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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Erin Roth
Traditional Arts Indiana

Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2003

IU arts group creates opportunity for acclaimed vocal group to perform in nation's capital

American Folklife Center, Kennedy Center to present Robert Turner and the Silver Heart Gospel Singers

Traditional Arts Indiana, a partnership between Indiana University's Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Indiana Arts Commission, has arranged for an acclaimed Indiana African American gospel group, Robert Turner and the Silver Heart Gospel Singers, to appear in two concerts in Washington, D.C. The group will perform at the American Folklife Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Aug. 20.

The concerts will feature the six-member ensemble from Indianapolis performing both original pieces and gospel standards. Indiana state folklorist Erin Roth of Traditional Arts Indiana and IU will introduce and provide background information on the group at the concerts. The American Folklife Center is part of the Library of Congress.

The first concert will take place outdoors at noon on Neptune Plaza, in front of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. The Thomas Jefferson Building is located across the street from the U.S. Capitol at 1st Street and Independence Avenue, SE. The group will also perform at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center. Millennium Stage concerts are broadcast live on the Web and archived for later viewing at

Traditional Arts Indiana is an organization dedicated to promoting traditional artists and arts in Indiana and broadening public awareness and appreciation for the traditional arts.

The outdoor concert is the fifth in this year's AFC series "Homegrown 2003: The Music of America," monthly presentations of traditional music and dance offered at the Library of Congress. The musicians are drawn from communities across the United States and arranged with the help of state folklorists. The Homegrown series is the grassroots component of "I Hear America Singing," a Library of Congress project celebrating America's music.

Robert Turner and the Silver Heart Gospel Singers were formed in 1960 by Turner, then 15 years old, and the group has grown into an Indianapolis institution, singing at churches, church reunions and community gatherings all over the region. The group has also been a driving force behind an annual, citywide Gospel Extravaganza for the past 40 years.

Turner sang his first solo, "Let God Abide," when he was four years old, standing on a chair before the congregation of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. He joined the church's traveling choir at age 10, and in 1958 he heard the Clara Ward Singers at the Bible Way Baptist Church, just around the corner from his home. Inspiration for the Silver Hearts was born on that night. Turner recalls his reaction to the Clara Ward Singers: "Five ladies, fabulous gowns, the music was piano and organ instead of the quartet/guitar sound I'd been raised on, and it was like ... wow!"

African American gospel has grown in popularity since its beginnings in the 1920s and has changed over the years, incorporating elements of bebop, rhythm and blues, and pop music. But the Silver Hearts have stuck to the basics, doing traditional gospel, 1960s style and accompanied by keyboard, or as Robert Turner says, "music your mother or grandmother could relate to."

Not affiliated with any one church, the members of the Silver Hearts each have a home church to which they contribute musically. The group's keyboard player, Tony Carpenter, and Linda Bush, one of the singers, serve as ministers of music for their churches, and Carmella Hardy, another Silver Heart singer, is a soloist with her own published recordings. Other members of the Silver Hearts are Deborah Barnett and Diana Brodley. The group performs on weekends and tours at least twice a year, but the members return to their regular jobs on Monday morning.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to preserve and present American folklife through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

In case of inclement weather, the outdoor concert will be moved to the Coolidge Auditorium, which is on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building.