Those of us who have walked with recording artist Dawn Pemberton through The Stations Of The Cross on a couple of Good Fridays at St. Helen's now will always remember her incredible presence. It's not just her consummate musicianship and not just the absolute command she creates over her listeners. It's her soulfulness, the depth of her spirituality that is so uplifting and so healing all at once, even as we gathered at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, that darkest of days.
For this year's Gospel Good Friday service, Dawn chose not only the incredibly moving Soweto Hosanna, but also a couple of older, more familiar gospel standards: Thomas A. Dorsey's 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand' and 'I Want Jesus' To Walk With Me,' a traditional spiritual. Given that Dawn is a prolific and masterful composer, arranger, and band leader who tours widely with her own material – when we spoke on Friday she was just back from Cuba and New Orleans - I was curious about her choice of these more traditional pieces. When I asked what led her to choose them she said:
"I chose those pieces because they are some of the first pieces that memorized me when I was younger. The way they were sung, the emotion, the text. These were some of the first songs that I learned to sing and play. One thing that always sticks with me about Good Friday is how Jesus had faith even though he knew what he was being asked to do and how things were going to end. I think about the prayers he must have said, the longing, the suffering and pain he must have felt. Whenever I sing Precious Lord or I Want Jesus to Walk With Me I think that he was probably seeking that same comfort and reassurance that the songs describe. I think about how we can have fear and feel reassurance and comfort at the same time."
'Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?' is sung at a lot of Good Friday services, as we did at ours, with Dawn. Through her incredible artistry, her spirituality, and deep roots in her tradition she really did makes us feel like we were there.