Mass Choir feels called upon to celebrate their new album

Elder Arlester Washington sang during a rehearsal of the Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir. Washington is the founder of the group.
Elder Arlester Washington sang during a rehearsal of the Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir. Washington is the founder of the group. staff

Sha-Ron Garrett was sitting at a bus stop recently, waiting to go home from the grocery store, when a guy came up to her and asked whether Garrett could sing.

Turned out he was the grandson of Elder Arlester Washington, pastor of Now Faith Worship Center and founder of the Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir.

And yes, she could sing.

Tammy Ingram was living in Louisville 14 years ago when she heard Washington on the radio appealing for singers. Her mother said she should contact him, and now she is the choir director.

And Murrell Mile was contacted by a member of the choir 20 years ago when she was ready to take her own life.

"With him calling, I believe it was God calling me," Mile says. "I saw something here that I had not seen in any other church, and that's what's kept me coming back."

Mile is one of about five "remnants" in the Mass Choir — members who have been with it from the beginning, when Madisonville native Washington moved to Central Kentucky from Chicago to fulfill a dream of starting a choir that would bring the Bluegrass State recognition in gospel music.

"Kentucky is not known on an international level as far as gospel singing is concerned," Washington, 72, says, taking a break from a frenetic Monday night rehearsal with the group of more than two dozen singers and instrumentalists. "So the Lord sent me back with a vision to let the world know that there are good singers as anywhere else in Kentucky and good musicians as anywhere else.

"What you see here is my vision," he says, referring to the choir seated in the pews behind him.

On Sunday, the choir will host a concert called Gospel Explosion to celebrate the completion of its new CD, recorded with Herb O'Neal, producer and CEO of Alliant Music Group in Nashville.

"Been in the studio with Central Kentucky Mass Choir musicians," O'Neal said on his Twitter account in December, when the group traveled to Tennessee to record. "Man this stuff sounds great!"

Washington says the forthcoming record will be a major step toward getting the choir the recognition he thinks it deserves. The weekend will include a private banquet for O'Neal and then the concert Sunday at Now Faith that is free.

Rehearsing Monday, Ingram covered the aisle between the first and second pews of the church like a track star, exhorting the choir stretched out across the front of the church through a half-dozen numbers. The group went seamlessly from one number to the next, frequently settling into grooves like seasoned jazzmen, except these were 27 people in sync.

The members of the choir are drawn from a wide variety of denominations — Methodist to Pentecostal — and many also sing with their own church choirs in addition to the Mass Choir.

Asked what keeps them coming out, the consistent answer is, "It's God," be it music director Shawn Hibbler, who received a call from Washington out of the blue asking him to move to Lexington from Chicago, or Elisha McElroy Means, who reconnected with Washington after she visited her father's church 22 years ago.

The choir's president, Naomi Fain, says, "This is an anointed choir and an anointed man of God, and I thank God for him."