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THE RECORDER of GREENFIELD (Massachusetts)- January 18, 2011

King's legacy lives on: GCC hosts community observance of MLK Day

email this writerPublished: Tuesday, January 18, 2011
GREENFIELD -- What is your dream?

This is the question that keynote speaker Bailey Jackson III posed to a group of about 55 who had gathered at this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Community Observance at Greenfield Community College Monday.

Jackson, 66, the founder and chairman of the Social Justice Education program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was one of about 200,000 civil rights supporters who listened to King deliver his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

It is important to remember King's influential words and to honor his legacy, 'but to move us further along, it is a time to adopt and state our own dreams,' he said.

'The dreams need to be updated,' he said. 'It is important that we commit to constantly renewing our dreams, celebrating the steps that we take toward those dreams.'

Six-year-old Tai Pettiford-Rowan's dream is 'that the earth will be clean.'

Recorder/Paul Franz               The Salt and Pepper Gospel Singers from Connecticut    Seven-year-old Peyton Pettiford-Rowan's dream is for 'people to be nice to each other'

perform during the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Observance at Greenfield          and for 'people to be healthy and not die early.'

Community College Monday.           

(To watch a video of the complete concert, click here: 

Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers add music to Martin Luther, Jr. Observance- Greenfield Community College


Salt & Pepper sings at Regina Lourdes Abbey, Bethlehem, Ct.
January 9, 2011

The New Haven Independent- - December 16, 2010

Salt & Pepper perform Christmas Carols at Union Station

"Commuters paused before rushing out of the train station at 6 p.m. Monday when voices from on high caught their attention—and fortified them for their exit into the cold night.  The angels were carolers positioned on the grand lobby’s second-story balcony.   Their voices resonated throughout the station, and the key kept rising and rising ...  The carolers were members of the Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers,  which is composed of New Haven and Branford church members."

- Paul Bass, Editor, The New Haven Independent

Salt & Pepper performing for the
League of Women Voters in Canton, Ct.
December 9, 2009
(Click photo to enlarge)


In 1985 a unique and captivating group of singers made its debut at the First Annual Branford Festival in Branford, Connecticut.  Since then, the group has been in constant demand at various venues such as prisons, elderly housing facilities, churches of all denominations, soup kitchens, rehabilitation facilities, and many public and independent schools. The Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers has also performed on the stages of celebrated theaters such as Alice Tulley Hall at Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, NBC's The Today Show, Yale's Theological Seminary and Law School, and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1992, New York independent film-maker Gary Keys made a documentary film entitled Not Just Good Time Sunday about the choir.  This film was featured on Cinemax in July of 1994, is now the permanent collection of the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art. 

(Click here to order).

In 1996, the choir received the 1996 Gospel Award for Excellence on behalf of the Connecticut Public Television Clearance Scott Prayer Hour.  The choir has been proclaimed Connecticut's “Ambassadors of Gospel Music” by the Connecticut State Senate and has frequently rated number one in the New Haven Advocate's Best Gospel category.  In 1989, CBS Radio recognized Salt & Pepper on its weekly A World of Difference program as “a significant force in the battle against bigotry and racism”.  The choir has also been featured on Connecticut Public Radio. Yale University law professor (and member of the bass section) Harlon L. Dalton wrote about this gospel group in his 1995 New York Times reviewed book, “Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites.”  Harlon called Salt & Pepper “a rare example of integration, African-American style”.  In 1998, Salt & Pepper was featured in WTNH anchor Diane Smith's book “Positively Connecticut”.

In 1983, Mae Gibson-Brown, mother of the group's original director Chuck Brown, had no idea where her family's singing one night at a school potluck dinner would lead.  Present that night to hear Mae and her family was Sheila Dietz-Bonenberger.  Sheila was so moved by the singing that she asked Mae if it would be possible for a white person to learn to sing Black gospel music.  Though skeptical at first of Sheila's question, Mae and the Browns consented.  Others came, heard, and were immediately drawn to the group.  The message of joy and unity coming from these voices of different colors and backgrounds was infectious.  The Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers were born.

The mission of the ministry of music as presented by the Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ; to promote the development of inter-racial harmony through the arts as expressed in Black gospel music; and to visually express the unity of black and white people participating together in an African-American cultural tradition.

Led by arranger and conductor Ronald Pollard, the Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers includes Connecticut residents of various denominations,  ethnic, and social backgrounds.  Choir members learn the traditional Black spirituals by ear via the heart and soul.  Under Ron's direction, the voices of this interracial and non-denominational choir blend to raise traditional Black gospel to new heights.  This special blend of voices intertwined with the unique characteristics of gospel music compels our audiences to listen, clap, and swing along. 

The Salt & Pepper Gospel Choir is based in New Haven, CT and rehearses on Monday evenings at the Church of The Redeemer in New Haven, CT.   They can be contacted at (203) 230-1089.

Google Calendar

        New Haven Register- February 1, 2009                                                                     Post-Chronicle February 4, 2009

Choate Rosemary Hall Alumni Day Rememberance Service- May 16, 2009                              



Rise On, King Jesus- Stoneleigh-Burnham School


Yes, Lord" Stoneleigh-Burnham School 10/24/08

Ronnie Pollard's (other) Choir;


        March 31, 1996

Black Rhythms, White Voices in Concert


IT'S been more than a decade now, but Mae Gibson-Brown remembers well the night her spirited gospel singing prompted a startling question. It was in October 1984 that Ms. Gibson-Brown and two of her children sang at a potluck dinner for parents at Wight Wood Elementary School in Branford, where Ms. Gibson-Brown is a teacher. Apparently, the performance had moved Sheila Dietz-Bonenberger, the mother of one of her students. "When we finished singing, Sheila came rushing up to me, her face flushed, and said, 'Mae, do you think it's possible for white people to learn to sing black gospel music?' " Ms. Gibson-Brown recalled recently. "In my head, I'm saying 'Why would they want to?' But I said, 'Yes, I think it is.' "

At the time, Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger was singing in a Lutheran church choir, where she had been chastised for performing with too much feeling, hardly a problem in gospel circles. When she heard the Browns sing, "They were completely and totally spiritually involved in what they were singing," Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger said. "I wanted my voice in with their voices."

A few months later, Ms. Gibson-Brown invited Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger to drop by and sing with the family. It was not an auspicious beginning.

"I forgot to tell my children," Ms. Gibson-Brown said, and they were reluctant, telling her, "Ma, you never display us in front of white people."

Meanwhile, Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger was having trouble with the white friends who went with her to the black neighborhood. "The people I was with did not want to get out of the car," she said.

Once inside, matters improved. "When we finally actually sang together, it turned out that we all felt this magical feeling," Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger said. The blend of black and white voices appealed to Ms. Gibson-Brown's son Chuck, a musician, she said. They continued to sing together.

When the Browns were invited to sing at a Branford festival, Ms. Gibson-Brown asked if she her friends could come too. "What is the name of the group?" she was asked. Stumped, Ms. Gibson-Brown blurted out the first thing that came to mind -- "Just call us the Salt and Pepper Gospel Singers." It stuck.

Since 1985, the Salt and Pepper Gospel Singers has grown to include 55 people from all over Connecticut. The group performs more than 50 concerts each year at churches, community events, homeless shelters and prisons under the direction of Ronald L. Pollard, a Hamden musician raised on gospel singing in West Virginia. Currently, the group's racial mix is 65 percent white to 35 percent black, with women outnumbering men roughly four to one, Mr. Pollard said.

The group is singing today at Osborne Prison in Somers, April 16 at Ashford Village in Wallingford and April 21 at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford.

Salt and Pepper is presented as "a rare example of integration, African-American style," in "Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites" (Doubleday), a new book by Harlon L. Dalton of New Haven, a professor at Yale Law School who also sings bass with the group. The group has appeared on NBC's Today Show, at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center and at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. It was the subject of the 1992 documentary film "Not Just Good Time Sunday," shown at both the Cannes and Denver film festivals. For the past three years, The New Haven Advocate has named Salt and Pepper as the best local gospel group in its annual poll.

Statistics, however, tell only part of the story. In person, the Salt and Pepper Gospel Singers deliver a spiritual shot in the arm that doubles as rousing entertainment.

Recently, appearing at the stately 18th-century First Congregational Church on the Green in Litchfield, the singers quickly won over a rather staid-looking, largely white audience. The Saturday afternoon concert, sponsored by the Women's Forum, a Litchfield club started in 1914, was attended by about 230 people, more than five times the typical turnout for club events, said Judy Ash, forum president.

The singers, dressed in black, started out with "Wait on the Lord," which inspired the audience to clap wildly and drum noisily on the wooden pews. At the back of the church, a bunch of teen-age boys, their long hair in ponytails, kept their eyes glued on the singers during the energetic "I'll Tell It (Everywhere I Go)."

A soulful spiritual rendered the audience dead quiet, then Ms. Gibson-Brown stepped out to crank things up with "I'm So Glad (Trouble Don't Last Always)." Her deep, raspy alto filled the church with the message: "Now He may not come when you want Him, but He's on time." When Ms. Gibson-Brown stopped singing abruptly, the audience howled; then she launched into a reprise.

Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger's solo, "Find Your Yes in Him," showed another approach to gospel singing. She sang in a high, clear soprano, filled with emotion, echoed by Mr. Pollard at the piano, then the rest of the choir. The song was hauntingly beautiful, striking a contrasting chord to Ms. Gibson-Brown's bolder and sassier number.

But the real show-stopper was Miriam Doggett-Guest of New Haven, a short, stout black woman with a voice so huge it threatened to crack the high plaster ceiling and shatter the chandelier as she belted out the lyrics to "God Is." In the middle of the song, Mrs. Ash whispered to a visitor, "She is real strong. If you don't get the message, you're not going to get it."

As the audience thundered to its feet for an ovation, Ellen Keeney of Litchfield exclaimed, "Nothing like that has ever been sung in this church." By the time, the choir got to "Amen" and "We Shall Overcome," the audience was singing along with gusto.

The finale, "Revive Us Again," did just that, causing the audience to spring to its feet again, whistling and hooting in appreciation. Over the din, Mrs. Keeney said, "It's warming up those old Puritans in their graves. I love it."

"I thought it was exceptional," said Victoria Christgau of Litchfield, a performance artist. "Everyone here was united in spirit by the power and the beauty of the music."

How do the peppers teach the salts, as they call each other, how to sing this music?

"It ain't easy," Ms. Doggett-Guest said. "You have to have a desire to want to sing gospel music and understand that it's a different culture." And some salts, it seems, have a little rhythm problem. "Some can't clap and sway, but it's O.K.," Ms. Doggett-Guest said with a grin. "It has to be in the heart. If you get it in there, it's O.K. The one thing that's most important is God gets the credit for everything." Mr. Pollard said he demonstrates a lot when he teaches, and he encourages would-be singers to dig deep for meaning. "If you think about what you're singing, it makes a difference in your expression," he said.

Generally, gospel music is taught by ear; Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger was accustomed to reading sheet music. "The first shock was not having the page to hold onto to," she said. "The second was that I could actually manage." Although Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger has learned to sing with more feeling, one hurdle remains. "I don't know how to improvise. I'm too afraid to try it," she said.

After performances, Ms. Gibson-Brown said, she frequently is asked if there are problems between the races in the choir. The answer is no. Why is that?

"We're there all doing the same thing, and nobody can get ahead of someone else," she explained. "And they're there purposely to sing praises to God. It's kind of hard to find a way of dividing people when the spirit of God is present and at work."

In the choir's early days, there was a lot of nervous laughter and there were jokes about race, Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger said. "I think that we have grown a lot in our understanding of this issue," she said.

In his book, Mr. Dalton talks about how choir members avoided discussing race when membership took a decidedly salty turn. Finally, Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger declared no new salts would be accepted until more peppers were recruited. The policy was controversial, but Ms. Dietz-Bonenberger won out "to the choir's great benefit," Mr. Dalton reports. The moratorium is no longer in effect.

Mr. Dalton describes the experience as humbling, but contends the choir is stronger for coming through a difficult time. The interracial group is successful because it does not link race with power, he says.

Salt and Pepper does not hold auditions. During July and January, prospective members may attend Monday night rehearsals at Church of the Redeemer in New Haven. "They just come and listen and decide if it's something they want to do," Mr. Pollard said.

Last year, Janaki Pierson of Woodbury joined the group. She had no previous choir experience. "I went to just one rehearsal and it felt just like family," Ms. Pierson said. "My experience being in the choir and singing in the choir felt like a direct experience of God. Singing with them perpetuates that."

The newest and youngest member is Adrian Bonenberger, 18, son of the original salt. "It was really such a golden opportunity for me to have an interracial experience on that high a level," he said. What about the singing? "It's just great, because you can just let it all go," he said.

Mr. Bonenberger said he does not think his age or his race matter much to fellow gospel singers. "That's really what Salt and Pepper is all about, being enjoyed as a person," he said.

Salt & Pepper mourns the loss of Miriam Doggett Guest- June 19, 2009

It is with deep sadness
that we report the passing of
Miriam Doggett Guest,
one of the original "Peppers" in the choir
and a beloved friend to all who knew her.

Tribute read at Miriam's funeral service, June 24, 2009

On behalf of the Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers, I have been asked to say a few words about Merriam Guest.

I first met Miriam almost 25 years ago when I joined Salt & Pepper.  She was one of the earliest members of the choir, and I remember  distinctly that she was one of the first people to extend a warm handshake of welcome to me.   As the years passed, that handshake became a welcoming hug, accompanied by her totally embracing smile, happy disposition, and contagious laughter.  

On many of the choir’s bus rides - from South Carolina to Maine, or from Harlem to Cape Cod - she would always make the trip shorter and more enjoyable with her stories, jokes, and songs. 

She may have been short in size, but Meriam was formitable in terms of her faith; wherever we went over the course of almost two and a half decades, she could sing the praises of God and share her love of Christ with more power and conviction than anyone twice her size.   In prisons or churches, schools or theaters, Hospice or hospitals, whenever Miriam stood forward to sing, no one could not be moved by her faith and convictions.  To paraphrase one of our songs,  “from her head down to her toes, Jesus WAS real” to Miriam, and she was happy to share that belief with anyone who would listen.

Two of the choir’s songs contained solos that could be sung by only Miriam.  Their words speak directly to who she was and what she believed, loved, and lived.  We will always hear her voice (and no one else’s) singing these words:

Revive us Again

"Lord - I want to be-

I want to be perfect and whole.

Lord - I want you to forever. 

Come live down in my soul.

You are the Potter -  I am Your clay!

Make us! Mold us! Have Your own way!

Revive us again. "

You Can Count on Jesus

"Keep fasting, keep praying.

Knowing you can always count on him, for sure;

That's what faith is for.

Keep trusting, keep praying

He’ll be by your side for ever more-

That’s what faith is for!

Yes, you can count on Jesus!”

The Salt & Pepper Gospel Singers will miss Miram terribly; she is absolutely irreplaceble.  Nevertheless, memories of her will always be part of the choir’s legacy and she will always be a vital part of the choir.

Salt & Pepper Mourns the loss of Patricia Trotman - August 7, 2011

MORRIS –Patricia Ann Peters Trotman (Pat), 80 of Isaiah Smith Lane, Morris CT went on to eternal rest and joined her husband Otis in their Heavenly Home on the morning of August 7, 2011. Pat was a loving, devoted wife and mother, cherished grand and great grandmother (Nana), beloved sister, aunt, cousin and a treasured friend. She enriched the lives of all who knew her and the loss of her presence on this earth leaves a void in the hearts of many. 

Henry Mixsell,
Dec 7, 2008, 6:17 PM