Historic Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church Hosts Concert to Raise Money for New Organ

Diane Goldsmith at the piano with Ivan Wood and Shannon Hunt.
Diane Goldsmith at the piano with Ivan Wood and Shannon Hunt.

The vocal ensemble Follow the Drinking Gourd will perform a concert at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in downtown Princeton at 5 p.m. next Saturday, July 13, to raise money for a new church organ for the historic black church located at 112 Witherspoon Street.

The group, which features soprano Shannon Hunt, bass Ivan Woods, and pianist Diane Goldsmith will present the program “The Power of African American Music to Inspire.” The suggested donation per ticket is $25. Tickets can be ordered by calling the church office at (609) 924-1666. Tickets will also be available at the door. The church is handicapped accessible. A reception follow the concert.

Follow the Drinking Gourd takes its name from the coded song used to guide runaway slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The group presents original programs about black history using music and storytelling. The group will perform spirituals in all kinds of creative arrangements, from jazz and tango settings to adaptations as anthems of the civil rights marches of the 1960s, and will show how the blues inspired composers like Harold Arlen and George Gershwin. The program will feature plenty of crowd pleasers, such as “Route 66”, “Unforgettable”, and “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing”.

A former member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale under David Hayes, Ivan Woods has appeared on a number of Grammy-winning recordings on the Telarc label.

Shannon Hunt earned a master’s degree from Westminster Choir College and has performed in Italy with the Spoleto Vocal Arts Symposium. Her performance credits include Brooklyn Repertory Opera, Birmingham Opera Works, and this season made her debut with Opera Oggi in Manhattan. Her singing has been recognized by the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Mobile Opera Guild.

Diane Goldsmith holds a master’s degree from Manhattan School of Music and did additional piano study with Gary Graffman, former director of the Curtis Institute of Music. A winner of the Mason & Hamlin competition, she has appeared as soloist in Carnegie Recital Hall and in Lincoln Center, and recently presented recitals at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, the Bloomfield Library Theatre, and for the Steinway Society of South Jersey.

The Witherspoon Presbyterian Church congregation was organized in 1837, making it one of the oldest African-American Presbyterian congregations in New Jersey. The Greek Revival edifice was constructed in 1840. Paul Robeson, whose father was the pastor from 1880 to 1901, was born into this church. Currently the multicultural church is served by the Rev. Muriel Burrows.