Brian McKnight and Oakland Interfaith Choir Bring ‘Church’ to S.F. Symphony

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Terrance Kelly. Photo courtesy of Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

It was chilly and rainy in San Francisco on December 10, but guests basked in the warmth of the Christmas spirit at Davies Hall’s third annual Holiday Soul concert.

Featuring singer-songwriter Brian McKnight, guests were brought to church as the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, ushered in the Holy Spirit. Some praise-danced in the aisles, while others joyfully sang along with McKnight accompanied by the famous San Francisco Symphony with Thomas Wilkins as guest conductor.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC), led by Wilkins and McKnight, took the audience on a gospel odyssey of nearly a dozen songs. Dressed in a light gray suit that set off his salt-and-pepper beard, McKnight, also a producer and multi-instrumentalist, told the audience that he was thrilled to be in the Bay Area. “I love the Bay Area and tonight I have an opportunity to sing many songs I don’t get the chance to, so San Francisco, this one’s for you.”

The sultry-voiced McKnight demonstrated his melodic range, as he sang traditional holiday songs such as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” The orchestra and the OIGC band brought the bass as McKnight sang his popular love song “Shoulda Been Loving You.” The opening harp of “Still in Love With You” was also performed by McKnight along with “Still.”

McKnight dedicated “All I Need,” to his wife, Leilani Malia Mendoza. “She is my rock and keeps me grounded,” said McKnight. The heartfelt “When the Chariot Comes,” inspired by the death of a friend, gave McKnight an opportunity to sing beyond love songs and the spirit of Christmas. The award-winning McKnight has created 19 albums in the last 25 years.

Brian McKnight at Davies Hall in San Francisco for the third annual Holiday Soul concert featuring the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC) and the San Francisco Symphony. Photo by Carla Thomas.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC) featured director Terence Kelly performing Handel’s “Messiah,” Hairston’s arrangement of “Wade in de Water,” Dourox’s “Give Me a Clean Heart,” Kennicott Davis’ “Drummer Boy,” Walker’s “Amazing,” and Jones’ “Open Your Mouth and Say Something.” OIGC band members included David Belove on bass, Miles Lathan on drums, Jae Phoenix on tambourine and Louis Burrell and Ben Heveroh on keys.

The OIGC, in its third year at the SFS Holiday Soul concert, brings together singers and instrumentalists of diverse races and cultures. Founded in 1986, the choir’s mission is to inspire joy and unity among all people through Black gospel and spiritual music born out of Terrence Kelly’s Gospel Music Workshop from Living Jazz’s Jazz Camp West.

Wilkins has served as music director of the Omaha Symphony since 2005, as principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, artistic advisor of education and community engagement with the Boston Symphony and holds Indiana University’s Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Conducting.

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