When I finally admit to myself that I must displace these blues, remind myself of what I am, who I am; when I need to flush out some tears, I know what to do. A congregation of the ecstatic human voice will move me deeply more quickly than an exaltation of larks if the voices are spontaneous and authentic. It took me a long time to discover that.
In every New York city church with music I’ve explored, I’ve found those qualities at churches in Harlem.
Sunday can be a big day for congregants. Some will dress formally, becoming more outwardly beautiful. So, if you go, go as a participant, not a gawker. Dress nicely; no ball caps, no shorts, no flip-flops; put some money in the collection basket. Sometimes the donation basket passes two times; give twice. No cameras, no recording. Try to seize the moment as a feeling to memorize, not a document to hold.
Canaan Baptist Church of Christ (132 West 116th Street, (212) 866-0301).
First Corinthian Baptist Church (1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. At 115th Street (212) 864-5976).
The Mount Neboh Baptist Church (1883 Seventh Avenue, at 114th Street; (212) 866-7880) is home to the Mount Neboh Mass Choir, known for its renditions of gospel-music staples like “O Happy Day” and “At Calvary.”
Abyssinian Baptist Church (Uptown, W 138th St between Powell and Malcolm X Boulevards). One of America’s oldest, most famous, swamped with tour groups.