Singer helping celebrate Black History Month

Published 7:57 pm Monday, February 2, 2009

Sometimes it’s not who you know, but who lives next door.

At least that was the case for Val Jacques, an elder at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.

Jacques used to live next door to Calvin Earl, an expert on African American spiritual music.

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“He lived next door to me for a while and I got to know him and we got to talking around the neighborhood. He’s the nicest man, and he’s been a musician all his life,” Jacques said. “He has been active with his lecturing and concerts for a long time.”

In fact, in 2005, Earl began a national campaign to honor African American spirituals as a national treasure. Less than a year later, Congress voted to officially recognize and honor these spirituals as gifts to the nation from former enslaved Africans.

But Earl does not just lobby for this music; he loves to play it.

He has toured with famous acts like Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. He has released two CDs, including his debut “There Is A Bright Side,” which featured gospel and spiritual music.

On top of singing famous spirituals, Earl has developed a lecture series around explaining the hidden messages in these slave songs and the importance they held in the slave community.

During Driver Days, Earl — who now lives in Williamsburg – met the pastor of St. Andrew, the Rev. Keith Curran.

“They got to talking and they said (hosting one of Earl’s concerts) would be a great outreach, especially during Black History Month,” Jacques said. “Black History Month is a busy time for him, so we took the first day we could get.”

Earl will be performing at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public, and free childcare will be provided at the church.

Jacques said the church is looking forward to the impact the event will have.

“We’ve given several packets of flyers to several people to take and pass around to neighbors, friends, anybody,” Jacques said. “We keep trying to think of what can we do to reach out, and that’s what all churches try to do: reach out and get people to get interested and join us or join any church really.”

For more information about the concert, call 238-3550. For more information on Earl, visit his Web page at