For some folks singing is as vital as breathing.
Five Star Jubilee Singers, Harriman Junction, Tennessee
Live, “I’ve Been Changed,” “Go Down Moses,” “I’m Just Keeping It Real,” “Open the Floodgates to Heaven,” 2008
It’s a Friday night in downtown Harriman, and inside the Anointed Praise and Worship Church, the Five Star Jubilee Singers are playing like it’s already Sunday morning.
On drums is Anterrio Ray, 33, an ex-Golden Gloves boxer whose first drum set was a five-gallon bucket and a set of hubcaps. Playing electric bass is Antonio Myers, and that’s his father, Gary Myers, singing four-part harmony with the rest of the band.
They’re an extended family, this nine-member gospel group. When lead vocalist, David Bertram, 60, grabs the microphone, the music kicks in to overdrive. It’s only a rehearsal, but by the third song, Bertram is wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“With traditional gospel music, you either get saved, or you head for the door,” says vocalist Melinda Bertram, David’s wife. “The Lord is not going to let you just sit there.”
The Five Star Jubilee Singers perform quartet-style harmonies, with electric guitars and drums thrown into the mix. Their style and repertory recall such great black gospel groups as the Swan Silvertones, the Soul Stirrers and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. They’ve been playing in and around Harriman for more than 50 years, making them one of the longest-running gospel acts in the region.
During the 1950s, the original Five Star Jubilee Singers won national singing conventions and toured extensively throughout the Southeast.
Today, the group sings at churches and revivals across East Tennessee, for congregations both black and white.
Bertram started singing with the Five Star Jubilee Singers when he was 12 years old. At 18 he moved up North and spent the next 30 years singing professionally with several gospel groups. In 1970, after moving back to Harriman, he convinced the Five Star Jubilee Singers to reunite.
Almost every member of the Five Star Jubilee Singers is related to someone from the original band. Bertram’s older brother, Thurman, was a founding member of the group, as was David Goins. Both these band members are now dead, as is Freeman Goins, David Goins’ younger brother, who died of a heart attack on June 27, 2007, while returning home from a rehearsal.
Every Friday night the band rehearses at the Anointed Praise and Worship Church in Harriman. Arlene Goins, 68, plays electric guitar, and so does her son, William Wright, 42. Including the bass, the Five Star Jubilee Singers have four electric guitars, the newest player being John Dye, of Clinton, Tenn., who joined the group as a rock guitarist.
“Our main thing is to get people to come to Jesus,” added David. “I’m going to do this till I lay down. I’m going to sing till He calls me.”