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Montréal en Lumière - Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel Welcomes the Blues

Nelia Palma, Communications Service

On Friday, February 19 at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, the 2016 edition of Gospel Fever opened with a “gospelizing” concert, featuring blues giant, Bob Walsh, with Guy Bélanger, harmonica virtuoso, Jean Fernand Girard on keyboard and Jean Cyr on bass.

Hosting a blues concert in Bon-Secours Chapel may seem like a stretch from the traditional Gospel hymns and spirituals. Some may even say that it is inappropriate. In fact, the blues are a direct descendant of Gospel music. If Negro slaves in 19th century United States sang about back-breaking labour in the cotton fields, blues songs like Sixteen Tons written in the 1940s about labour in the Kentucky mines, deal with the same preoccupations.

The blues are about human experience: hardship, pain, loss, strife. The blues are about human emotion: sadness, fear, regret, despair. The blues are about life, and Bob Walsh and the talented musicians around him performed each piece with sincerity and depth.

In one of the songs performed during the concert, Bob Walsh sang: “When you reach rock bottom who you turn to?” The answer was all around us. A chapel or a church is where the poor, the hungry and the downtrodden seek refuge from life’s challenges. A church is a place of peace, comfort, silence. It is a place where one is permitted to pause, understand, recover.

It is no secret that Bob Walsh has been very ill these last few years and that his convalescence has been long and difficult. He confessed this to his audience with such lyrics as “Tell that man I am down,” and “I believe I’m sick.” Witnessing an older, thinner, weaker, Bob Walsh singing with everything he had pieces like Amazing Grace was a true gift.

Bob Walsh and the talented musicians who have accompanied him for many years also know and demonstrated that every cloud has a silver lining. For the long-time bluesman, it is being able to once again, and despite his shortness of breath and slower movements, make and perform music. Hitting the high notes of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was his way of telling the world that he was back. Guy Bélanger’s and Jean Fernand Girard celebrated the moment by displaying their undisputed musical talent in a friendly yet intense instrumental duel.

Again the chapel was an ideal place for the artists and all of us to be able to express gratitude, joy and hope. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, part of Bob Walsh’s repertoire, but sung with new awareness and insight, reflected this perfectly. On that night, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel was a safe and sacred place to be heard.


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