Choir stays dedicated to praise after 25 years

Original members of the Angelic Gospel Mass Choir pictured (from left) are Marcella Laws, Eddie Mae Stephens, Tommie J. Rich and the Rev. Riddley Rich. Addie Hill was not available for the photo. (Photo by Barbara Martin)

Refugio native Tommie J. Rich developed a love for gospel music as a child at the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church.

With her grandmother Myrtle “Sugar” Black singing in the adult choir and her mother, Mozella Lewis, playing the piano it seems inevitable that gospel music would be a vital part of Rich’s life.

She sang in the choir and, as an adult, became one of the church’s musicians.

Rich’s love for singing and playing gospel music did not wane after she moved away from Refugio.

On March 1, 1996, Rich, then living in Corpus Christi, founded the Angelic Gospel Mass Choir made up of singers from the Coastal Bend and beyond.

The first officers were: President Tommy Green, Vice President Linda Heard, Secretary Aline Washington, Assistant Secretary and historian Judy Brown, Treasurer Marcella Laws and Usher Gladys Boates.

Spiritual advisors were the Reverends Riddley Rich, Floyd Stephens, Dallas Baldwin, Thomas Jones and Archie Hooper. 

When reflecting back over the first year, T. Rich stated,  “There were some who thought we would never get off the ground with our song service and acted like they didn’t want to see us working together; but, thank God for those 47 band of believers who kept the faith to know it could be done.”

Almost 25 years later, the AGMC is still in existence. 

When asked why she organized the choir, Rich’s answer was simple. She saw a need. 

That need was for Christians to get together for fellowship and share their commitment to Christ by blending their voices.

This combined, non-denominational choir could provide the song service  for area churches that did not have a local choir.

Through the years choir members have been residents of Refugio, Sinton, Rockport, Aransas Pass, Woodsboro, Corpus Christi, Mathis, Beeville, Alice, Taft and San Antonio.

The AGMC has sung at church anniversaries, revivals, community events and even funerals throughout the Coastal Bend and as far away as Dallas, San Antonio and Florida.

They were the guests at the Refugio Community Cemetery’s Juneteenth celebration for a number of years.

The group also recorded a CD.

At one point the choir was 50 voices strong. Today, there are approximately 16 active members. 

The AGMC became a family affair with multiple members of some families being involved.

The combined choir branched out to include a separate youth choir, as well as a men’s chorus. The men’s chorus is still active today.

The AGMC is a non-profit and does not receive a fee for their services.

An annual fish fry during the Lenten season is its only fundraiser.

Each year the group hosts a musical in the spring and one in the fall.

Due to the pandemic, the choir has not been traveling to perform, nor are they holding the usual twice monthly rehearsals.

Rehearsals are normally held every other Friday. The location is rotated among the home churches of the choir members.

The membership today is made up of members from Corpus Christi, Taft, Sinton, Refugio, Rockport and Woodsboro.

Officers are President Hattie McKnight, Secretary Martha Stovall, Assistant Secretary Wanda Dukes, Treasurer Jimmy Nelson, Director of Music/musician T. Rich and spiritual advisor the Rev. R. Rich. Stephanie Jennings plays the keyboard for the choir.

Five of the original members are still a part of the choir. They are T. Rich, her husband, the Rev. R. Rich Jr., Eddie Mae Stephens, Marcella Laws and Addie Hill.

T. Rich feels blessed to see her vision, along with the steadfastness and dedication of others still be alive today.

She is hopeful that things will start to get better by the fall and allow the choir to get back to what they love doing - sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ by lifting up their voices in songs of praise.

•bmartin@mysoutex.com• 

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