Cherokee County’s annual Black History Month gospel music celebration, Gospel Fest, returns Feb. 2 with music and fellowship to bring together people of all backgrounds.

Gospel Fest IX, free to attend, features an educational program as well as gospel music performances from a variety of acts. It is hosted by former Canton City Councilwoman Pat Tanner and the Rev. Fred Forsh, pastor of Liberty Hill AME Church in Sharpsburg.

“Gospel Fest will bless your soul and lift your spirits,” Tanner said Thursday.

Gospel Fest was started nine years ago by Tanner when she saw that the county did not have any events to recognize black history.

Tanner went to Zion Baptist Church and reached out to Forsh, the music director, who is also the retired chorus director of Teasley Middle School, about leading a choir.

“It was her suggestion and I was happy to be a part of it,” Forsh said in an interview with the Tribune Thursday. “The only thing I’ve asked is that she’ll allow me to do two of my songs every year.”

The Gospel Fest choir has become a central part of the event, with community members getting involved to be a part. The goal is to someday have a 100-person choir, though in past years they have had up to about 50 members. Among the choir members is Cherokee County Commission Chairman Harry Johnston.

The mistress of ceremonies for the event is Carmen Tanner Slaughter, Tanner’s niece, who will share information about black history with audience members, and the event will also have  the Singing Brothers of Stilwell as special guest performers and Pamela Mullins will sing a solo performance.

This year’s original songs by Forsh are “Safe Within,” which was recorded by the  Dennis Trimble Community Choir in the 80s, and “When I’m In Heaven,” a never-performed song to debut at the event.

“It’s a ballad; it’s a slow piece,” Forsh said of the new song. “The music is considerably older than the lyrics. One day it came to me, imagining what it’s going to be like and what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Rehearsals for the choir are open to anyone who wants to participate, Tuesdays and Thursdays for the two weeks leading up to Gospel Fest. Choir members do not have to attend all rehearsals to sing at the event.

Gospel Fest IX is at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 at Cherokee Arts Center, 94 North St. in Canton.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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