The first Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) Mass Choir (also known as the National Mass Choir) was formed at the first GMWA convention, held in Detroit in August 1968. Two hundred and fifty members representing recording choirs from Philadelphia—notably the Victory Choral Ensemble, the Savettes, the Brockington Ensemble, Douglas Fulton Ensemble and the choir of the First Church of Love, Faith and Deliverance—marched into the convention singing We Are on Our Way.
It wasn’t until the 1971 convention in Dallas, Texas, when GMWA registrants (called delegates) could join the Mass Choir. Three thousand delegates did so that year. Since then, any delegate in good standing who attends the annual convention can join the Mass Choir by faithfully attending the weeklong rehearsals that culminate in the convention’s final concert. The Mass Choir is under the GMWA’s Performance Division.
An objective of the GMWA is to introduce newly composed gospel songs for music ministers to learn and teach to their church choirs. Initially, this music education was limited to attendees of the annual GMWA workshops. Savoy Records expanded the audience for these songs by recording the Mass Choir at the Dallas convention in 1971 and releasing the disc in 1972. Annually for many years thereafter, Savoy released a GMWA Mass Choir record of the final concert from the previous year’s confab. Among the songs made popular by the Mass Choir recordings are I’m Glad, God Is Not Dead, He Decided to Die and Give Me a Clean Heart.
Some of the earliest GMWA Mass Choir releases featured unscripted musical highlights. The Savoy engineers’ astute decision to keep the tape rolling captured historic moments in which James Cleveland and established professional artists got caught up in what can only be described as an emotional ad hoc musical retrospective of gospel music’s earliest songs and singers.
Whether one- or two-disc releases, Savoy’s GMWA Mass Choir albums not only introduced new compositions and arrangements into the gospel lexicon, but also gave national exposure to independent gospel artists, songwriters and directors who contributed their time and talent to GMWA. Among the beneficiaries of this expanded exposure included Margaret Douroux, Kirk Franklin, Kurt Carr, V. Michael McKay, John P. Kee, Reverend Quincy Fielding Jr., Reverend Donald Vails and Minister Daryl Coley.
The GMWA National Mass Choir continues to form at the annual convention, but widely available commercial releases of Mass Choir CDs ceased in the mid-2000s.