May 23, 2013
Bringing The Message to BA: Markanthony Henry
By Melanie Henderson
Throughout the year, gospel music has been taken from humble Caballito churches to Pergamino concert halls, reaching as far as Córdoba chapels, as Argentina’s biggest gospel music groups continue to make grand steps in the spreading of joyful noise to a variety of stages.
October has been a particularly exciting month on the Argentine gospel music calendar, as singers of the genre and newcomers to the style came together for a week of intense training from gospel music director Markanthony Henry, current director of Cissy Houston, on his visit from New York City.
During his week-long stay in Buenos Aires, Henry spoke exclusively with the BuenosAiresHerald.com about his visit and how he hopes to create a large-scale musical exchange between the US and Argentina.
Henry is a world-class music director, vocal coach, music arranger, singer, pianist as well as being an accomplished businessman.
Growing up in Philadelphia, he was introduced to music and arts in middle school where he studied classical piano, voice as well as playing the trumpet.
The musical path he began naturally led on to him attend a high school that specializes in music and arts, where he studied for four years. During his time there he gained a music scholarship, which led him to begin his degree at Delaware State University in Delaware City.
Although majoring in Business, Henry continued his music studies, focusing on jazz and gospel, achieving a minor in music as part of his degree.
In addition to his studies, during his time at Delaware State he directed the university gospel choir and got a chance to perform with a lot of groups in the Philadelphia area.
Furthering his studies later on, Henry got a masters degree in International Business from the American InterContinental University, which led him to Spain for a period where he studied Spanish.
Musically, a pivotal moment for the director was his big move to New York in 1988, something that put a spring in his musical step, as it helped to catapult his career in the gospel world.
The home to Broadway and some of the biggest music schools in the world offered him a variety of musical experiences where he has worked with many big names in the business including a wide variety of musicians, choirs, soloists and composers.
Today he focuses on working with professional gospel choirs, including many that are established recording groups within the genre.
To name but a few, his most recent projects include working with Vy Higgensen’s Gospel For Teens at The Mama Foundation for the Arts music school, where he entered as the first music master.
He also works and has worked singing and directing at the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Church run by Hezekiah Walker as well as other churches in the city.
For the past seven or so years he has been working with the one of the reigning queens of gospel, Cissy Houston –Whitney Houston’s mother- who he describes as “a very good friend,” with whom he shares a mother-son like relationship.
Currently Henry directs Houston and her group of singers for live shows in the New York area.
Other big names on Henry’s vast list include working with the likes of the legendary Bill Cosby, Vickie Winans and David Letterman’s resident gospel choir.
Gospel In Argentina
Henry got to know about gospel music in Argentina after music producer and choir creator Franco Gandullo visited New York earlier in the year, on a quest to seek out a gospel director to come and work in Argentina.
After meeting with Gandullo a fair few times during his month-long stay in the Big Apple, Henry learnt more about what had done in the Argentine gospel music world over the last 10 years, which included listening to the Córdoba Gospel Choir’s three recorded albums: ‘99% Gospel: Nuestro Homenaje,’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’ ‘Uno’ and the album recorded by the former Coro Gospel de Argentina, ‘This Is How We Do It.’
The legendary gospel director’s first reaction to Argentine efforts was happily positive:
“First of all, I was very impressed with the voices, I thought they were spectacular. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest – people who sing gospel think it’s a little world -their music. When you see other people and nationalities doing it it’s always a surprise.
Henry didn’t criticize what he heard but emphasized that what was there could be made even better.
“I saw things I could tweak or interject, and that’s what sparked my interest,” Henry said.
Out of the meetings with Gandullo came the idea for Henry to come and work coaching singers in Buenos Aires, something that at first was not necessarily a real prospect for the master music director.
“I admit, at first I had my reservations. Mainly because it just wasn’t on my radar,” Henry said.
After taking a pause to ponder the idea though, he began to see it in a more positive light, mostly due to the fact that there was already interest in the genre and people already involved in it in different parts of the country.
“If I can come and be a part of that and show what I know to people that are already talented and gifted in it, who knows what can happen.”
Argentine talent and future prospects
Throughout this week Henry has been working with Argentine artists beginning a new exchange between New York and Argentina, in which Henry has been teaching a group of 60 singers from different backgrounds to sing seven contemporary gospel songs in preparation for a concert on Sunday.
“I’m blown away by the voices here. They’re really, really good. I don’t just say that. It was obvious by the first rehearsal, which was like wow.”
“What we accomplished in the first three hours, I initially thought would take three days,” Henry said, in reference to the learning of the first three songs on the repertoire.
Taking into account Henry’s knowledge of international gospel efforts, having worked in South Africa, Spain, Costa Rica and all across the United States, the director said although he’s “seen a lot of people try it but what happens here is as good as I’ve seen it outside of the US.”
Working with Argentine singers this week Henry’s goal is “not improve, but enhance what the people are doing here and make sure they achieve that ‘aha’ factor they might have been missing before.”
Future plans for the director and what he has described throughout the week as “his choir in Argentina” –in reference to the singers attending his 4-day intensive workshop- are to take a group to the US next year and expose them to the high-profile professional gospel music scene, as well as beginning an exchange of artists.
To end, aside from all of the buzzing plans and ideas for the future, Henry made one thing in particular very clear: to make sure the message of gospel came through correctly and that his singers were able to be understand, feel and transmit the lyrics of the songs through the music.
“I don’t want the purpose to get lost. Gospel music has one purpose: telling the good news.
"I start out every workshop and every rehearsal asking: What does gospel music mean? The good news of Christ. That message is really important and I don’t ever want it to be lost.”
Where & When:
Henry directed a group of 60 Argentine singers in a small show given on Sunday October 28, during a religious service at San Andres Presbyterian Church in San Telmo.
For more information on gospel music in Argentina including new groups, choirs, auditions and upcoming concerts, check out the website Gospel En Argentina: www.gospelenargentina.com.ar
Or the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gospelenargentina