"Voices from many faiths rise together in Oakland choir" excerpt

Kelly is talking to a group that’s something of an anomaly when it comes to gospel choirs. This one is made up of black folks and brown folks and white folks. He’s talking to Baptists and Catholics, to Jews and agnostics, to Hindus and Wiccans.

“Lifestyles, backgrounds, races, creeds, likes, dislikes,” he says later, “we’re all mixed up.”

This year the choir celebrates a milestone. On Dec. 5, it will perform its 30th holiday concert. Three decades is an accomplishment for most any organization, but it’s especially important for a choir that many doubted would survive a year.

Kelly has a shaved head and a long goatee (sometimes he’ll twist it up and tuck it away). His ears are pierced, and the night of practice he wears a choir T-shirt. On the back it reads, “30 years inspiring joy and unity.” He’s kind, but he doesn’t pull punches either. “I need spirit. Quit giving me mashed potatoes without butter and salt. At least give me some chicken stock.” (Not long ago, the choir got together and made him a list of what they call “Terrance-isms.”)
Kept it all together

In some ways, Kelly and the choir are one and the same. He was there at the beginning, and he’s there now. “I really believe — really believe — he’s been the anchor or the pillar of the success organization,” says Mark DeSaulnier, who handles the finances as the executive director. “It’s gone through some very highs and very lows. It’s run the risk of closing doors. It’s been through it all. He has stayed through it all. That’s rare.”

Talk to most anybody, and they’ll tell you he’s the reason any of this works. With Kelly, says Sharon Hymes-Offord, a member for four years, “the walls sing. The paint on the walls sings. He brought sounds out of my body that I didn’t even understand existed. He brings that out of all of us. He is a master at what he does.”

“There’s a strong spiritual connection with the audience in concerts and with the congregation in church settings — a back and forth of energy that builds up,” says Ben Heveroh, who plays the piano and organ for the choir. “Terrance is a master of building that energy. It can be a delicate craft.”

Ryan Kost
San Francisco Chronicle
November 26, 2015


"Nevertheless, this prelude could not possibly prepare me for what came after the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with their live band came on the stage. Their cunning entrée executed by joining on the song ... while walking down the church lane towards the stage, caught the audience by surprise. Their first song – Lord, How Come Me Here? – caught the audience by their hearts. Sitting in the front row, I could not hold the tears in any longer. The music was not resonating in the church anymore, it was resonating deep in my soul."

Krystof Diatka
"Human Voices Made the Church Go Wild"
July 16, 2015
in response to Molde Jazz Festival performance

"Sunday afternoon at the Dance Palace was toned down shades of an old time revival, if you can picture an event like this in usually staid West Marin. The audience, many festooned in robes from choir robes to kimonos to bathrobes, packed the venue to hear this small ensemble of 13, the pick of the litter from the larger East Bay group of 55."

Ellen Shehadeh
"Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Brings Audience to Its Feet"
West Marin Citizen
February 5, 2015

Holiday pop 2013: Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir sings for the holidays

Terrance Kelly is a man of great passion and conviction. Those qualities have served his Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir well. Since cofounding the organization in 1985, Kelly has showed near-limitless energy and dedication in helping turn Oakland Interfaith into one of the world's top gospel choirs.

"Some people say I'm ambitious," Kelly once told me. "I just say I want what God has for us."

The choir's accomplishments include winning an Emmy Award in 1995, appearing on three Grammy-winning albums, performing with such stars as Linda Ronstadt and Lyle Lovett and touring the globe. Terrance Kelly and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir bring their holiday show to San Francisco, Oakland and San Francisco in December. Courtesy of Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir

Yet, the choir is always home for the holidays -- to the delight of its many fans. The group's annual December concerts are a cherished holiday tradition in the Bay Area, every bit as important as "The Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol."

The choir performs its 28th annual Holiday Concert at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland on Dec. 7; as well as its South Bay Holiday Concert Dec. 20 in Mountain View and its annual Christmas Eve shows at Slim's in San Francisco.

What is really great about these events is that they're equally suitable for longtime gospel music fan and newcomers to the genre. Everyone is welcome -- regardless of background, religion, etc. -- just like the organization itself.

Over the years, the choir's membership has represented many offshoots of Christianity as well as other religions. Of course, many view gospel as Christian music. Yet, Kelly sees the genre as something that can cross boundaries.

"Gospel often takes people from all kinds of races and religions to places they've never been," Kelly said. "You can cry your eyes out. You can lie on the floor and cry. You can run and jump. That's what it's all about."

The concerts regularly feature Kelly's innovative arrangements of traditional gospel music, which have included combining "The Little Drummer Boy" with Ravel's "Bolero" and delivering a reggae version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." It's pretty easy to see how those kinds of performances would appeal far beyond the regular gospel crowd.

The best thing about these shows might be that they illustrate how people of all different backgrounds can get together during the holidays. They underscore the choir's mission, which "is to inspire joy and unity among all people through black gospel and spiritual music traditions."

"It's a model of how the world can get along," Kelly said.

Jim Harrington
Contra Costa Times
November 19, 2013

"The choir is always home for the holidaysto the delight of its many fans. The group's annual December concerts are a cherished holiday tradition in the Bay Area, every bit as important as 'The Nutcracker' and 'A Christmas Carol'."

Jim Harrington
Bay Area News Group
November 11, 2013

“There’s no reason to be quiet about joy especially when it is sung by the angels…the way the choir members moved body and soul with welcoming hands opened wide, real inner smiles and bright, gloriously gifted voices gliding through texture and dynamics like sonorous lilies in a pond. That, ladies and gentlemen, spread the good time like butter to a biscuit.”

Jean Bartlett, Arts Correspondent
Pacifica Tribune, October 24, 2007
OIGC at Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall


“As a whole, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel choir gave an amazingly moving performance, angelic at times, delightfully complex, highly energetic, and beautifully graceful….In the end, it was met with appreciative applause and a standing ovation.  All in all it was an inspiring holiday performance that brought light and love and music to many hearts that undoubtedly appreciated it.”

Greg Land
OIGC performance at SF County Men’s Jail, December 2011

“The Charleston City Paper stated, in response to hearing OIGC’s Saturday afternoon performance, ‘There’s nothing quite like the way the spirit moves when a really good gospel choir–and their backup combo–get cranked up: it’s utterly contagious.’ They couldn’t be more right! In their final purely choral numbers, OIGC had the crowd on its collective feet–clapping, swaying and shoutingeverybody from little children to elderly senior citizens!”

Blog post
Charleston International Choral Festival, April 2009

“But it was on the steps of City Hall, spilling onto the blacktop of Polk Street, where the party played out in earnest. The Glide Memorial Church Choir and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir performed some roof-raising musicinspiring pearl-and-pashmina-wrapped matrons to gamely sway along to the rhythm.”

SF Chronicle
OIGC performance at Black & White Ball, June 2005

“If you ever, ever have a chance to see the OIGC, do it.  You will have the time of your life....Run, run to get their tickets whenever you see their name.”

Ellen O.
Yelp review, January 2010


"This was my first year attending this event with my daughter and a friend. It was FANTASTIC–great for the family. I walked away feeling so happy. Great job to the folks who are responsible for putting this together. I look forward to next year. I plan to make it an annual event."

Review on Ticketmaster, December 2014
29th Annual Holiday Concert at the Paramount