A Japanese Gospel Choir in Harlem

The Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir (Photo via The Uptowner)

They’re not all religious and most are only living in the tri-state area until they complete their studies or work assignment. But the roughly 15 members of the Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir, now in its fifteenth year, nonetheless find a sense of community and stability through the group as they adapt to living in New York.

There’s Yasuaki Omi, a banker in midtown Manhattan who tells The Uptowner’s Jonathan G. Lee that “the choir softened his transition” from Japan to New York. And Eri Sano, an editor living in Harlem who is one of the few members to settle long-term in the city, tells the reporter she had never heard gospel music until he saw a performance by the group a decade ago.

“I had many struggles, and New York is not an easy city,” she said. “But when I come to sing the gospel here, I can feel I’m okay and calm down.”

The group sings in English and Japanese, and has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater and during Harlem Week, and also leads worship services in Harlem churches, writes Lee. According to choir director and Harlem native Melody Moore, it’s the Japanese performances that attract the most attention.

“African Americans get hit by the songs harder when they hear the choir singing in Japanese,” said Moore. “They know the song but they don’t know the language.” Black congregations sing along more passionately when the choir performs in Japanese, Moore said…

Go to The Uptowner to hear from members who are not religious, and those who converted, and find out how the choir started through an “unlikely friendship” between a former Olympic luger and a Harlem reverend. And also watch a performance.

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