St. Thomas Gospel Choir members singing praise in Overbrook Park for three decades

Tamala Edwards Image
Thursday, April 6, 2023
Gospel choir members singing praise in Overbrook Park for 3 decades
This Easter Sunday, members of St. Thomas Gospel choir will be singing at the historic church in Overbrook Park as they have for three decades.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Every Wednesday night, the St. Thomas Gospel Choir lifts their voices in song. They meet each week for rehearsals at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in the Overbrook Park neighborhood of Philadelphia.

"The gospel choir was started back in 1991," said Waltier Blocker, the choir's longtime music director.

He says the choir was started just to sing for a Christmas service, but the music became well-liked by its listeners at church.

"And here we are 33 years later," he said.

Clara Mae Daniels was one of the very first gospel choir members.

"I like to sing gospel," she said.

Daniels says singing in the choir is calming for her, especially since "it's all about God."

"Our rehearsals actually become praise and worship sessions," said Debbie Purnell-Otey.

Purnell-Otey joined the gospel choir nearly 30 years ago. She says that's where she met Daniels, and since then, they've become "sisters."

"It's more than just a choir, it really is a family," she said.

"We've grown into this 60-voice choir that sings everywhere, wherever we're called to sing," said Blocker.

The volunteer singers come from about ten different churches.

"People can come in feeling one way and leave here feeling totally different, and that's an amazing thing," said Blocker.

"Let go and let God," said Daniels.

"When you're ministering, the joy just comes through," said Purnell-Otey.

Purnell-Otey sings as a soprano, while Daniels sings in the alto section of the choir.

"They're both excellent singers," said Blocker.

Blocker has been leading the gospel choir from day one, so he says he's gotten to see their growth as singers over the years.

"He will pull stuff out of you that you didn't know you could do," said Daniels.

"But he has really taught us a lot about how to sing," said Purnell-Otey.

The choir has recorded CDs, sung locally with the Philly Pops, and performed in countries around the world.

"So as we're teaching new things, we're also learning new things and seeing new places," said Purnell-Otey.

"If you're singing from the heart, you'll just be surprised what you can do," said Blocker. "We want them to really just feel the love of Christ."

"It's wonderful," said Purnell-Otey.

For more information:

The St. Thomas Gospel Choir

The St. Thomas Gospel Choir on Facebook

The St. Thomas Gospel Choir on Instagram

The St. Thomas Gospel Choir of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

6361 West Lancaster Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19151