Local Current Blog

Music History Spotlight: Uncovering a hidden gem from the Mount Olivet Celestial Choir

This week on the Local Show, we’ll be hearing from the Mount Olivet Celestial Choir’s album “Sing.”

Without listening to it, the vinyl might look like any other obscure record you might stumble upon at a garage sale. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t be selling for $60-150 dollars online.

Released in 1971, this album from St. Paul’s Mount Olivet Baptist Church is a hidden gem, if not a bit of a collector’s item — partially because of an appearance from a teenaged Cynthia Johnson on “Wings of a Dove.”

  1. Listen Mount Olivet Celestial Choir feat. Cynthia Johnson, “Wings of a Dove”

Johnson went on to become the voice of the 1980 international hit “Funkytown,” as the frontwoman for Lipps, Inc. She also was the lead singer of Flyte Tyme, the precursor to Prince’s The Time, for seven years, and performed in the Grammy Award-winning band and choir Sounds of Blackness. Johnson, who still performs today, is among the most influential women in the Minneapolis Sound, many of whom worked in multiple genres like soul, gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues.

This crossover may be the cause of another exciting element of the album — the emergence of rhythm and blues and soul in a gospel choir setting. The mix between gospel and rhythm and blues is especially noticeable on “Wings of a Dove” and the opening track, “Looking For A Home.”

  1. Listen Mount Olivet Celestial Choir, “Looking for a Home”

All in all, the album is a captivating document of gospel music in the 1970s, as funk and rhythm and blues became more prominent in the local scene throughout the formation of the Minneapolis Sound.

Jackie Renzetti is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is a projects editor at the Minnesota Daily and hosts Radio K’s “Off the Record.”