*This article appeared in June/July ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.
Magnificent voices. Good voices. Modest voices. Combined, they make more than a joyful noise.
“Our membership includes the Mayor (Tom Watson), the Police Chief (Art Elam) and the Sheriff (Keith Cain),” Larry “Chick” Owen said. “I would doubt that there’s another city in Kentucky, or maybe the nation, that can lay claim to that, where we bring different races together and have the mayor and police chief participate,” Chick said.
Men’s Mass Community Choir began in 2005 with 19 men, seven of whom still sing in the 35- to 45-member choir. The choir’s longevity and success are attributed to the simple, humble inspiration and determination of one man—Chick Owen—with an idea of bringing other men together to promote the truth that real men praise God. “All different backgrounds, religious persuasions come together; it doesn’t matter,” Rev. Larry Lewis said. “We check all of that at the door,” Chick added.
“Originally, our program was meant to celebrate Black History Month. As we progressed, however, we began to diversify,” according to their 10-year anniversary booklet. That diversity came by way of an invitation to Malcolm Bryant to join the group.
“I joined the group 8 years ago. I received a call from a friend that I had played basketball with when I was younger, Sam James. He didn’t even say ‘hello’; all I heard was ‘you can be the first,’” Malcolm said. He told Sam that he had never sung in a choir, and that he was definitely not a singer. “He (Sam) laughed and said that the singing isn’t what it’s about; it was about the fellowship,” Malcolm said. Thus, he became the first “white guy” in the Men’s Mass Community Choir. Any male, age 18 and older, is welcome to participate.
“I went to my first practice on a cold Saturday afternoon in January  at Zion Baptist Church. The place was alive with energy from open hearts and giving spirits. I knew just 2-3 people but immediately felt so welcome. The men were laughing more than singing. I looked around and started to recognize people from all walks of life—businessmen, teachers, manufacturing workers, shoe shiners, retired people, young people, musicians . . .” Malcolm recalled.
The choir has one major performance in February, held in various venues, and added a spring encore performance recently. They have received special invitations to perform for the Kentucky General Assembly; Convention Center; Red, White and Blue Picnic; Steamboat Festival in Hawesville; Veterans’ Day events and Kentucky Wesleyan College. Any freewill love offerings received are donated back to the H.L. Neblett Center.
The choir hosts a Fifth Saturday Fellowship Breakfast at the river overlook stage every fifth Saturday throughout the year. “It is a free community breakfast for anyone. It is a time when we pause, seek out a good new friend, enjoy a meal, hear an exaggerated story, and we are overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude and an acceptance of the fact that life has returned us much better than we deserve,” Malcolm said. Chick extended an open invitation to the next breakfast, Aug. 12, 9 a.m., at Smothers Park’s Overlook Stage.
Each year, the group recognizes “a living male who consistently promotes God’s kingdom and whose words, actions, and exemplary life edifies his fellowman” through the Rev. George E. Riley On the Battlefield Award, according to their anniversary booklet.
So, what makes a random combination of performers like this work? “The informality of it; the fun and camaraderie that we have; and the friendships that have developed with the guys who have bought into the philosophy of what we are trying to do for our community,” Chick said.
Malcolm agreed. “We don’t really talk religion; we sing of praise and lift each other up. Larry Owen has a calm confidence in us and reminds us that we’re doing everything for the Lord. That helps . . . Our Creator has reached across time to let us get to know each other in one of our best ways possible: a song and a laugh.”
The choir’s music includes a wide range of traditional and contemporary selections, with gospel and hymnals included. Settle Memorial did a celebratory Men’s Mass Choir CD in honor of Rev. Lewis’ 40th year in the ministry.
“There is amazing talent in the choir for singing and music, but the greatest talent is the love that has come through a trust and acceptance in each other and new members,” Malcolm said.
“Come join us,” Rev. Lewis said. “In recruiting, the most prevalent statement that I get is ‘I can’t sing. You don’t want me. I can’t sing.’ My answer to that is singing is a byproduct of what we’re about. What we’re about is representing men praising God—that’s the name of our program: Men Praising God,” Chick said. “We have enough guys that can sing to provide a harmonious output, so what we need is men to come and to fellowship and to develop the camaraderie and friendship with us that advances our purpose.” Rev. Lewis said, “You don’t need any special qualifications for that.” It’s all about developing relationships.
Glenn Johnson is the choir director. He has the final say on everything musical, although everyone has input, and they all recruit new members. The choir received the Diversity Award from Owensboro’s Human Relations Commission. “We are Owensboro’s best-kept secret that should not be a secret. Not only are we one of Owensboro’s best-kept secrets, we are one of Owensboro’s best assets, as far as relationships are concerned,” Chick said. That’s an unsung story.