A couple thousand chattery school kids fell silent Monday morning when The Kingdom Choir opened up their free student show at the Santa Barbara Bowl with a goosebumps-inducing rendition of “Stand By Me,” the same song they performed last year for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding.

Still riding a wave of fame since that Windsor Castle appearance, the London-based Kingdom Choir had played the Hollywood Bowl with Gladys Knight the night before they came to Santa Barbara for an hour of gospel singing and a music lesson cleverly disguised as stage banter. Students from 20 different schools were bussed from all over the region for the show put on by the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation in partnership with the county’s Education Office and the Children’s Creative Project.

Choir leader Karen Gibson explained to the crowd that while most people think “Stand By Me” is a Ben E. King original, it was actually written by gospel singer turned pop star Sam Cooke. Its original title was “Stand By Me, Father,” she said, and its second verse was borrowed directly from the Bible.

The Kingdom Choir picked up the tempo with quick a quick transition of hits from Aretha Franklin, which had the kids cheering and clapping. Some stood up and danced. The choir itself snapped and swayed in bright-colored outfits against a darkened stage. In between songs, Gibson talked about vocal “runs” ― quickly singing up and down a scale ― and to demonstrate had a few members run through the classically blues scale of A-flat. 

Gibson explained the technique of call and response and how gospel singing originated with slaves toiling in the fields of southern U.S. plantations. They mixed English hymns with African musical idioms, Gibson said, and since then, the genre has spread all over the world. “The good part about gospel music,” she said, “is everyone gets to join in.”


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