THE ARC CHOIR:
Walk With Me
The most powerful and moving a capella choir Ive ever heard. Thirty-two voices strong, the Addicts Rehabilitation Center Choir is burning-with-faith gospel from Harlem. Every singer will tell you proudly that the Center pulled them up out of the gutter, out of the fires of hell. They sing to praise the Lord that theyve lived to tell others. The Choirs power will wrench your soul, get your feet moving and your hands clappingand might just blow you off the sofa. Stereophiles Larry Archibald says this is his Record To Die For: Imagine 32 people singing in your living room a sensational job of delivering the music (#04132)
For more info please visit http://www.arcfoundationinc.org
For a transcript of their NPR "Fresh Air" interview, click here.
Artist page for The ARC Choir
IF YOU ENJOYED WALK WITH ME, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:
The Boston Globe:
New York Every Wednesday at 11 a.m., a hundred or so travelers from distant lands file into the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in the heart of Harlem and join local parishioners to watch the ARC Gospel Choir sing and sway and shout and stomp to the glory of Jesus.
For the foreigners, the Hour of Power, as the weekly concert is called, marks another exotic stop on a Harlem bus tour. But to the 32 singers in the choir, who perform about 200 times a year here and abroad, it's the core of what keeps them alive.
ARC stands for Addicts Rehabilitation Center, and everybody in the ARC Choir is a former drug user who has been through the center's program. More than half the singers are in the program still, and live around the corner in one of two ARC residences where, at any one time, 400 addicts are seeking a cure.
Since ARC was started 40 years ago, more than 20,000 drug addicts have passed through its gates. They don't do methadone or A.A. They go cold turkey and revive themselves spiritually, which means, initially, putting their lives in the hands of the center's founder and director, a short, trim, jovial but strict 72 year-old ex-heroin addict named James Allen.
Mr. Allen, as everyone in Harlem seems to call him, has a 132-page book of rules and regulations, called The Purpose, which all those coming into the program must follow to a T. One of the recitations they learn before graduating goes like this: "What is a pastrami? A pastrami is a red three-legged, sexy animal. Why? Because Mr. Allen says so."
"Our philosophy," Allen said, sitting in his office, as several of his 140 staff members called him on the phone or came in with memos or reports, "is this: Accept the responsibility for your own actions. Plus, we give you genuine, unreserved love. The thing we teach is no different from the thing any good mama or papa teaches you grow up. This is a second chance to grow up. They messed up the first time."
Walking the halls of the center, Allen came across a 20-year old named Alec, reading computer magazines in one of the rooms where "violators" stay. Violators are those who have broken the rules. They're kept separate from the others, and for 45 days they're awakened at 4 a.m. (5 a.m. on weekends) to do extra chores. Alec, who's been at the center for four months, broke the rule against missing two roll calls.
Allen spoke to him gently, and asked if he knew why he was being punished. "It ain't a punishment," Alec replied glumly, "it's a learning experience."
"Who told you that?" Allen asked, surprised.
"I told myself," Alec said, still grim. "I've learned I can't break my habit by myself. I have to speak with somebody about it. I wasn't doing that before. Now I know that."
"You know," Allen told him, "I messed up 33 years of my life. I wish I'd had somebody give me some second chances. I worked for the railroad once. All my life, I wish I hadn't messed that job up. So I decided I would give people as many chances as God allows me." He paused and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Alec. Really nice to meet you."
For the first time in the conversation, maybe for the first time in a long while, Alec's face broke into a smile that just beamed.
ARC is the oldest drug-treatment group in New York. It started in 1957 on the second floor of the Manhattan Christian Reform Church, when an addict walked into the office of Rev. Eugene Callender and asked him, "Does God love dope fiends?"
The next Sunday, Callender told his congregation that he would be holding a meeting Monday night for those interested in doing something about the drug problem.
"I happened to be in the church that day for the first time," Allen recalled. He had just returned to New York from a drug-treatment prison in Lexington, KY, where he had overcome a 10-year heroin habit and, reading the Bible in the solitude of his cell, found God.
Callender set up a "down-and-out ministry" to help drug addicts. Allen volunteered to run it.
In the early 1960s, ARC, not wanting affiliation with any denomination, broke away from the church. Someone donated an abandoned warehouse, but it came with a $130,000 mortgage. After a few years, payments came due and ARC didn't have the money or the visibility to raise any.
"When I had a habit, I played the guitar and passed the cup," Allen said. "So we had a group of guys in the center seven of them, in rehab who could sing. I arranged some gospel songs, we sang at churches. We made $100 here, $50 there. Next thing you know, we grew bigger, played more and more places. In two years, we'd raised the $130,000 and paid off the mortgage.
"After that, I was saying, 'That's that,' but I realized this choir was doing something beyond raising money. It had a message. It gave us the ability to show the world that we're not just parasites asking for help. We are giving something back to the world."
The choir not only gave ARC a public face, it transformed the organization itself. "Before the choir, ARC didn't have as strong a spiritual element as it does now," Allen said.
The choir was given a huge boost, five years ago when Curtis Lundy came to the center. Lundy was one of New York's top jazz bass players. But he also had a bad cocaine habit. Friends told him about ARC. "When I came here," Lundy recalled, "the first thing I saw was this bus outside that said 'ARC Gospel Choir.' I knew the Creator would make it possible for me to become involved." Lundy and the singers recently returned from a tour of Africa, where they promoted their new CD.
Talk to the dozen or so reforming addicts, hanging around the ARC's back porch in the middle of the afternoon, and they all say the spiritual dimension is what sets ARC apart from the other treatment centers they've tried.
John Ditre, 42, wearing a greaser's haircut, tattoos up and down his arms, and a "Register to Vote" T-shirt, is a counselor at ARC. Like almost everyone on the staff, he started there as a patient. He had spent 12 years in jail for selling drugs before coming to ARC. "I didn't want to help anybody, I didn't want to get close to anybody," Ditre said. "I used to see prison as a business trip. "I would never have thought I'd come to Harlem to get my life together, but Mr. Allen made me a security guard, then a counselor at Gabriel House," an ARC-run apartment house for people with HIV. "You go to a place like that...you're not thinking about the street anymore, you're thinking, 'How can I help this person more?"
"I came here with nothing and now, look," he said, taking out his wallet. "Visa card, American Express Gold, an airline credit card, a library card! Nobody I grew up with would ever have thought I'd have a library card." He looked around. "There's got to be some kine of magic in here."
The feeling permeates the place. Reginald Williams, ARC's director of operations, came to the center 12 years ago, hooked on heroin and cocaine. A family man, college graduate, chairman of the Connecticut human rights commission, he first tried a drug-treatment resort in Maine. "It was one of those places that cost $25,000 a month, where they ask you at dinner, 'Will that be prime rib or shrimp?'" he said with a laugh. "It didn't work." A nephew in Harlem had been through ARC, so he tried it.
"Mr. Allen knew my background, so he put me in charge of development," Williams said. "He told me to find robes for the choir, get a bus for the choir, get a new building for the center." Williams not only got off drugs for good in three months, he became a minister. At the Hour of Power, he delivers a been-to-the-mountaintop sermon in between gospel tunes. Using the training from his former life, he deals with foundations, private donors, and the government bureaucracies that fund most of ARC's activities.
Just having these people around is part of the treatment. "Show them examples," Allen said. "If people got on drugs through peer pressure, it's a natural: The way to get them off drugs is through peer pressure."
Patients take six to nine months to go through the program. Toward the end, counselors teach them how to save money, manage their time and find jobs. They're gradually given more and more freedom weekends, then week nights, away from the center.
But that takes a while, and a lot of them don't make it the first time back on the street and come back for more help. Usually, they're taken in again, though some are not. One afternoon last week, a few relapsers were sitting along with 40 newcomers in a large, hot room on the center's fifth floor, fanning themselves while listening to ARC supervisor Michael Barker a former heroin addict with dredlocks who had been through the program three times in the 1980s before finally kicking his habit harangue them about the structures of their new lives.
"This is not a democracy," Barker shouted, pacing the floor. "This is a benign dictatorship. Why are we sitting here? Why aren't we doing this in the park? Because the air's too cool in the park. The benches are too comfortable. There's too many nice-looking ladies and men walking by, too many kids having fun. Being sober is about discipline."
June 18, 1997
Record To Die For.
I heard this choir live in New York and just had to get the record (fortunately, they were selling them at the concert). This is a recording that will set you on fire.
"ARC" doesn't, in this instance, stand for Audio Research Corporation, but for Addicts Rehabilitation Center, a Harlem-based organization that helps people pull themselves out of the depths of despair and get their lives back. I gathered that some of these singers still reside at the Center, but most are out on their own.
Listening to this record, you'll realize that salvation isn't something they take figuratively or metaphorically. Their a cappella voices manage to convey terrific unity when singing in chorus, and fierce individuality when singing solo (all soloists are drawn from the choir). They're mainlining personal salvation by Jesus Christ it may or may not be your cup of tea, but you'll never doubt His importance in these singers' lives. These people are saved every day, and you won't come away from this record with any question about it.
Most important for this feature, they sing great! I found myself addicted to the sounds these people produce. The first time I put the CD on, I listened to the title song six times. The combination of harmonies, rhythms, arrangements, and just plain great singing had me going nonstop.
Mapleshade has done a sensational job of delivering the music, with full annotation of ARC's offbeat, sonically purist techniques. You'll want to play the disc loud imagine 32 people singing their hearts out in your living room. It'll lay some serious licks on your system's midrange.
I can imagine you disliking Walk With Me if you can't stand gospel, or perhaps a cappella singing, but otherwise you should be prepared to lose a large amount of time not doing anything but listening to this record and thinking about the experiences behind what it's saying. If you have problems finding the CD, call Mapleshade at (301) 627-0525.
Before you slip on The ARC Gospel Choir's Walk With Me [Mapleshade], be forewarned: this is no soothing daisyfield of New Age serenity. ARC stands for the Addicts Rehabilitation Center of East Harlem, its singers are former druggies whose souls were wrested from the flames of hell by the Hand of Jesus, and they want you to know the joy of their redemption. This is raw, raucous stuff, thirty-two proud, strong voices crooning, hollering, and sweetly harmonizing as if at the portals of Heaven's gate, hands clapping, feet stomping, swaying to the tough-love discipline of a tight ensemble order. Pierre Sprey, Mapleshade's proprietor-engineer, captures every ounce of it, with an analogue tape recorder and three PZM microphones a pair mounted on either side of his custom Plexiglas wedge, another single mic lightly spotlighting the basses. Hamiett Bluiett, the baritone saxophone player who has produced several Mapleshade discs, led Sprey to the choir and to the church where he recorded them. As Sprey says in the liner-notes, "The acoustics were just right for recording a choir: warm and reverberant but crystal clear so that individual voices wouldn't be lost in a haze of murky echo." You've got a front-pew seat at the Kelly Temple Church of God in Christ, the dynamics quake and thunder, and even a heathen like me can't help but be inspired.
CMJ - Jackpot!:
Since the early '70s, James Allen has run the ARC Choir, an offshoot of the Addicts Rehabilitation Center, the Harlem-based ministry for recovering drug and alcohol abusers that he founded 40 years ago. It's an a cappella gospel choir comprised entirely of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. In performance, as heard on this riveting disc, the choir is truly inspirational, and words are weak to describe the intensity of the performances. A hymn like Jesus On The Mainline or Amazing Grace, with its lyrical images of saved wretches being lost and found, takes on a whole new level of potency when you hear it sung by some 32 recovering addicts, and you realize they've been through a modern-day hell that the writers of the old hymn could scarcely imagine.
Not only has the choir appeared on The Bill Cosby Show and toured as far away as Africa and Europe, but they still perform almost every Wednesday at a noon-time Hour Of Power service at a Pentecostal church in Harlem.
September 1, 1997