Soul Supper: Cora Harvey Armstrong (new date!)

May 11, 2019

Mount Zion First African Baptist Church

105 Lankford Ave, Charlottesville VA

Gospel singer Cora Harvey Armstrong (photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Folklife Program)

Dinner/Doors: 5:30pm
Show: 7:00pm
Tickets: $25, dinner is included

More information and tickets»

This concert will be held at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, at 105 Lankford Ave, in Charlottesville! This monthly Sunday evening concert series, featuring masters of American Roots Music, will feature a family style dinner at 5:30 pm and music at 7 pm. Dinner is included in the ticket price. Join your neighbors for a delicious home-cooked supper followed by a concert with Cora Harvey Armstrong!

The Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities has partnered with The Front Porch to bring celebrated gospel singer and piano player Cora Harvey Armstrong to Charlottesville for a special performance as part of the Front Porch’s “Soul Supper” monthly Sunday evening concert series.

Faith is at the heart of Cora Harvey Armstrong’s 50-year career in gospel music. She still lives in her tiny hometown of Newtown in King and Queen County, Virginia. Her father was a deacon at First Mount Olive Baptist Church where Armstrong served as minister of music for four decades. Her mother started the Harvey Family singing group, which included Cora and her sisters. “When I was coming up my mother was a real big fan of Mahalia Jackson and the Clara Ward Singers so that’s a lot of the music I heard around the house,” says Armstrong. “She and Daddy both used to sing in the choir at church so they knew all the hymns.” Armstrong’s songwriting was inspired by the verses of her poet grandfather Rev. Watson Harvey.

That songwriting blossomed at Virginia State University (VSU), where she directed the internationally acclaimed VSU Gospel Chorale. An association later in life with another shining light in the state’s gospel community, Rev. Earl Bynum, led to tours of Italy and Japan. Richmond-born musician and producer Bill McGee has described Armstrong as “Aretha Franklin on piano, Mahalia Jackson with her voice, and Shirley Caesar with her style.”

In recent years, Armstrong left her secretarial job to pursue music full-time and has also become a minister, studying for a master’s in divinity from Virginia Union University. She released a CD that focuses on her own compositions. With her sisters she starred in Those Harvey Girls, a musical that played at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre in Chesterfield County. Music remains a family affair for Armstrong. At the festival she’ll be joined by her sisters Clara and Virginia and her nieces Kimberly, Ruthy, and Clarissa. The group is rounded out by bassist Juan Nelson and drummers Kevin Jackson and Cora’s great-nephew Davin Jackson.

While her nieces convinced Armstrong to update the group’s attire, the sound remains traditional gospel. “We do my own songs,” she says, “but I also like to do traditional songs like ‘Precious Lord’ and ‘Amazing Grace’—I’m a fan of singing music that says something, so people can leave with a good feeling.”