New York City offers remarkable gospel music – exuberant performances featuring stellar vocals and deep devotion. But unlike other music genres, the city has no clubs or theaters dedicated to regular gospel concerts. Yes, there are several “Gospel Tours,” but they herd large groups into whichever church will accept their business…not necessarily the best venue for music. To enjoy an authentic gospel experience with superb music, you have to know where to look.
Here are my picks for the best places to hear Gospel in New York City.
Gospel in Harlem Churches
In New York, Gospel music has remained close to its roots – in African American churches, particularly in Harlem. While most churches welcome visitors, it is important to remember they are houses of worship with devout congregations. Visitors should bear in mind that services are focused on worship – they are not “a musical show.”
Here are important guidelines for attending church services in Harlem:
- Arrive early for the service. Attending Sunday church services in Harlem is very popular and long lines often form for visitor access. Guests may be turned away due to lack of seating. Early morning services tend to be less crowded than late morning services.
- Dress conservatively – no shorts, tank tops or flip-flops.
- Never behave in a manner that is distracting to worshipers (i.e. talking, eating, etc.) during the service.
- Use of cell phones, cameras, or video recorders is not permitted during the service.
- You should stay for the entire service (generally 2 – 3 hours).
- A contribution to the donation basket is appropriate.
Not all Harlem churches include Gospel music as part of their services. The following churches present excellent Gospel music.
Bethel Gospel Assembly – Housed in an abandoned public Jr. High School, Bethel’s services include plenty of preaching, singing and dancing and can be a truly moving experience. The church is very welcoming and encourages visitors to attend.
1st Corinthian Baptist Church – this huge church, housed in an old movie palace, is known for its hospitable congregation (nearly 7000 members), informal character, energetic services and great music, particularly its choir.
Greater Refuge Temple – services at this Pentecostal church include singing, shouting, foot stomping and a 60-member choir. Proper church ladies often produce tambourines from their handbags, and dancing spills into the aisles. The joyful exuberance is contagious.
Canaan Baptist Church of Christ – Canaan Baptist describes their services as “Afro-centric,” with dynamic preaching, emotional participation of the congregation, and inspirational singing. In fact, the church has several renowned choirs that perform spirituals, gospel, and praise songs as part of the services.
Abyssinian Baptist Church – one of America’s oldest and most significant Black congregations, Abyssinian is certainly worth a visit. However, it is usually swamped with visitors and tour groups and its services tend to be more reserved in tone. While they include excellent music, there is less emphasis on Gospel singing. Note: Visitors are welcome at the Sunday 11:00am service, but are not admitted to the 9:00am service. See Abyssinian’s Tourist and Visitor Information for more details on attending a service.
While you’re in Harlem, be sure to indulge in some of the neighborhood’s food specialties. Check out recommendations for the Best Restaurants in Harlem.
NYC Gospel Churches
Times Square Church – located in a former Broadway theater, TSC describes itself as a “Music Ministry.” The church includes a large male choir, a youth choir, and their 140-member multi-cultural choir that ministers Sunday services at 10am and 6pm, Tuesday 7pm service and Thursday 7pm prayer meeting.
Brooklyn Tabernacle – a multicultural, non-denominational mega church in downtown Brooklyn. The 280-voice Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is renowned and has won several Grammy awards for their recordings. The church is often praised for its infectious, congenial spirit.
NYC Gospel Performances
Sunday Gospel Brunch at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. This weekly buffet and concert is very popular. While the all-you-can-eat soul food buffet hasn’t won accolades, the performances by the Harlem Gospel Choir certainly have. The Time Square location is convenient, and it’s a guaranteed way to hear some great Gospel singing. Be sure to check the Harlem Gospel Choir’s website for other opportunities to hear their concerts.
Gospel Brunch at Ginny’s Supper Club – Part of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrated Red Rooster restaurant, Ginny’s offers a buffet brunch, including Fried Yard Bird (fried chicken), Mac-and-Greens, and breakfast pastries. Spirited gospel tunes are performed by Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens Choir, a source of education and self-development for local youth. Note: these brunch performances take a hiatus in summer. Check the Gospel For Teens’ Gospel For Teens website for other performances and gospel shows.
Gospel concerts are periodically presented at the Apollo Theater, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall.
Check the music listings in Time Out NY or the New York Times’ Arts & Entertainment Guide for current performances. Finally, see the website Gospel Events for information about NYC Gospel festivals, competitions, and concerts.