zoom series that explores the history, roles and legacies of church musicians. It’s held in conjunction with the National Museum of African American Music. Rogers also started the Acoustic Grace live music series, pictured here.

Building community

Rogers joined Blumenthal’s staff last September, and even in the midst of a pandemic, he’s making his mark. His role calls for him to create, develop and launch new programs to enlarge and expand the Blumenthal’s impact on the community.

“The idea of being able to help people who are super creative who’ve been here for years grinding and trying to make it work — that’s been huge on my heart, and I love it,” he said.

The live music series, Acoustic Grace, is one of the programs he started. The next one is March 25. It takes place at the Brooklyn Grace Church, 219 S. Brevard St., which Rogers said has “the most amazing acoustics.”

The church was built in 1900 in what was once the Brooklyn neighborhood — at a time, Rogers said, “before there was all that tech equipment to make voices bigger.

“The building was designed to carry voices to the highest place, if you will,” he said. “It’s an amazing space where we allow singer/songwriters to come in and perform their own music with maybe a guitar, maybe a keyboard, but very little else.”

It’s another place to explore church music, which Rogers is working to amplify.

Rogers grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, and said he “reluctantly” had been in a church choir. “As a kid, I didn’t really want to do any of that,” he said. “But now I’m glad I did because there’s a culture there that’s very rich, and I learned a lot that I still glean from today.”

How to watch

Register for the free March 18 session of “The Church Circuit” on the Blumenthal website at blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/the-church-circuit-1.

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