Grammy-winning hip-hop star Kanye West brought his Sunday Service Collective -- a 150-voice gospel choir accompanied by nine musicians — to Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens for a rousing musical tribute extolling God. West danced, smiled and sang a bit, but said little on Sunday.
As Greater Allen’s third and last service of the day was drawing to a close, the guest choir approached the altar and launched into an hourlong performance of gospel songs as the congregation of some 2,500 to 3,000 people leapt to their feet in appreciation.
The choir was backed by an ensemble of musicians and led by director Jason White. West, 42, stood toward the back of the pulpit, next to the musicians. He danced along at times and smiled broadly throughout. His family, wife Kim Kardashian West and at least three of their four children, were at the front row of the center pews.
Later, Kanye West sat at a keyboard and sang a few bars of “This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made.” He did not offer extended comments.
West, who was scheduled to release his ninth studio album, "Jesus Is King," on Sunday, had held a musical service at Detroit's Aretha Franklin Amphitheater Friday. He held a listening party of the new album in that city's Fox Theatre that night, alongside a screening of his upcoming "Jesus Is King" IMAX film, which is set to open in theaters Oct. 25.
West’s appearance at Greater Allen follows other high-profile Sunday services this year, including at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, Chicago and Los Angeles. That led Greater Allen’s minister of music, Stanley Brown, to invite West to the church.
Brown reached out to West’s musical directors, White and Philip Cornish. “Once I saw what was going on with Kanye West" and his Sunday celebrations, "I put in a call,” said Brown, who also has served as an executive of A&R at Sony Music, RCA and Island Records, and has produced recordings of gospel artists and others.
West’s Sunday services are “taking the world by storm," Brown said. " ... I think this is an avenue to reach the unchurched culture, the hip-hop community and bring them all together.” Brown added that the value he saw from West’s involvement was bringing “these facets together: the streets, the church and the hip-hop community. And it’s changing lives. Gospel music does that. It makes you feel good.” He added, “What you saw today, what you felt today was the love and the energy.”
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Of West's lack of dialogue with the congregants on Sunday, Brown said that the rapper wanted the attention on the gospel message of the songs, themselves, not on him.
The Rev. Elaine M. Flake, who co-pastors Greater Allen, along with her husband, the Rev. Floyd Flake, said West’s ability to draw in others was a plus. “So if he can influence others to the Kingdom [of God], I think that that’s something we would do.”
At Greater Allen, a largely African American church with more than 20,000 congregation members, the visitors at the 11:30 a.m. service that West and his singers performed at were racially diverse. There appeared to be as many as 50 newcomers, who were asked to stand to be greeted by the congregation. Many of them were white young adults.
The Rev. Elaine Flake said she was “amazed” at the Sunday Service Collective’s sound. “And I looked around and all I saw was cameras up ... Everybody takes videos. I hope that some people were blessed.”
“It was a new dimension, a new experience," the Rev. Flake continued. "I think the young people were excited.”
She added, “I saw some older folks having a good time” as well.