The six black men stride single file into Christmas parties wearing dark suits, polished black shoes and bright ties. Their entry quiets the mirth and merriment of gathered celebrators, who, year after year, have joined their friends and family in some of the nicest homes in Durham to be moved by the muscular voices of these men: the Durham Carolers. With an almost childlike anticipation, partygoers wait for Ervin Worthy, Andre Montgomery, Tony Alston, Richard Butler, Nathaniel McLaughlin Sr. and his son, Nathaniel McLaughlin Jr. to open their mouths and sing. When their voices fill the air, husbands cradle their wives and couples cozy on the couch. The mood changes. The season changes. And then someone inevitably says, “I don’t think we could have Christmas if we hadn’t heard them sing.”
Since 1935, the Durham Carolers have shared their distinct sound–part a cappella harmony, part gospel–with families in Durham. In the beginning, the group went caroling on Christmas Eve in different neighborhoods across town. Over the years, the performances have moved inside the homes and the members have changed, but the sound–the spirit, really–has not.
Some time around November or December, the Carolers (including elder and honorary member Raymond Davis), gather to practice. They lead separate lives for 10 months, but at the end of the year they work on their harmony, timing and phrasing so that, when they stride into those Christmas parties looking as sharp as ever, they dazzle. They live up to the memories that they’ve created over the years and create memories anew.
“Rise Up Shepherd.” “Go Tell it On the Mountain.” “When Was My Jesus Born?” Each song rendered with such grace, power and rhythm that folks can’t get enough. But the Durham Carolers have other homes to visit. They leave one party to enliven the next. Lucky for all, their spirit remains.
To hear the Durham Carolers visit the Music & More page on Scan, our music blog at www.indyweekblogs.com/scan/music-more.